Apr 22, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Nathan Gerbe (42) during the game against the Winnipeg Jets at the First Niagara Center. The Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Are The Playoffs Possible?

Apr 26, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek (26) during the game against the New York Islanders at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Playoffs?! You want to talk about playoffs?!

Yes, yes I do.

If there is one thing that some fans have completely written off for the upcoming season, it’s the possibility of an extended season next April, May, or June in Buffalo.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, shall we?

First things first, I know that it’s August and we still have 50 days until the team opens up the season against the Detroit Red Wings to even begin to observe how the team does in a real game, given that training camp and preseason are merely just to look at the prospects against most NHL teams. But there are some highlights to what happened at the tail end of the 2013 season and this off-season that gives, at least me, some good hopes for this upcoming season.

Buffalo attempted to fix their blue line, drafting defense heavy at 8 and 16 by taking Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, respectively. Trying to fix what we already had rather than  cut players and then try to fill their spots, the attempt to rediscover Tyler Myers play by resigning Henrik Tallinder is a risk worth taking, a risk that if it pays off, restores some strength on our lines that takes the attention off of the “Swiss-cheese-like” defense that we were used to last season, and turns our focus to the offensive side of things.

Aside from the standstill that Cody Hodgson and our organization have right now, our offense lacks two things: a) a decent scorer and b) the gritty corner players on each line. I will dissect these two things right now.

A scorer. That is what we need. Not a Thomas Vanek like scorer, where they have a good-great season, then seemingly take a year off and lay low on the top line. No. We need a better guy than that.

Not attacking Vanek, but he isn’t the scorer that we have tried to put all of our support behind.

He is a great scorer, but he needs help.

If Vanek can solve his scoring droughts and pick up his play through the important stretches, there is no doubt in my mind we can be set. Vanek, who plays out the last season in his contract, should work to earn his checks.

Last, the play in the corners has to get better. Steve Ott, who was signed to be a force in the offensive zone, has proven that he is willing to work in any area that needs working, which is why I believe that he is worth giving the “C” to. Other players took his hint, players that won’t even suit up for Buffalo come the end of the month. Players like Nathan Gerbe.

Personally, I was sad to see a player like Gerbe go. Gerbe, who stood at a whopping 5′ 5,” played as though he was standing as tall as Myers. Gerbe played with a fire that I loved to watch, playing deep in the corners, all along the boards, working to free up the puck. Since I was working as an intern with the team last year, I saw the majority of his play, and he deserved a stay, more than other players who are still on the roster. But nonetheless, Gerbe landed a two-way contract the Carolina Hurricanes, so we shall see just how well they will use his abilities.

The goalie “situation” is no longer a situation to me. Ryan Miller; Vezina winner, Olympic MVP, and silver medal winner. Or Jhonas Enroth, a gold medal winner with Sweden in the 2013 World Championships, either pick will be the best one with us.

Going back to the playoff outlook, I strongly believe that we have very strong chances of returning to the post-season once again. I am not saying that we are going to win the division, but I have a very strong sense in the team making a low seed in the playoffs. The team needs to fix the little things, and start to work together instead of trying to individually play like you’re trying to win a bet.

Should we return to the post-season, we could potentially see a resurgence in Ville Leino. Constantly criticized for his lack of producing in the regular season but praised for his postseason play, Buffalo has yet to see him in the playoffs. What is wrong with that picture?

All-in-all, the team had a great draft and off season, they need to sign 1 or 2 strong forwards, drop a few players that aren’t needed, and come to camp ready and willing to compete.

Check back to SabreNoise on Friday for a new series of articles I will be running called Fantasy Friday!

As always, throw me some questions/follow on Twitter @seanmcgrath44, and comment below!

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