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Cullen: Offseason spending improves Sabres

Scott Cullen
9/5/2011 12:01:51 PM
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It would be hard to ask for a better offseason than what the Buffalo Sabres experienced this summer.

It's not as if the Sabres are now locks to win the Eastern Conference, but they're no longer fighting an uphill battle financially, and the infusion of cash from new owner Terry Pegula has allowed GM Darcy Regier to improve the roster, making it as deep as it has been in years.

That overall depth figures to mean good things for Ryan Miller, the best goaltender on the planet two years ago and not in that realm last season, even though his numbers were above average. With a better defence and more scoring support, Miller should have a better year in 2011-2012 and could justifiably be the first goaltender off the board.

One of the most important additions in the offseason was defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, the hard-shooting blueliner who scored a career-high 50 points in Vancouver last season and combined for a plus-55 rating over the last two years with the Canucks. Even if Ehrhoff doesn't produce quite at that level with his new team, he's going to get ample power play time and has a strong enough team that his plus-minus rating should remain on the right side of the ledger and he should be a top ten defenceman in most leagues.

When Derek Roy was injured last season, it could have easily derailed Thomas Vanek's campaign, but Vanek rose to the challenge, scoring 48 points with a plus-14 rating in 43 games from January 1 through the end of the regular season. A left winger that has four 30-goal seasons in the last five years, Vanek remains a high-end fantasy option.

For his part, Roy figures to be healthy and should be able to build on his shortened point-per-game season in 2010-2011. Since the 2007-2008 season, Roy has averaged 0.93 points per game, which ranks 16th among centres over that time. Considering the upgrades on the Sabres' roster, it seems Roy should be able to at least produce at that level again this season.

Last year's breakthrough performer for the Sabres, Drew Stafford, scored 31 goals in 62 games, which would pro-rate to 41 goals over and 82-game season, which would put him among the best right wingers. Given his track record, it's difficult to assume that Stafford will both remain healthy or score at that unprecedented rate for a full season. However, he's a solid depth play because of this scoring upside.

Promising young defenceman Tyler Myers had a bad month to start the 2010-2011 season, but his numbers were solid the rest of the way and the 21-year-old obviously has lots of potential left to explore. It's that potential that will likely result in needing to take Myers a tad earlier on draft day.

Veteran winger Jason Pominville finished with 52 points last season, his lowest total the 2005-2006 season. In leagues that count penalty minutes, Pominville's value is lessened because he's put up 22 penalty minutes or fewer in five of his six NHL seasons.

Brad Boyes is as durable as they come, playing 492 games over the last six seasons, but his goal-scoring has dropped off dramatically in the last couple of seasons. With 31 goals over the last two seasons, after scoring 76 goals in the previous two years, Boyes is now more a depth consideration.

Coming off a solid rookie season, Tyler Ennis is another Sabre with potential to take the next step in his development. What really is the issue when it comes to Ennis' value is whether he holds left wing eligibility (as he should). At centre, Ennis is likely a consideration for deep leagues, but he's definitely more valuable at a shallow position like left wing.

Likewise, newcomer Ville Leino is slated to play centre for Buffalo, after playing left wing in Philadelphia. So long as Leino has left wing eligibility, he's going to be worth a look but, at centre, isn't quite as appealing unless it's in deeper leagues.

Blueliner Jordan Leopold had a productive season for the Sabres in 2010-2011, but the arrival of Ehrhoff could cost him some power play time. Other defencemen that had some productive moments last year, including Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani, face similar challenges for quality ice time.

The Sabres' improved depth does make it more challenging to figure out how ice time will be allocated, but it does make for intrigue when trying to find a sleeper pick. Tiny forward Nathan Gerbe, who scored seven goals and ten points in the last 12 games last season, is a prime example. If he plays a full season and gets quality ice time, Gerbe could be productive enough for fantasy owners. However, if he plays 13:20 per game, as he did last season, it will be tough to take him in anything but the deepest leagues.

Improved depth also makes it less likely that the Sabres will need to rush any prospects in the lineup. Centre Luke Adam could be ready soon after a Rookie of the Year season in the AHL and power forward Zack Kassian could provide an element of size and toughness, but they might be a season or two away from making a serious difference.

Upgrades in the offseason make the Sabres a more interesting team, no doubt, but the team's improved depth may be more beneficial in the standings than it is for individual player production.

Depth Chart - Buffalo Sabres

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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