From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents '30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the Buffalo Sabres.
Failing to make the playoffs made the Sabres a huge disappointment in 2007-08, especially considering that the team was coming off two straight trips to the Eastern Conference final. But expectations weren't very high after the offseason they endured two summers ago.
Losing two high-quality centres in Daniel Briere and Chris Drury without getting comparable replacements took a huge bite out of their depth chart and the team suddenly became younger and less experienced down the middle.
To make matters worse, the Sabres were caught in another sticky money situation with soon-to-be free agent defenceman Brian Campbell. With a horrible January stretch, bleak postseason hopes and no progress in contract talks, general manager Darcy Regier sent him to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline rather than lose him for nothing.
But there were certainly some positives for the Sabres.
Even without Drury and Briere, the team ranked fourth in the league in goals scored and missed the postseason by just four points with a 6-3-1 stretch in their final 10 games. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and last year's season of adjustment is expected to be the foundation for an improved 2008-09 campaign.
General Manager: Darcy Regier (11th season)
Head Coach: Lindy Ruff (11th season)
2007-08 Record: 39-31-12 (10th in Conference)
Points Leader: Derek Roy - 81
Goals Leader: Thomas Vanek - 36
Assists Leader: Jason Pominville - 53
PIM Leader: Andrew Peters - 100
+/- Leader: Jason Pominville - 16
PP Goals Leader: Thomas Vanek - 19
SH Goals Leader: Derek Roy - 3
What they did: The Sabres got a young winger from the Brian Campbell trade in Steve Bernier, but his performance down the stretch (one point in his last 10 games after tallying eight in his first seven) wasn't enough to convince Regier that the restricted free agent forward was worth investing in for the long term. He was shipped to Vancouver for draft picks. Blueline depth was a big concern, and that was addressed in the offseason with the acquisition of veteran defenceman Craig Rivet. The team also re-upped Teppo Numminen with a one-year contract. But the most important move was in goal. Ryan Miller could have been the most sought-after netminder on the free agent market next summer, but the Sabres made sure it wouldn't happen by locking him up with a five-year contract extension.
What to watch for: The Sabres had a very good offense without Drury and Briere, as a handful of their young players came into their own. Derek Roy performed above expectations as the team's No. 1 centre, while Jason Pominville stepped up as Buffalo's top playmaker. It was a less productive campaign for Thomas Vanek, who scored just 36 goals and 64 points after scoring 43 goals and 84 points the previous year. Drew Stafford battled injuries throughout the season and missed 22 games, Tim Connolly spent 34 games on the shelf while Maxim Afinogenov struggled with a groin injury that limited him to 56 games and 28 points. If Vanek can bounce back and the second line stays healthy, the goal production should be that much better. Forward Nathan Gerbe doesn't bring a lot of size at 5-5, but the prospect certainly has the speed and skill to complement the offence. He could be in the lineup at some point this season.
Numminen, Jaroslav Spacek, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman are back on the blueline, and the addition of Rivet certainly makes them more sound in their own end. But their first full season without Campbell calls for someone who can carry the puck well and contribute on the power play. Young Andrej Sekera could be the answer.
With Miller signed, goaltending shouldn't be an issue for a long time. The team picked up a good backup in Patrick Lalime, who went 16-12-2 with another young and inexperienced team from last season in Chicago.
Parting Shot: After 10 seasons, Lindy Ruff has gone through hell and back with the Sabres. He's led them through the highest of highs by taking them to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and the lowest of lows with three straight non-playoff seasons from 2002 to 2004. Through it all, it would have been easy for Regier to make a coaching change to shake things up. But regardless of winning or losing and who's in the lineup and who's not, he's relied on Ruff as the team's key motivator and tactician. The Sabres had faith in Ruff to get them out of troubled spots before, and have faith in him to do it once again.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Analysis: For a team that didn't make the playoffs in 2007-2008, the Buffalo Sabres remain an attractive team for fantasy purposes because they have a strong group of young forwards. More.