Great expectations led to a greater letdown

*This is the first part of my season recap and review for the Sabres. In the coming days and weeks I will have further reviews of the team and season, player-by-player grades and offer some thoughts on Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier. I will provide a full schedule of posts coming soon.*

This scenario happened far too often throughout the year.

The bottom line with regard to this season is that the Sabres didn’t meet their goal. Ignore the goodwill created by their late push or even the 10-5 start they enjoyed in the fall. Of course, that means you need to ignore the mid-season slump as well. Lump it all together and accept the failure to make the playoffs. Sure, you can review and discuss the different portions of this schizophrenic season, but just understand that everything adds up to the end result.

Obviously there were plenty of factors that conspired to keep the Sabres from the postseason. Injuries played a part, along with the arguments of a mentally fragile team, coaching issues and under-performing players. There wasn’t one single factor that stood out to me as the primary reason the Sabres struggled so mightily. However, some stand out more than others.

There is no ignoring the Milan Lucic incident as the tipping point for this year. Lucic isn’t the reason the Sabres missed the playoffs, but his actions certainly started the snowball down the mountain. First off, the injury that Ryan Miller suffered set him back nearly three months. His play was strong early in the year, regressed some in late October and didn’t fully recover until late January. Not having Miller for all of November and December had a terrible effect on the roster. Continue reading

Ruff shakes up lines, Leino to center Vanek and Pominville

Lindy Ruff has decided that it is time for a change.  With a 1-2-0 record though the first three games of a five-game home stand; the Sabres were in need of a wake-up call.

The shake-up hit the top two lines as Luke Adam has been flipped for Ville Leino. Leino is back at center between the Sabres’ top two scorers. It looks as if Ruff wants Leino to play out of the funk he is in, definitely the best approach. While there is certainly a possibility to derail the early success Vanek and Pominville have had, Adam wasn’t a direct factor in their torrid start. If anything, Leino’s slickness will add an extra wrinkle to the already lethal wingers.

Adam will now skate alongside Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. Reports say Adam will be on the wing with the two veterans. This move won’t help or hurt a line that was largely in effective before Leino was moved to their wing. Adam has had a strong start to the season and has benefitted from his time with Vanek and Pominville. However, he wasn’t the only factor to their success. In fact, their continued success on the power play shows that they aren’t fully dependent on their center to produce.

Based on the limited ice time the Leino has been receiving, it is obvious Ruff hasn’t liked his game. Ruff is also aware that sitting a player on the bench won’t do much more than pile on the negative reinforcement. By placing Leino with Buffalo’s two best offensive weapons, Ruff has created the potential for Leino to utilize his tremendous playmaking ability with two players on hot streaks.

The key for Leino will be to make quicker decisions. It seems that he has been over handling the puck and thinking too long in regards to finding passing lanes or getting pucks to the net. If he is able to “simplify” his game there should be a marked improvement. Having two line mates who have been successful thus far is another added bonus. Continue reading

Ennis to miss time, Leino to step in on wing

The ankle injury suffered by Tyler Ennis on Saturday has been deemed as a “week-to-week” injury for the winger. His absence from the lineup caused some significant shuffling at practice for the Sabres today.

Paul Gaustad also sat out with what was described as a “maintenance day”. He was replaced by Matt Ellis for the day. The only concerning part of Gaustad’s day off is that he has had a pair of maintenance days in the past week. Not a great sign for a guy with an injury history.

Ennis’ hole in the lineup is far more defined by any time Gaustad may, or may not, miss. With the young winger out for what will likely amount to two weeks Ville Leino will fill his role on the wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. It actually appears as if Leino requested to be moved back to the wing.

This is actually a move that could not only benefit Leino, but the Sabres’ second line. While the Vanek-Adam-Pominville line continues to put up points like it is going out of style (15 In seven games), the remaining six forwards to have tallied points have accounted for only seven goals and seventeen points over that same span. Continue reading

Finding the right spot for Ville Leino

Of the three off-season acquisitions made by the Buffalo Sabres, Ville Leino was probably the biggest question mark.

Would a move back to wing benefit Ville Leino?

Leino was acquired to play center, despite playing exclusively as a winger in Detroit and Philadelphia. He has proven to be a playoff performer (21 points in 19 games for Philly in 2010) and had a solid 2010-11 season for the Flyers (19+34). For those playing at home, that would have been second-highest on Buffalo’s roster. Leino was dynamic playing a wing/center hybrid for the Flyers alongside Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell.

Darcy Regier and the Sabres were convinced Leino could play center and play center well. Perhaps they reached a bit after losing the Brad Richards sweepstakes, but they identified Leino as an adequate piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle. He was expected to step into Tim Connolly’s role and improve on the shortcomings the oft-injured center had. Continue reading

The odd men out

Mike Weber was particularly good for the Buffalo Sabres last season. So good, in fact, he earned a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

Yet, he is stuck in the press box as the season begins for the second year in a row. Lindy Ruff has opted to dress Marc-Andre Gragnani and Andrej Sekera as his fifth and sixth defensemen over the stay-at-home defenseman. In previous seasons all three players would be seeing regular shifts. In fact, Drew Schiestel would probably be seeing some time as well. That was all in the past, life with Terry is much better.

Now the deep-pocketed Sabres are stuffing salary in the minors and stockpiling blue-chip prospects as they strive for a Cup with veteran additions. Mike Weber just happens to be a casualty in this particular scenario. Continue reading

Where does Hecht go in the lineup?

There are a few facts and a few delusions floating around the First Niagara Center right now. The fact is the Sabres were very impressive in their first two wins during the NHL Premiere series in Helsinki and Berlin last weekend. Some of the delusions are that this team will be virtually unstoppable as the season progresses.

The Sabres are not going 82-0, sorry. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a good bet to finish high in the East, or even to snag the Northeast Division crown. However, there are some overzealous fans out there with expectations that are far too lofty.

One factor that could seriously change the fortunes of the Sabres will be the return of Jochen Hecht. I am going to leave out the two extremes – he provides an even greater spark or sends the team down the abyss – but it is safe to say that his return to the lineup will disrupt the status quo.

Continue reading

A closer look at the Sabres’ depth

With the Buffalo Sabres re-signing Matt Ellis, Jhonas Enroth, Dennis Persson Andrej Sekera and Travis Turnbull this week, the opening day roster is all but set. While there will be tweaks as training camp comes and goes, the main body of the roster is pretty easy to piece together right now.

The Sabres have a boatload of depth at this point and a look in the prospect cupboard reveals even more. I was linked in a post about the Sabres depth being mistaken for a logjam. While I certainly see portions of the roster that are clogged I did not mean to portray the point of view that bodies need to go and go fast. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff need to capitalize on the depth at their disposal. In two seasons this could be a very different team and that depth will be the reason why.

I divided the team up by position in a relative depth chart. Anyone under a professional contract for this season was accounted for (ex. Shawn Szydlowski). I also included Marc-Andre Gragnani even though he hasn’t officially signed. Of note; the defense isn’t in pairs, it is just split into a relative depth setting to account for who I expect to be on the opening night roster, and the order of call ups. Additionally, the forwards are offset because there are more right wingers than left wingers or centers at this point. Continue reading