2011-2012 Sabres Season Preview
With the way the Bills have been playing, (let's forget Sunday's loss to the Bengals), last year's Sabres playoff run and summer acquisitions seem to be distant memories. However, the Sabres begin their season Friday with their highest expectation for success since the days of Dominic Hasek. I'll tell you all you need to know about the Sabres 2011-2012 campaign.
Let's first take a look at some of the headlining acquisitions the Sabres made this summer. When Terry Pegula bought the team last year, he brought with him a Donald Trump sized wallet that the annually strict-budgeted team had never seen before. With the green light to spend to the salary cap, many expected GM Darcy Regier to lure in high-end free agents to a mostly homegrown team. That he did. It all began in April, in days before the NHL entry draft. Rumors sprouted that Regier was attempting to make a trade for prized defenseman, Robyn Regehr. There was one hitch to potential deal, Regehr had a no-trade clause built into his contract, meaning he had to decide whether or not he wanted to come to Buffalo and complete the trade. The problem was, players have always been skeptical about coming to Buffalo. The city has a reputation for being cold, somewhat desolate, and lacking in things to do. As a team, the Sabres had built a reputation for not paying their own players and having a questionable attitude towards sustaining a winning hockey team. In what added to the "changing of the guard" feeling, Pegula convinced Regehr that the attitude and culture of the team had changed for the better. Ultimately, in a move that highlighted Pegula's prowess, Regehr agreed to come to Buffalo.
When June came around, Pegula and the Sabres showed they weren't done yet, signing high-end free agents Christian Erhoff and Ville Leino. Both received massive contracts, and will play a huge role the team's success or failure. Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers re-signed long term with the team, showing that they finally wish to hang on to their own talent.
So the season begins Friday, what can we expect? One thing is for sure, the team looks very formidable on paper. As it stands, the Sabres have one of the best defensive units in league, with Regehr and Erhoff only adding to a talented young squad on the back end. This should only help the former Vezina Trophy winner and All-Star goalie, Ryan Miller. Backing up Miller is budding star Jhonas Enroth, who could start for a handful of other teams. As far as the forwards, the Sabres essentially replaced the often injured and much maligned Tim Conolly with Ville Leino, a very talented playmaker who will move from the left-wing to the center position. Besides that, the Sabres will enjoy a healthy Derek Roy and Jason Pominville, who are returning from season ending injuries. Last year's AHL rookie of the year, Luke Adam, will also be a needed addition to a team that has been weak at the Center position in the past.
Like I said, the team looks great on paper, but will it translate to wins? The team may take a little time to gel, but I, like many, expect great things. I think the pressure is really on coach Lindy Ruff, who may have the most player talent he has ever had to work with.
Another question on everyone's mind is who will captain the team this year? The team has not had a captain since Craig Rivet was let go last year. There are several candidates, in my opinion. Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Robyn Regehr, and Tyler Myers are all viable options, but my money is on Thomas Vanek. He finally seems to be coming into his own, and has enjoyed an increasing leadership role on the team in the past few years. I think he would thrive in the role and bring his game to an even greater level. We should find out for certain in the coming days.
I predict the Sabres to make the Stanely Cup finals. I just think this is the most talented hockey team the city the organization has ever put on the ice, and if there was ever a time to win, it is now. What are your predictions for the season, who will be named captain?
Go Bills, but let's not forget the Sabres season is right around the corner.