Last season, it wasn’t until March 6th that the Buffalo Sabres jumped into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture for good. For the first 150 days of the 2010-2011 NHL season before March 6th, the Sabres were outside of the top eight for all but three of them—the first three days of the year.

Suddenly, though, the Sabres had finally cracked the ice and were off and running in the postseason field. Buffalo finished the season with a 9-1-2 record from March 19th on and eventually slid past the New York Rangers for the No. 7 seed. The Sabres then took a 3-2 series lead in their quarterfinals matchup against the then-defending Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers before falling in Games 6 and 7.

This summer, owner Terry Pegula opened up the bank account for spending of all sorts, and general manager Darcy Regier decided to take the opportunity and pour cash into a team that he hoped would soon turn into a Stanley Cup contender. And, in our minds, he’s done exactly that.

Regier was able to make an impressive handful of trades and signings he wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of Pegula, and, though he really did spend all the money he possibly could, was able to create an even better Sabres squad for the 2011-2012 season that truly has what it takes to go all the way. The past two seasons have certainly not been poor ones in upstate New York, but the upcoming year promises to be even more victory-laden than before…and here’s why.

Note: This slideshow was Part 1 of a four-part series looking in-depth at a few specific teams who we believe have become new Stanley Cup contenders or new playoff teams with their offseason moves.

Part 2, portraying why the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team in ’11-’12, can be found here. Part 3, looking at why the Los Angeles Kings are Cup contenders next season, can be read here. Part 4, stating our reasoning behind calling the St. Louis Blues a postseason team, is available here.

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The Sabres have had a busy offseason with some impressive moves.

The additions of Ehrhoff and Ville Leino should add some firepower on the power play and create better team chemistry respectively. I believe Leino has the playoff experience and the fiery play that denotes leadership and wouldn’t be surprised if he adorns the “C” this season.

The following proposed lineup will likely not be well received, however, I believe I can make an interesting case for some intriguing line combinations.

Looking to the Sabres’ previous years under Lindy Ruff, I hope he continues to divide his talent over four lines. We have seen Roy Vanek Stafford for years, and there’s just not chemistry.

I think the tail end of last year should prove that to anyone. Without further ado, I give to you four forward lines, three defensive pairings and two strong in goal.

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Thanks to the deep pockets of new owner Terry Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres went on a spending spree this offseason that vastly improved the roster. Ryan Miller returns to lead the Sabres in an attempt to bring Buffalo the first major championship in the city’s history.

Fans and analysts across the league gawked when the Sabres gave Christian Ehrhoff a 10-year contract. Their jaws dropped when Ville Leino received $4.5 million per season based on one season of production. They were surprised when Robyn Regehr waived his no-movement clause to join the Sabres.

The critics said the Sabres overpaid and still aren’t contenders for the Stanley Cup. They are wrong. The Sabres were the best team in the entire league from Christmas to the end of the last season. They took the Philadelphia Flyers to game seven in the first round before bowing out of the playoffs. All of that, despite leading scorer Derek Roy missing most of those games.

Derek Roy should return to form this season, Jason Pominville should be healthy again and Ryan Miller should get more rest than he has in the past few years, assuming restricted free agent Jhonas Enroth is re-signed.

The bottom line is simple, the Sabres are a much better team than they are being given credit for in the media. Here is an early guess at which 20 players will make up the opening day lineup when the Sabres take on the Anaheim Ducks in Finland on Oct. 7 as a part of the NHL‘s continuing Premiere Games.

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The Buffalo Sabres have resigned Andrej Sekera and Matt Ellis to multi-year contracts. Both are RFAs.

Resigning Sekera avoided an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 25th. He was tendered an offer two weeks ago.

He is coming off arguably his best NHL season, although his post-season effort was limited to two games due to an upper body injury he sustained before the post-season. The 25-year-old defenseman posted 29 points (3 goals, 26 assists) and was plus-11 in 76 regular season games.

Sekera will earn $11 million over four years ($4,750,000 signing bonus by July 2012).

Ellis, 29, spent 14 games with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2010-2011 season. The left winger was pointless in these games, and was minus-4.

Ellis registered ten goals and 31 points in more than 50 games he played with the Sabres’s AHL affiliate (until this season), the Portland Pirates.

After the purchase of the Rochester Americans on May 17, 2011 by Sabres owner Terrance Pegula and clearing various obstacles, it was announced on June 24, 2011 that the Rochester Americans would become the new AHL-affiliate of the Sabres. 

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After the early portion of the offseason that saw the Buffalo Sabres acquire Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino by means of trade or free agency, it stands to reason that the Sabres are essentially happy with their team heading into next season.

When you look deeper into Buffalo’s situation with regards to restricted free agents and the salary cap, however, there could still be some moves on the horizon. With this in mind, of course, NHL rumor mongers have been hard at work trying to piece together possible trade scenarios.

Although a blockbuster seems unlikely at this point, there is certainly reason to believe the Sabres could make one or two smaller deals before training camp commences in September. Not only does Buffalo have a glut of wingers on its roster, but restricted free agents like Jhonas Enroth, Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani remain unsigned.

With the Sabres just $338,000 from the cap ceiling, it’s quite obvious that additional moves will need to be made if Enroth, Sekera and Gragnani are all going to sign. This could be solved by stashing Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn in AHL Rochester, but one gets the feeling that another trade could be forthcoming.

The following are the hottest Sabres trade rumors to date.

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In recent years, Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has been criticized by many fans for his shortcomings at the NHL trade deadline. Additions such as Brad Boyes, Dominic Moore and Raffi Torres have fizzled over the past few seasons after excelling with their previous employers.

When you look back into the archives, however, Regier has made plenty of shrewd trades that have helped the Sabres in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup. It seems as though Regier may have hit another home run with his acquisition of defenseman Robyn Regehr from the Calgary Flames a couple weeks ago.

In the deal, Buffalo gave up only defenseman Chris Butler and forward Paul Byron, and received forward Ales Kotalik and a second-round pick in addition to Regehr. With Butler and Byron not expected to become much more than fringe NHL players, this trade could eventually go down as one of the best in team history should Regehr continue his stellar play.

Since the trade has yet to play itself out, it would be unfair to label it as an all-time great at this point. With that said, there has been no shortage of one-sided trades during the Sabres’ 40-plus years of existence. Here are the top 10 trades in Buffalo Sabres history.

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It wasn’t too long ago that Steve Montador or Rob Niedermayer were considered significant free agent signings for the Buffalo Sabres. After a whirlwind week that saw the Sabres ink defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Ville Leino to long-term deals, as well as trade for defenseman Robyn Regehr, it appears as though Buffalo can match any team in the NHL financially.

The Sabres’ new owner Terry Pegula proved that he was more than just talk when he opened up his checkbook and provided Buffalo with one of the league’s highest payrolls. While most Sabres’ fans were thrilled with the change in philosophy, some still believe that greater measures need to be taken to make the Sabres true Stanley Cup contenders.

The signing of Leino and subsequent suggestion by head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier that Leino would play center was met with mixed reactions. Although Leino should add some diversity to Buffalo’s offensive attack, many think the addition of a true No. 1 center is still a necessity.

While Regier intimated that he was happy with the team as is, he also said that he would continue to explore trade options. Prior to free agency, Regier said that a trade window would likely open a few weeks into the free agency period. With that in mind, Buffalo may still be in the market for another center.

With plenty of depth on the wing, players like Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht and even Jason Pominville could be moved in a trade for a center or a separate deal to clear cap space for an incoming center. The Sabres also possess considerable prospect depth, particularly on defense. When you add in 2012 draft picks, it is clear that Buffalo has the assets to acquire a legitimate top-line center.

Here are five realistic center options the Sabres can acquire this offseason.

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