Following the NHL's year-long lockout during the 2004-05 season, perhaps no franchise was looked upon more favorably than the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres were viewed as a team on the rise that was able to adapt to the NHL's new style of play quicker and better than anybody else.
The Sabres fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2005-06 season, and if not for a ridiculous string of injuries to four of their top defensemen, a Stanley Cup victory was very likely. The Sabres followed that season with the best regular season in franchise history, capturing the President's Trophy. But yet again, the Sabres were vanquished in the conference finals.
What ensued was the loss of co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency and two seasons that saw the Sabres fall short of the playoffs. The Sabres returned to the postseason during the 2009-10 season but disappointed with a first-round exit.
Entering this season, the Sabres had grown stagnant organizationally. Many fans felt as though the team was stuck in neutral and that winning wasn't the top priority. That all changed, however, when the Sabres were bought by Terry Pegula. The change in culture allowed the team to roar into the playoffs and push the Philadelphia Flyers to the brink of elimination before falling short in a Game 7.
Although there is more reason for optimism regarding the Sabres than there has been in quite some time, the playoff loss to the Flyers certainly exposed some glaring weaknesses. If Pegula's goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to Buffalo is to be accomplished, there are a number of holes that must be filled.
Here are five offseason moves that can make the Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup contenders in 2012.
As the NHL playoffs continue without Buffalo, the Sabres and their fans are already looking forward to next season. Watching the San Jose vs. Detroit series, I realized that there is no way the Sabres could compete in a game, or series, of that intensity, which may be a key factor in why they lost to the Flyers in Game 7 and have won only one in the history of the franchise.
That all could change with the enormous amount of talent coming from Portland. In a couple of years, the team may be able to compete and win under that pressure. We saw it this season, but only in flashes. The Sabres won huge games during the regular season just to get into the playoffs.
Whatever the reason was for a largely disappointing Game 7 performance was, one could expect the Sabres to only improve in games of that magnitude.
Buffalo have already seen tremendous potential from players such as Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, Tyler Myers, Jhonas Enroth and Marc-Andre Gragnani to name a few.
The Sabres have a talented, young core of players who are keeping the future of the team looking bright. Not only that, but the new God of “Hockey Heaven” has helped give the city true hope and another reason why fans should be thrilled for the Sabres upcoming season.
But, before we even get to Buffalo’s 2011-2012 season opener, which will be on October 8th against the Los Angeles Kings in Europe, the Sabres’ organization is expected to have one of its busiest summers in years. Terry Pegula made an immediate impact when he bought the team, and he isn’t interested in making a profit as owner.
“If I want to make some money, I’ll go drill a gas well,” Pegula said, who paid $189 million for the team.
While the Sabres look toward the offseason, there is still a problem that needs to be solved—who is the captain?
With the benching, and eventually waiving, of captain Craig Rivet, the Sabres are looking for an actual leader to wear the “C”. In recent years, players have grown weary to put on that “C”. It’s more than just a letter, but how many players are worthy of getting it?
At one point, the Sabres had a captain of the month, where they would switch the captain every month. It certainly didn’t make a definite, distinguished captain out of anyone.
Thomas Vanek would make the most sense as captain, even if he doesn’t possess all of the ingredients. The Sabres’ winger makes the most on the team with over $7 million per year and is signed through the next three seasons.
Now, some may argue that the amount of money a player makes should not enter the debate in who should be captain. In that case, look at what Vanek did this season after Derek Roy went down. Without him stepping up, the playoffs may not have even existed for the Sabres.
“If it happens it happens,” Vanek said. “If not, I’m not going to be disappointed. If it comes up, I’ll take the challenge, I’m always a guy that welcomes challenges.”
Only time will tell what happens prior to the beginning of next season. The Pegula factor will be in full swing and the Sabres could have a renewed, revitalized look to a team that is determined to make a deep run in the playoffs.
As the young players continue to mature and gain experience, Sabres fans can only watch as Buffalo could become one of the most feared teams in the NHL in the next few years.
This article was also featured on TheHockeyWriters as well as SabresHockeyCentral.
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With the seemingly new-found wealth for Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier as owner, Terry Pegula says all the right things to fans and the media. Only one question really remains: Is this an offseason for them to rebuild or stand pat?
There is no question the Sabres have some really great pieces to the puzzle in place. But looming over their heads like a demolition ball is the fact they are still without a true No. 1 center, and quite possibly a No. 2 center as well.
The lack of a true power forward seems to be something they have not had in years. It is essential that Sabres' brass looks deep and hard at this and grasps the concept of how utterly valuable a true power forward can be to the success of a team.
The defense is not a lost cause either, but the coaching staff needs to decide whether they are going to stick to a run-and-gun style defense where while they will give up the occasional odd man rush, they are going to inject a blueliner deep in the offensive zone to act as a fourth forward.
The problem with that concept is the head coach Lindy Ruff never seems to stick to one style, and almost confuses his players when he pulls those reigns back on the style for no rhyme or reason.
On the flip side, Ruff can implement a more stay at home defensive style. working more on capitalizing on their opponents mistakes through the neutral zone to win games.
I personally believe either approach will work, they just need to stick to the game plan and take their lumps as they move along throughout the next season.
With the biggest name on the open market at center this offseason being Brad Richards, Regier could make a tremendous splash and commitment to winning with a player of this caliber. Even a forward like the never-aging Mark Recchi could bring alot to the table for the Sabres not only on the ice, but off it as well.
The fact may be that the Sabres may have to overpay a marquee player to come to Buffalo, but long-term return on that investment may be just what the doctor ordered to get this team over the top with the new and revamped message Terry Pegula is selling to the fans of the Sabres.
In my humble opinion, look for the Sabres to be very busy come July 1st.
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