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It’s end of August, which means aside from the NFL season starting in a few weeks, NHL training camps will start in September.
For Buffalo Sabres fans, it means preparing for another season of what ifs, free agents replacing quality veterans and hope that the kids from Portland will become stars immediately.
Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier enter this season with lofty expectations after barely missing the playoffs the previous two season and making the Eastern Conference Finals at the end of the '06-'07 and '07-'08 seasons. Either or both could be finding new jobs if the Sabres miss out on the postseason.
The cornerstones on the Sabres roster are set. Goaltender Ryan Miller continues to win games and give the team the opportunity to win games every night. Jason Pominville should rebound after a sub-par year last year, and the defense is getting younger with the addition of Tyler Myers.
Myers joins fellow free agent Steve Montador after Jaroslav Spacek left in free agency. Captain Craig Rivet did a good job with developing Chris Butler and Butler should have a breakout year in 2009-10. Myers will be under the gun from day one of training camp. He has no option to go to the AHL, so expect him to play every night.
Some fans were surprised that Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are still on the Sabres roster, but they’re too valuable to let go. They should look for bounce-back years, either together or apart. Ruff has a history of being faithful to players that have played well for the team for a long time.
Derek Roy will continue to be the top scoring center for the Sabres. As long as he has Thomas Vanek on his wing, teams will continue to match up their best defensive pairing against the Vanek/Roy line. The team still hasn’t signed Drew Stafford, but fans should expect a deal by the opening of training camp. He, along with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, should have more productive seasons than last year.
A lot of the Sabres scoring on the second and third lines will rely on Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy. These two are looking to make the parent club right out of training camp and fans expect both on the opening day roster. Gerbe showed flashes of scoring while with the Sabres last year. Signing Mike Grier to mentor the younger players was a good move by Regier.
The pieces are in place for the Sabres to return to playoffs. It doesn’t matter which seed the team ends up being, because anything can happen during the NHL playoffs.
The NHL offseason is finally winding down and teams are gearing up for training camp, which will take place less than a month from now.
With that said, some teams are through with making moves this summer, while others—like the Sabres—are still trying to get deals done.
Last week, the Sabres added veteran winger, Mike Grier—a surprising addition, but likely the last significant move the team will make this offseason.
But GM Darcy Regier still has one more noteworthy task at hand, and that is to reach a deal with restricted free agent, Drew Stafford.
Earlier this summer, Regier extended qualifying offers to three of the Sabres' five restricted free agents, Pat Kaleta, Andrej Sekera and Stafford.
Kaleta signed a one-year deal, while Sekera was inked for two years at a little over $1 million per year. Clarke MacArthur, another restricted free agent, signed a deal similar to Sekera's.
Both parties (Stafford and the Sabres) are likely working feverishly behind closed doors to get a deal done. But when talks extend all the way until mid-August, there becomes a growing concern that both sides may be far apart.
At 23, Stafford still has plenty of time to mature into the player the Sabres hoped he would become after the organization drafted him 13th overall in 2004.
The 6'1", 200-pound winger has a particular size and scoring touch that doesn't exactly run too deep in Buffalo. So yeah, he is definitely an asset worth keeping—at least in my mind.
In 2006-07, he appeared in 41 games, scoring 13 goals and 14 assists—a promising start for the youngster. In 2007-08, what was supposed to be his first-full season in the league, he managed only 38 points (16G, 22A) in 64 games.
Last year, more of the same from Stafford; he struggled early on in the season before heating up after the All-Star break, then leveling out by the end of the year. Though he finished with his first 20-goal season, his overall numbers were not at all that spectacular (20G, 25A).
However, I am a firm believer that Staff has the ability to be a consistent top-six forward, and 30-goal scorer in the NHL for years to come.
Not to say Sabres' management doesn't feel the same way, but they may be exploring different options at this point. That includes possibly trading away his rights for another right winger and/or draft picks.
That is, unless of course the two agree to terms, or if Stafford is willing to sit out the entire 2009-10 campaign.
I'm sure Sabres' fans can quickly recall the Michael Peca ordeal that occurred almost a decade ago.
Both are pretty extreme outcomes, but still possible nonetheless.
Regardless of what happens, Stafford is deserving of a contract in the range of $2 million to $3 million a year.
Kevin Sylvester, Sabres' pre and post game show host, said in a blog last week that he expects the winger to re-sign with the Sabres soon. Take that for what it's worth.
The Sabres begin training camp Sept. 13 in Buffalo.
The Buffalo Sabres shocked most of their fans on Monday signing free agent Mike Grier to a one year, 1.25 million dollar contract.
Sabres fans will never forget Grier's words on his way out of Buffalo after the 05-06 season.
"I don't like the direction this team is going in."
At the time, it seemed like a strong statement being made by the right winger. But now after 3 seasons away from Buffalo, Grier is singing a different tune.
The reacquired right winger was interviewed this morning on WGR 550 am, and his comments were a completely about saving face from just three seasons ago with departing.
"I like that they have some of their young players locked up". players like Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville."
The problem with me lies in the fact that for the season of 2006-2007 the Buffalo Sabres have underachieved vastly. The front office has taken heat from fans and media alike for some of the contracts handed out to these young players as well as letting some key players walk away to become unrestricted free agents.
So how is Grier so comfortable with the direction of the team?
My money lies directly on the fact that Mike Grier found it difficult to land new jobs as any free agents have this offseason. Sabres fans should still be happy a guy like Grier has decided to sign back with Buffalo for two reasons though.
Mike Grier brings instant leadership to this team. He will, in my humble opinion, be wearing the A right off the bat for Buffalo.
Not known for his scoring prowess, Grier is the kind of player you do not catch taking shifts off. He has a knack for going into those corners, getting his nose dirty, and getting the puck. He expects a lot from himself as well as his team mates.
Mike Grier also brings much needed size to a very small and somewhat fragile right wing position. Grier will be winging a top two line and making his money on the penalty kill. Another facet of his game that is top notch.
So for all the questions I have had the last two days about the way Mike Grier left, I will sure welcome him back to Buffalo and let bygones be bygones.
Hopefully, the Buffalo media will do the same.
The Sabres' lineup is beginning to look quite different from its 2005-2006 roster, when they took Carolina to seven games with a flurry of stars including Danny Briere, Chris Drury, Brian Campbell, Ales Kotalik, and the most recent departure, Teppo Numminen.
Early Tuesday, it was reported in Finland, Numminen's home country, that he will not return to Buffalo; instead, he will retire, most likely due to a heart problem that was discovered prior to the '07-08 season.
Numminen, one of the most successful Finnish hockey players in NHL history, missed every game but one that year after undergoing open-heart surgery.
He skated in 57 games for the Sabres last season, recording two goals and 15 assists as a defensemen.
No. 27 played 20 seasons in the NHL, including three (minus '07-'08) with the Sabres.
He played in all sixteen games during Buffalo's 2006 playoff run and recorded four assists with a plus/minus of 10.
Numminen is ranked 39th in NHL history in games played with 1,372. He also played in four Winter Olympics—'88, '98, '02, and '06—with his native country Finland, getting a bronze and two silver medals.
A sure defensive stopper for the Sabres, Numminen will surely be missed.
"We know we're not the most talented team, but we knew the way we could beat these teams was by playing great team defense," Numminen once said after a game.
The Buffalo Sabres announced Saturday they have agreed to terms with former Colorado Avalanche tough guy, Cody McCormick.
The deal is reportedly a two-way contract, worth $550,000 for the 2009-10 season.
McCormick, 26, recorded 12 points (1G, 11A) and 92 penalty minutes in 55 games last season.
The 6'3", 215-pound bruiser certainly gives the Sabres much-needed help in the size department.
In addition, the signing almost certainly suggests Andrew Peters' stint as a Sabre has come to an end.
McCormick is willing and able to drop the gloves when needed. He was known in Colorado as a guy who stuck up for his teammates, so the Sabres will undoubtedly benefit from that aspect.
With Peters appearing in only 28 games last season, the Sabres lacked a fourth-line enforcer who could fight. Not that Peters could fight, but at least he did.
Ryan Miller will certainly appreciate the addition of a guy like McCormick.
Hopefully, with what happened last year, no one will be laying a hand on the star goalie.
Here are a few of McCormick's fights. Enjoy.