30 Teams/30 Days: Buffalo Sabres

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Outlook:

After making the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007, the Buffalo Sabres have hit a bump in the road in the last two seasons by missing the playoffs both years.

While 2007-08 saw the departures of key players such as Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, a lot of the up and coming stars of the Sabres picked up their game that year under head coach Lindy Ruff.

During the 2008 trade deadline, puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell was dealt to the San Jose Sharks, which hurt the Sabres during their fight for a playoff appearance finishing in 10th place with 91 points.

In 2008-09 the Sabres had very similar results finishing in 10th place with 90 points. Even though the team did not make the playoffs, they did have some bright spots during the season.

Former University of Minnesota forward Tomas Vanek scored 40-plus goals for the second time in his career and fellow Sabre forwards Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur made a big leap forward in their careers. And while Derek Roy and Jason Pominville had a decline in their game (at least in the stats department), people should expect them to have a better season in 2009-10.

The biggest question mark on the Sabres is the health of center Tim Connolly. The former New York Islander and native of Syracuse has not played a full season with the Sabres since 2001-02 because of injury.

In fact, in the post lockout era alone, the injury plagued forward has only managed to play in 151 regular season games during that span. Even though the Sabres have guys like Roy, Vanek, and Pominville, their success for 2009-10 will depend a lot on a healthy Tim Connolly.

A notable addition to the Sabres is forward Mike Grier who last played for the San Jose Sharks. A member of the Sabres for two seasons, Grier adds some toughness to the team and is a reliable third or fourth line forward. Jeff Cowan is also worth noting as an addition as he brings a style similar to Grier’s game.

On defense, the blue and gold still look like a reliable bunch even with the loss of Jaroslav Spacek to the Montreal Canadiens and Teppo Numminen, who announced his retirement about a month ago.

The Sabres still have captain Craig Rivet and veterans Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman on the roster and they’ve added Joe DiPenta and Steve Montador. There also seems to be a lot of future talent on defense with Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera and Nathan Paetsch could be used as both a defenseman or a forward.

Ryan Miller returns as the man between the pipes in 2009-10. This will be Miller’s seventh season with the Blue and Gold and he has posted 30-plus wins since 2005-06. Miller certainly deserves credit for their Eastern Conference Finals appearances in 2005-06 and 2006-07, even though he had guys like Briere, Drury, and Campbell.

Now that they’ve had a full season without Briere, Drury and Campbell, Miller, in particular, could have a career year with the Sabres this upcoming season. The No. 2 goaltending spot however, remains to be decided.

While Patrick Lalime returns to the club, he seems to be slowing down with age. The 35-year-old goaltender from St. Bonaventur, Quebec, has Sabres prospect Jean-Phillippe Lamoureux looking over his shoulder, but expect Lalime to hold the backup spot, at least for the time being.

What does the upcoming season have in store for the 2009-10 Sabres?

In their division, the Boston Bruins are still the team to beat and are the runaway favorites. However, the next four spots are up for grabs.

The Montreal Canadiens were plagued by inconsistency in their Centennial season, but still managed a playoff spot in the end. Expect the Habs to fight for their playoff lives again next year.

The Ottawa Senators still have the Dany Heatley saga on their plate, so a lot remains to be said on that. And Toronto’s beloved Maple Leafs should improve, but are still a long shot for the playoffs.

The Sabres are in a good position right now, and should take advantage of the situation in the division and the Eastern Conference. They will make the playoffs in 2009-10.

Prediction: Second in Northeast Division, Seventh in Eastern Conference

Projected Lines:

Tomas Vanek – Derek Roy – Jason Pominville
Clarke MacArthur – Tim Connolly – Drew Stafford
Dainel Paille – Johan Hecht – Mike Grier
Jeff Cowan – Adam Mair – Nathan Paetsch

Craig Rivet – Toni Lydman
Henrik Tallinder – Chris Butler
Steve Montador – Andrej Sekera

Ryan Miller
Patrick Lalime

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