The Sabres opened the vaults before the 2011-12 season with high hopes. The result was long-term commitments to Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino while the team failed to make the playoffs for the third time in five years.
The team remains strong as ever in net. The Sabres saw Jhonas Enroth emerge as a solid NHL keeper when Ryan Miller went down for concussion, giving them one of the top tandems in the NHL.
The Sabres shook things up through the trade market with last year's acquisition of Cody Hodgson and continuing with this summer's addition of uber-pest Steve Ott and hope to be a tougher team to beat in 2012-13.
The silver lining for the Sabres is that they played their best hockey of the season from February onward in 2012 and – had it not been for a New Year's slide – could have caught Ottawa for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
The Sabres' farm system is strong at virtually every position heading into this season. The emergence of Marcus Foligno as a potential power forward allowed the team to deal Zack Kassian last season. Joel Armia is a big kid with excellent hands and Mark Pysyk is a two-way force on the blue line - though he may still need seasoning.
The team also hopes it has caught a falling star, nabbing Mikhail Grigorenko at 12th overall in the 2012 draft. Projected at one point to be a No. 2 talent behind Nail Yakupov, Grigorenko's stock fell on draft day, allowing the Sabres to opt for a high ceiling with their first choice. They would step up again two picks later and nab a potential shut-down centre in Latvia's Zemgus Girgensons.
The Sabres also saw one of their 2012 picks emerge as a leader at the World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia. Jake McCabe captained the American squad to gold and was named to the tournament All-Star team after racking up six points in seven games.
The team has a wealth of young talent and - more importantly - jobs to offer them. Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Luke Adam and Marcus Foligno have all shown flashes of pro brilliance in their young careers. With Boyes, Roy and Paul Gaustad gone from the team, head coach Lindy Ruff has top minutes to offer. That could also bode well for Grigorenko, should he come to camp with a point to prove.
Can Thomas Vanek bounce back? While 26 goals is nothing to sneeze at, Vanek's output in 2011-12 represented his second-lowest total since his rookie season. Ennis enters camp as the team's de facto No. 1 centre. Whether or not that bodes well for Vanek remains to be seen, but if the Sabres are to turn their fortunes, they'll need the big Austrian to return to his 35-plus goal form.
A look at where Sabres players went during the lockout:
Luke Adam (Rochester, AHL), Christian Ehrhoff (Krefeld, German Elite), Tyler Ennis (SC Langnau, Swiss Elite), Jhonas Enroth (Huddinge IK, Swedish Elite), Marcus Foligno (Rochester, AHL), Zemgus Girgensons (Rochester, AHL), Cody Hodgson (Rochester, AHL), Brayden McNabb (Rochester, AHL), Tyler Myers (Klagenfurt, Austria), Andrej Sekera (HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL), Alexander Sulzer (ERO Ingolstadt, German League)