We all know the saying, “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”

The words never rang truer than they do in the National Hockey League. After all, the league’s best player, Wayne Gretzky, was deemed undersized.

While we idolize giants and larger-than-life figures, sometimes it’s the smallest athletes that can make the biggest difference.

With the new rule changes, it’s become even more prevalent for players of below average physique to flourish in the National Hockey League.

It has always been customary to root for the underdog, so fans quickly grow admiration for these pocket-sized warriors.

Here are the top 10 undersized NHLers and why we love them.

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A deep-pocketed, passionate, competent owner can make a world of difference for a team. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks, or the Los Angeles Angels or the New England Patriots. It’s too early to know for sure, but it appears as if the Buffalo Sabres have hit the mother lode and could join that list.

After decades of inadequate and often muddy ownership, they were purchased last February by natural gas billionaire Terry Pegula. He’s a hockey nut that has long been a Sabres fan, and he is already putting this team on the right track.

The payroll is healthy, the organization has all the resources they need, he bought the AHL team so that he could control the development of his prospects, and he has players and fans believing in his vision.

The Sabres do not struggle for crowd support, but they have often had issues translating that passion into on-ice success. They are not going to immediately start a Stanley Cup dynasty or anything, but they sure got a big boost in the right direction. 


Buffalo Sabres Offseason Moves

The team made a conscious effort to upgrade their defense this offseason, and they certainly appear to have succeeded. They traded with Calgary for Robyn Regehr, and they absolutely robbed the Flames to get him. He’s not young, but he is an elite shutdown defenseman who rarely makes a mistake.

In the free agent market they grabbed Christian Ehrhoff from Vancouver. The German is a very strong two-way defenseman coming off of two very strong seasons in a row. The combination of those two guys seriously elevates their back-end, and no one will be happier about that than goalie Ryan Miller.

2011-12 Buffalo Sabres NHL Outlook

The Sabres were as impressive as a team can be for the last quarter of the season last year. They looked to be all but dead in the playoff race with 25 games left, but they forgot how to lose down the stretch and worked their way all the way up to the No. 7 seed. They took Philadelphia in the first round in a stellar series as well. They went on a remarkable run.

Given that the core is largely intact and the team is improved from last season it seems reasonable to assume that they will keep moving in the right direction this year.

It is no coincidence that the hot streak started soon after Pegula took over. Now in the first full year of his reign it would not be surprising to see the positive feelings, and play, continue.

What’s most promising about the team’s prospects this season is that, fundamentally they were strong. They played much of the season in a total funk that they couldn’t seem to shake, but once they did they played up to their potential. Given their very strong goaltending, excellent defense and solid offense, there is no reason to doubt them this year.

There are deeper, more talented teams in the league, but there are no obvious holes here. It should also be noted that they have Lindy Ruff behind the bench. He is the longest-serving coach in the league, having been coaching in Buffalo since 1997. There is a reason for his longevity— he’s really good. Ruff is a major asset, and one who has the full loyalty and support of his new owner.

There won’t be a lot of room for rookies this year after Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe moved up to the bigs and played well last year. There’s a good chance though, that Zack Kassian or Luke Adam could move up. Kassian is a bruiser while Adam is a center who played 19 games with the team last year with limited success but with plenty of promise.

2011-12 Buffalo Sabres Schedule

The Sabres open their regular season with a game each in Helsinki and Stockholm. Some teams have suffered a post-Europe hangover in this situation, while others have excelled.


Buffalo Sabres NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)

At 18/1 to win the Stanley Cup, according to NHL odds, the Sabres are the 11th team out of the 30 in the league. That’s a pretty fair assessment of their chances, and I can’t argue with them being behind or ahead of any team. If they can play with the spark and belief that they did late in the season then there would be serious value in this price, but that’s not certain.


2011-12 Buffalo Sabres Predictions

I am bullish on this team. Ryan Miller is an outstanding goalie, and he’ll have a better defense in front of him. There is at least one significantly better team than them in the East—Washington —but I don’t expect them to have any issues making the playoffs this year. In fact, given that the Bruins have to deal with the stress of trying to defend their title this year, I would not be surprised at all to see the Sabres win their division.

They won’t be my Stanley Cup prediction, but I would not laugh at anyone who took a shot with them.

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With the preseason winding down and the regular season mere days away, Lindy Ruff has some decisions to make. In the overall scheme of things, there are three major decisions to be made by Ruff and Co. that will affect the team for the rest of the season.


1. Who Takes the Sixth Defensive Spot?

The top four defensemen have been set since Christian Ehrhoff inked his name on his 10-year deal July 1, with Tyler Myers, Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold making up what, on paper, is one of the best top fours in the NHL.

The question then becomes, who will make up the third pairing?

There’s been a lot of chatter about Mike Weber and him being on the bubble to make the team. Any notion of that is completely ridiculous. Weber was the team’s steadiest defenseman from the moment he was called up from the AHL last year. He also has impressed in the preseason, especially in the home-and-home with the Maple Leafs last weekend, showing his ability to take away ice from anyone, whether they have the puck or not.

Lindy Ruff’s system craves a space-eating defenseman like Weber and he will only be better this year. Look for a marked improvement in his point totals and possibly his impressive plus-13 rating from a season ago.

The fight then comes down to two: Marc-Andre Gragnani and Andrej Sekera.

This is a tough one to call. Gragnani, solely on the basis of his 16 games with the big club at the end of last year, playoffs included, likely had the edge coming into training camp. Yet shaky play in five-on-five situations may have evened the playing field between him and Sekera.

Sekera has been given chance after chance by Ruff simply because he’s had to over the years due to the lack of defensive depth that has plagued the Sabres. Now, with two veteran acquisitions, the Sabres D is deeper than ever and Ruff does not have to continue to give Sekera chances he does not deserve.

The way it looks right now, it seems there is no clear sixth defenseman, with Sekera and Gragnani getting the ice time when they deserve it (or the other no longer does). However, if I had to pick one, I’d say Gragnani will be in the starting lineup October 7 in Germany. His play on the power play has been extremely solid and could give him the leg up on Sekera despite the five-on-five failings to this point.

Either way, two young and talented defensemen will be vying for that sixth spot which can only help the Sabres.


2. Will Luke Adam Make the Team?

 Coming into training camp fresh off the impressive victory in the Traverse City prospects tournament, Luke Adam, Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno looked like they could make a push to make the Sabres outright. However, after a few solid but blase games, Kassian and Foligno were told they’d be starting their seasons in Rochester.

Adam is another story. After playing 19 games with the Sabres last season and winning the AHL’s Rookie of the Year Award, Adam came in hungry for a spot on the big club. Picking up where he left off in Traverse City, Adam used his body to his advantage along the wall and in front of the net. His fast hands have made him an instant power play weapon and his accurate shot makes him a threat to score from anywhere.

Adam looks twice as good as he did last season while up with the Sabres, and while unspectacular during his time with the Sabres, he played a high-tempo game that was encouraging to watch. 

With his solid training camp, Adam has forced Lindy Ruff to truly consider keeping a spot open for him on the big club. The only question is if there is room.

Jochen Hecht has yet to play a preseason game and could likely still be feeling effects from the concussion that kept him out of over 15 games last season. Any questions about the health of Hecht will surely aid in Adam’s cause.

Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick are excellent motor players who give 110 percent every time they are on the ice, but they simply do not have the talent that Adam possesses. Neither Ellis nr McCormick will ever threaten to be a 20-goal scorer this year, but Adam has that potential. 

Assuming that Hecht is in fact injured and not being held out for precautionary reasons, and that the current third line is not what Ruff plans on moving forward with (more on that below), I believe it shakes out like this: Adam makes the team and will play on the third line with Nathan Gerbe and Brad Boyes.

Bear with me.

Paul Gaustad has looked decent this preseason, yes, but giving Gerbe and Boyes someone who can not only score, but get them the puck as well will make for a scary combination. Gerbe is a playmaker who stretches the ice for his linemates. Boyes, while no longer the 40-goal scorer, has scoring potential and plays extremely well in the corners and on the wall. Adam has the front-of-the-net presence and playmaking ability to get the two wings the puck.

If you told me all three players on that line would score 20 goals, I would not be surprised in the least.

From your third line? I’ll take that.


3. The Fourth-Line Dilemma

 The first three lines (in my eyes) are pretty well set. The fourth line will likely be the same rotating entity it has been for years under Ruff.

Gaustad will likely be the only stable presence on the line with his wings rotating on a game to game basis. 

Pat Kaleta has looked great this preseason, but not third-line great. He has a role on the team, and it’s not third-liner. It’s biting at people’s ankles and drawing penalties and just causing a ruckus in general. That’s the call of a fourth-liner. Provided he stays healthy this year, he will play in 65-plus games and will be a steady presence on the fourth line.

This is where it gets complicated. 

If healthy, Jochen Hecht will see time here. He may also find his way onto the third line at times, but I think he will spend most of his time here. Throw away the “he’s too expensive to play on the third line” argument. That does not mean anything anymore in Pegulaville. Having Hecht as a fourth-liner instantly shores up the line from a one-dimensional line to one that has the potential to put a few pucks in the back of the net. He’s not in the middle of a long-term contract, this is likely his last year as a Sabre.  

If Hecht is not healthy, McCormick and Ellis will split time at the other wing. And the same argument goes for them here as it did above—they have great motors, but they’re not production players. If they aren’t getting it done on the other wing, look for Kassian and Foligno to get looks there. Not right away, but come December or January, I would not be surprised to see them in the lineup a few games at a time.

Overall, the possible fourth line will be Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta. 

And all this didn’t even talk about the Drew Stafford – Ville Leino – Tyler Ennis line. I’ll describe it in one word: scary. 

Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com

The Buffalo Sabres have high hopes as they prepare for the upcoming National Hockey League season, and a lot is being made of the offseason acquisitions of Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr. 

While fans should be excited about these new additions, there are a number of incumbent players who will be the key to a big season.

Together, players new and old have the Sabres coming into October with high expectations.

What could put them over the hump are players who can make the next step to return to old form.

Here are five Sabres who are primed for a breakout year.

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As preseason is underway, there is optimism all around the National Hockey League. Hope truly springs eternal as, at least for the next month or so, every team is a contender.

However, some teams have more reason than others to anxiously anticipate the start of the regular season. One of those teams that has a legitimate reason to believe is the Buffalo Sabres

They are coming into the 2011-12 season with plenty of momentum after making the playoffs for two straight years and they had a very productive and successful offseason.

The Sabres have positioned themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and here are 10 reasons why.

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The Buffalo Sabres have historically been one of the cheapest and poorest teams in the NHL, and were highlighted by their filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003.

Well those days appear to be over.

On February 23, 2011 the Buffalo Sabres were purchased by local owner Terry Pegula with the promise that the team will remain in Buffalo, and will  be competitive for many years to come. Pegula‘s purchase of the Sabres has created one of the largest offseason expenditures in hockey history.

The jury is still out on whether the Sabres will be any better after spending all this money, or will be the new edition of the pre-lockout New York Rangers.


What happened last year: The Buffalo Sabres lost in the Game 7 of the first round of the NHL Playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers after blowing a two goal lead in what was a wild final game.

The whole season was filled with ups and downs for the Sabres.

They started off the season extremely slowly, winning only three of their first 14 games. After 35 games and the Playoffs far from sight, the Sabres lost their best scorer Derek Roy to injury for the rest of the season. Everything looked lost. Well as we know, they ended up coming back and stormed into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

The reason that the Sabres were able to climb back into the Playoffs was mainly due to fantastic production from some of their top offensive players. Thomas Vanek had a great bounce-back season (and is finally earning at least 40 percent of his mammoth contract). Drew Stafford broke the 30-goal barrier, and was in the top five in the NHL in goals per game. Tim Connolly managed to play 68 games and had a respectable 42 points and together with the rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe really helped make up for the loss of Roy.


Small note for hockey poolies: Drew Stafford had a remarkable goal-scoring campaign this past year. You might be a little skeptical drafting him believing that he was lucky based upon his 17.3 percent shooting percentage.

However, before you pass judgement, it may be worth looking at his first two seasons in the NHL, he shot 19.4 percent and 15.5 percent respectively. While in 09-10 he scored on only 7 percent of shots, that may be the anomaly and the high shooting percentages the norm. He may simply be a remarkable shooter. I would look at him in a mid-late round in a pool that places high value on goals scoring.


Summer needs and Cap space available: Disclaimer–This may be the first time that you read an article that did not like the moves that the Buffalo Sabres did this summer. To put it bluntly I am not impressed.

The Sabres are $4 million over the salary cap, and in no way do they look like a Stanley Cup caliber team. In my opinion, and probably the opinion of most hockey analysts, the Sabres needed to upgrade their offence, especially with the loss of Tim Connolly.

Well they signed Ville Leino to a whopping six-year/$27 million deal. This contract is absolutely ridiculous. Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier should have considered making a statement on a player with a significant track record. Leino has ONE season in the NHL with over 15 points, albeit 53, and no seasons with over 20 goals.

In comparison players of the same age–like Dustin Brown making $3 million, Ryan Kesler making $5 million, Mike Ribeiro $5 million, the numbers for Leino look like an absolute joke. In no way does the addition of a good third liner make this team offensively lethal.

Below are the statistics of two players in their best statistical seasons, and in my opinion compare extremely favorably to Ville Leino. The first two stat lines belong to Jonas Hoglund.

Anyone that has been following the Leafs since the late 90s know that these statistics are inflated by playing with Mats Sundin. Nobody ever confused Hoglund with an objectively good player, and definitely would not have received a contract of $4.5 million.

Actually in 2002, the first year after these “amazing statistical” seasons, Hoglund was rewarded with a whopping $1.54 million dollars! (By the way the Leafs’ team salary for the season was over $65 million, which is over the allotted amount of the NHL salary cap this season–there goes that justification for Regier)

 Year      Team           GP   G   A  PTS

99-00   Mapleleafs     82   29  27   56

00-01   Mapleleafs     82   23  26   49

The below stat line belongs to current Leaf Colby Armstrong. The year in reference is his rookie year that he played on a line with Sidney Crosby. Armstrong was on pace for a 65-point season. Well as we all know, after being traded to the Thrashers, he resettled into his realistic role–a third line player that should make maximum $3 million (which some might consider high) and contribute as an above average third line player.

 Year    Team        GP   G  A  PTS

05-06  Penquins    47   16  24  40

Sorry for the tangent but you see my point?

Ville Leino played with some great players on the Flyers, and unless he plays with Vanek and Roy, he will see his numbers drop back down to a more realistic total. With the loss of Connolly, the Sabres will have a harder time scoring goals then people are anticipating, unless Brad Boyes can return to the 40-goal scorer that he was at one point in his career. 

To be fair to Regier, he did make some savvy trades and took full advantage of Pegula‘s open pockets. The Calgary Flames needed to free up some money if they had any interest in trying to get creative and improve their team (I noted this months before the trade http://realfantasyhockey.blogspot.com/2011/05/calgary-flames-looking-lot-like-2007.html) He was willing to take the Kotalik contract off of Feaster’s hands together with receiving Regehr and a second round pick, while giving up only depth defenceman Chris Butler. Savvy move for the high-spending Sabres.

The other big signing this summer was snatching Christian Ehrhoff from the Vancouver Canucks. While the average salary of $4 million is very manageable, the length of the contract is a bit excessive.  

Ehrhoff will be 39 years old when the contract is over, and while he will only make $1 million per season in each of the final three years, the cap hit remains at $4 million. Unless Ehrhoff waives his no-movement clause, they will not be able to place him in the minors should his career flounder. Risky move, but it may pay off for the Sabres.

The final big news in the Sabres summer was announced only today.

Tyler Myers was re-signed to a seven-year/$38.5 million contract. The contract does not kick in until the end of this season, the final year of his entry-level deal. This is an extremely expensive high-risk deal for the Sabres, and in many ways provides the sort of dilemma that Brian Burke may be facing in his contract negotiations with Schenn. (I think the Myers contract was very much influenced by Tavares deal that he signed yesterday).

The Myers contract includes the first three seasons of his unrestricted free agency. The reason I do not like this signing is quite simple. If you would sign Myers for the final four seasons of his restricted free agency, you could get him signed in the range of $4.5 million per. Less than $4 million the first two seasons and  about $5 million for the last two seasons. This would equal a total of four-year/ $18 million.

Now the calculation continues as follows. What would Myers fetch on the open market as an unrestricted free agency?

Let’s assume that he will be looking at Shea Weber/ Zdeno Chara money (which is probably his peak potential) he would be looking at a contract in the range of $7 million for three seasons, for a total of $21 million. The sum of $18 million and $21 million would equal $39 million per season, or half a million in savings.

Even if I am being conservative and I am under calculating by 10 percet this would still only equal savings of about $4 million over seven seasons. The risk of having a player with only two years of NHL experience, and playing a high-risk style game is not worth 10 percent savings in contract.


What the future holds: Well the Sabres have a lot of players in long term contract. Ehrhoff, Myers, Vanek, Stafford, Ryan Miller, Andrej Sekera, Gerbe and Leino are all in Buffalo for at least the next three seasons.

There are four key players that are unrestricted free agents following this season: Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, and Ales Kotalik. While the total value of these four contracts is $13.5 million, one of these players is going to be starting the season in the AHL, as the Sabres are $4 million above the cap.

Essentially the Sabres will have about $9 million dollars in cap space for next season to replace these players. Hecht and Kotalik will either take significant pay cut to approximately the $1.75 million range, Gaustad would remain at about $2.5 million, and Boyes is the real wild card. If he has another fantastic season (I think he will), then he is looking for another contract in the $4-$4.5 million range.

In other words there is not much room for growth for the Sabres in the next five years. This is the team they are going to have, unless they make some trades in the foreseeable future. All of the additional money that the Sabres might save in the next two years, will need to be pumped into Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. The lack of ability to improve in future offseasons via the free agent market is my biggest issue with the way Darcy Regier has handled the extra money ownership has given him.


My Prediction: This team definitely has enough talent to remain a playoff team–assuming they can stay healthy. One variable I did not focus on is the unbelievable talent that they have in goal. Ryan Miller on his own can push this team over-the-top and into the Playoff picture. I think they are going to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.


Hope you enjoyed! Check out the other team analysis!



Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com

The Sabres went into the offseason with a spending limit: the cap. Terry Pegula made it clear that the Sabres, for the first time since the cap was established, were to spend to the limit.

The desire to show this was “Hockey Heaven” won the fans over.

An early signing of Christian Ehrhoff made everyone excited. Robyn Regehr’s arrival made everyone equally thrilled. With those two, the Sabres successfully acquired a defensive and offensive defenseman. Ville Leino joining the team could only add to it, even if the price tag had a little bit more than necessary.

The loss in the Brad Richards race was less hurtful once everyone found out that he was interested pretty much solely in the Rangers.

However, the Sabres failed to make good on one thing many people will come to realize soon: sign a No. 1 center.

Derek Roy is no No. 1 center. He was playing well last year before his injury, however it seemed that the team, especially linemate Thomas Vanek, excelled in his absence.

Brad Boyes is at best a second line center, but that’s a stretch. He should be manning the third line, which for his price tag is a little disappointing.

Paul Gaustad has no place being a top center. He is a great faceoff man, but the rest of his game lacks the fine skills required to be in the top of the lineup. 

So who is the Sabres’ top center? Roy is by default. However, with the moves the Buffalo Sabres have made, that’s a disappointment. People sat by thinking the Sabres had one more cap-clearing move to make to sign a big-name center. That never came.

Without it, the Sabres aren’t in deep trouble, but a disadvantage. Think of the best teams in the league, the Stanley Cup champions of past. Every team had a star center.

If Terry Pegula wants to make good on his promise for the cup, he better get in Darcy’s ear quick to find a center. Otherwise, it’s going to be a struggle to be a playoff team. There’s time, but it’s running out until the season starts. A midseason trade is possible, but why wait? 

This offseason started with a lot of promise, so preseason seems about the time to cap it off on a positive note as well.

Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com