Five things not to like about the 2011-12 Sabres

The first half of this post focused on the five things you have to be confident about as the Sabres season begins. This portion will focus on the things that will have fans worried for the entire season, or until the issue is resolved.

Is the team’s depth going to be an issue? Will Ville Leino excel as a center? Will Ryan Miller return to Vezina form? There are flaws to every team, but in a championship-starved town the slightest slip up could flip the turnip truck. Continue reading

Five things to like about the 2011-12 Sabres

Most prognosticators have decided that the Sabres will either finish second in the Eastern Conference or out of the playoff race. While I don’t share that level of division, there are certainly a lot of questions surrounding the Sabres as they prepare to drop the puck on a new season.

Will the new additions on defense improve life for Ryan Miller? Will Jhonas Enroth provide to be an effective backup? Will Ville Leino be able to effectively play center? All of these questions lay at the forefront of the massive expectations that the fans and media have for this team. Of course, there are plenty of things to like about this team. Continue reading

Sabres season preview: The Centers

This is the final part in a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres season. Part five focuses on the centers, read the previous entries here: 1,2,3,4,5.

The Buffalo Sabres organization is painfully thin at center. This was a point of emphasis when the offseason began and remains a sticking point today. There was hope that a center would be found either before the draft or when free agency opened. Neither market yielded the result the Sabres desired.

Instead, Buffalo added Ville Leino in hopes of playing him as a pivot with their top six. Leino was a consolation prize, of sorts, after the Sabres missed out on the Brad Richards sweeps. Leino is a dynamic talent who couples silky smooth agility with scary hands. It has been said Leino will translate well to center because he played low in the Flyers system and was a center during his time in Finland.

So far I am sold on Leino stepping in at center. I only saw him in one preseason game, but he finds open ice and clears lanes for his line mates. Although he won’t see time on the penalty kill, I could Leino as an absolute upgrade over Tim Connolly as the “second-line center”. Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Black Aces

This is part five of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. This edition will focus on the wingers and centers expected to play in Rochester. Here are links for parts one through four: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Zack Kassian is on the fence between Buffalo and Rochester at this point.

It is fairly easy to write out a rough depth chart based on the abundance of talent the Sabres have at wing. It has a trickle-down effect to the AHL level based on the players who are assumed to make the NHL roster, and those who will be riding the bus in Rochester.

The centers are being roped into this equation simple because there is very little organizational depth at the center position.

Aside from Zack Kassian and Ales Kotalik, the rest of the wingers in the Buffalo Sabres system are penciled in to begin the year playing for the Americans. Even Kotalik is likely to be sent down due to salary constraints. Since Kassian has seen little time at the AHL level, let alone against NHL talent, some seasoning in the minors will do him well. I fully expect to see him playing in every situation for Rochester as he is likely the top candidate to snag the AHL Rookie of the Year award for the Sabres organization. Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Wingin’ it

Thomas Vanek is a prime candidate to be the Sabres' next captain.

This is part four in a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part four focuses on the wingers. Read the previous three entries here.

Darcy Regier has a knack for acquiring wingers. It probably has a lot to do with the league-wide overabundance at the position. Still, the Sabres have a stockpile of talented wingers entering training camp this week.

There are eight openings available and at least ten players vying for a spot on the opening night roster. Based on the salary figures – the Sabres are still $3.5 million over the cap – the projected depth chart is fairly easy to lay out. There are a handful of players who a prime trade candidates, but without anything more than vague rumors it is unfair to speculate who will be part of the organization in a few weeks.

Although the top four wingers are likely locks, the remaining four positions are up for grabs, so to speak. Due to contract structure, intangibles and production; Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek are all likely to be safe from a trade or demotion to Rochester.

Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Blueline blue chips

This is part three of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part three focuses on the defensemen who will play for the Sabres’ farm club. Read part one and two here.

An AHL All-Star selection, Drew Schiestel will be the first off the farm for Buffalo this year.

Due to a number of roster moves by Darcy Regier in the offseason, a handful of the Sabres’ prospects will remain stuck in the minors for another season. If Tom Golisano still owned the Sabres it would be likely that Chris Butler and Marc-Andre Gragnani would be fighting for playing time with players like Drew Schiestel or T.J. Brennan. Both defensemen are close to making the jump to the NHL soon.

As luck would have it, Terry Pegula instituted a new mandate of spending and the Sabres brought in two new veterans to man the blue line. So, Schiestel and Brennan will need to wait another year to make it with the big club. Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: The Blueline

This is part two of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part two focuses on the defense. Read part one here.

A handful of factors aided Ryan Miller in his Vezina winning season. Tyler Myers’ emergence as a force and his chemistry with Henrik Tallinder created a true lockdown pairing. In addition, Toni Lydman and Steve Montador offered a sound veteran presence to the bottom four that included Chris Butler, Craig Rivet and Andrej Sekera. Add Miller’s exceptional play over the course of the season and it is fairly obvious why he and the Sabres were so successful.

The 2010-11 season was a down season for the Sabres blueline as a whole. The departure of Tallinder and Lydman were filled by Jordan Leopold, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Weber. An overall average season was capped with the departure of Butler (trade), Montador (trade/UFA) and Rivet (waived). Due, in part, to Terry Pegula’s deep pockets, the Sabres blueline underwent a major overhaul as they enter the 2011-12 season. Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Between the pipes

This is part one of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part one focuses on the goaltenders.

Through the highs and lows in the Sabres history there seems to always been one constant. Sound goaltending has always been something the Sabres have boasted. As they enter the year with Ryan Miller as their starter they once again have no issues between the pipes.

However, unlike the past four seasons, the Sabres have a sound insurance policy as a back-up goaltender. Jhonas Enroth, whose play down the stretch helped secure the Sabres’ playoff position, will serve as Miller’s primary back-up for the entire season. Enroth will provide added stability to a position that was already the strength of the team. Continue reading