Fantasy Puck Preview: Buffalo Sabres

Scott Cullen
9/12/2009 7:22:02 AM
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Not quite a playoff team last year, the Buffalo Sabres have a talented cast of forwards and a quality goaltender, but still lack a proven puck-moving defenceman.

Though his point total and plus-minus rating dipped last season, Derek Roy has emerged as a quality playmaking centre and there are plenty of guys that would take 70 points, including 30 on the power play.

Perhaps the player with the greatest upside in the organization, Thomas Vanek has put up back-to-back 64-point seasons and has scored 119 goals in the last three seasons, yet it seems that he's barely scratching the surface of his ability. Maybe the 2006-2007 season, when he scored 84 points and led the league with a plus-47 rating, set the bar too high, but expectations for Vanek to be a point-per-game player aren't unreasonable.

Though Jason Pominville has played every game over the last three seasons, last year's 20 goals, 66 points and minus-4 rating all represented low marks for him over those three campaigns. There's nothing inherently wrong with a winger who has put up at least 66 points for three straight seasons, ranking among the top dozen wingers in that time, but it's possible Pominville could provide more.

Drew Stafford's career has been marked by steady, if somewhat gradual, progress. Going into his fourth season, Stafford will try to build on the career marks of 20 goals and 45 points he set last season.

Few players in the league have the confidence and puck skills to match Tim Connolly, yet fewer still have the kind of injury history that makes him a risk for both the Sabres and fantasy owners. Connolly can play -- putting up 87 points in 96 games over the last two seasons -- but the last time he played more than 63 games in a season was 2002-2003, so it's hard to put faith in getting a full season from him. Of course, he'll be drafted in most leagues, just make sure it's late enough not to cost you a more reliable scoring option.

For those in deep leagues, there could also be some value in Paul Gaustad, the checking centre who is showing just enough scoring touch along with a healthy dose of penalty minutes, to be worthwhile.

When it comes to deep sleepers, a rookie like Nathan Gerbe, who had 30 goals and 56 points in 57 games as an AHL rookie last season, may be able to provide some offence if he makes the squad.

Buffalo's defence is about as unappealing as any team for fantasy purposes. With Jaroslav Spacek gone, the most valuable on the Sabres blueline would be Craig Rivet, who can put up serviceable point totals while adding 100 penalty minutes.

Younger options, like Andrej Sekera or Chris Butler, may merit watching, but neither warrants a draft-day selection.

In goal, Ryan Miller gets a true number one starter's workload and that alone makes him valuable. While he missed time down the stretch with an injury last season, Miller did put up the best numbers of his career (2.53 GAA, .918 SVPCT, 5 SO). Playing for a team that will be batting for a playoff spot, Miller may be a touch below the absolute best fantasy goaltenders, but he's not too far off.

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