It’s not enough to set out a course of action in the offseason, stick with it and then go into battle.

That’s a good starting point for most teams, but the personnel battle continues once the season begins.

Teams must be willing to make trades and acquisitions to climb the ladder. While that may be perceived as instability by some, it also shows a willingness to constantly go through the process of self-awareness as a season progresses.

For those teams that are hesitant to go through that process, there’s a little thing called the NHL standings to look at every day that can help a general manager indicate what needs to be done next.

Here’s a look at seven teams that will revamp and threaten (to make the playoffs or contend for the championship) in the 2012-13 season.

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(Note: This will be a top-ten countdown of the Buffalo Sabres‘ top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.)

The Buffalo Sabres’ goaltending depth has not been the strongest in the league since the departure of Marty Biron in 2006-07. 

Ryan Miller is one of the league’s best goalies but has lived with the likes of Jocelyn Thibault, Patrick Lalime and Mikael Tellqvist as his backups since Biron’s departure.

Yes, Jhonas Enroth is a solid backup and may become the goalie of the future for the Sabres, but he has been inconsistent and was all but forgotten in the stretch run last season during the team’s playoff push.

So the best news for Sabres fans is that there may be help on the way.

Connor Knapp was drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Draft and played four seasons for the Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks of the CCHA. In that time, Knapp won 46 games for the RedHawks, and led them to a NCAA Championship in 2009, where they eventually lost to Boston University. 

Knapp was the 19th rated North American goaltender in 2009 by NHL Central Scouting and was ranked the seventh best college prospect that year. 

At 6’5″, Knapp has a size advantage over many goaltending prospects. His big frame and good positioning are what got him drafted by the Sabres. 

Knapp’s quickness has been called into question, however, and that will likely be his make-or-break factor when it comes to succeeding in the NHL.

Knapp has yet to be signed to an entry-level deal by the Sabres but likely will be soon. He no longer has any college eligibility, so the AHL or ECHL would be the next step for him. 

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“Here we go again,” may be the most popular phrase in Buffalo right now.

Last night, John Buccigross of ESPN confirmed weeks of speculation on Twitter by reporting that it was the Buffalo Sabres and general manager Darcy Regier that have been (at least one of the teams) to offer Shane Doan a four-year, $30 million deal this offseason.

This is not necessarily surprising, with Regier taking every public opportunity possible to praise Doan and his playing style, but it may be alarming to some.

At a very high level, Doan makes a lot of sense for the Sabres. He’s tough, he’s gritty and he’s a top-six talent that could score 25-30 goals.

But that ignores the most important factor in this entire saga: his age.

At 35 (and 36 during the season), Doan has a lot of mileage on his legs. What is even more concerning is his style of play coupled with his age.

As talented as Doan is offensively, he certainly doesn’t shy away from the dirty areas. He’s always one to take the body or mix it up when need be. Basically, he will not be protecting himself in any way, shape or form on the ice.

As far as the money is concerned, the dollar amount may be a little high, but that’s what is going to be needed to steal Doan away from Phoenix, no matter what the ownership situation is there.

Is he going to be worth $7.5 million per season when he’s 40? Absolutely not. But can he potentially contribute meaningfully until then? Not a stretch to think so.

The biggest problem with the money is really two somewhat related ones.

First, Doan is over 35, which means that the only way to get rid of the $7.5 million cap hit is to trade him or have him retire. Assuming the deal is signed under the current CBA or the new CBA doesn’t change the rule, players signed when they are over 35 cannot be sent down to the AHL to be buried, clearing the cap space.

The only option would be to buy him out, which still impacts the cap.

This means the Sabres would be eating up (using this season’s $70 million cap hit as the comparison) over 10 percent of the cap for the next four years on an aging player as players like Brayden McNabb, Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson finish their entry-level deals and are due a raise.

It just doesn’t make sense.

The second problem is similar to what Darcy and Lindy Ruff would have endured if Zach Parise would have signed in Buffalo—namely, the pressure to win.

If the Sabres start off slow next season if Doan signs, Darcy will be seen as some spendthrift that just wants to throw his new found money at the problem instead of finding a real solution for it.

Ruff would be cast out (as some already have) as a bad coach who can’t even win with talent.

Beyond all of that, Doan would stifle the growth of players like Corey Tropp and Luke Adam who will be fighting for a spot on the roster when the season starts, but will have no spot if Doan is signed.

So on a high level, Doan would bring the gritty-yet-talented style of play and leadership this team sorely needs. But at the cost, they don’t seem to be quite as pressing as they were before.

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The Buffalo Sabres‘ offseason to this point hasn’t been nearly as busy as most would have expected.  After a disappointing 2011-12 campaign that started with high expectations, the theme of “blowing up” this roster has been a common one in western New York this summer.

When Terry Pegula took over the team in February 2011, there was talk of the Sabres finally being able to compete with the bigger markets in free agency.  Last offseason, that idea became reality, as the Sabres signed Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to long-term deals. 

Just days prior, they had convinced Robyn Regehr to wave his no-trade clause with Calgary to join the Sabres. 

Despite money being thrown around like never before in the Sabres’ organization, Buffalo collapsed after a solid start.  Many point to the Milan Lucic and Ryan Miller incident as the turning point of the season.  The entire team’s heart—as well as unity—was questioned, for good reason.

After being the laughingstock of the entire league due to lack of response from Miller’s teammates, the Sabres’ deficiencies in size and toughness took center stage.

Fast forward to the beginning of this summer:  Through the draft, free agency and a noteworthy trade, the Sabres addressed both of those issues in a big way.  The following are grades in each category just mentioned:  the draft, free agency and the Derek Roy deal.  We’ll end with an overall grade for the entire Sabres offseason as camp gets ready to start in September.

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(Note: This will be a top-ten countdown of the Buffalo Sabres‘ top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.)

Holding four of the first 50 picks of the 2012 NHL draft, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier had the ability to add a lot of talent to his prospect pool. He did not disappoint.

In the second round, after making a splash by taking two centers, Regier looked to the best player available at pick No. 44, selecting University of Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe. The Sabres already have depth on defense, but this pick made a lot of sense for Regier. 

McCabe is a solid skater with great puck-moving skills. In his freshman season at Wisconsin, despite being only 18, he was placed on the top defensive pairing with one of free agency’s biggest catches—Justin Schultz. He was also ranked number 47 in NHL Central Scouting’s final pre-draft rankings for North American skaters.

So what can be expected out of McCabe in the future?

In the short term, McCabe will return to Wisconsin for his sophomore season and hope to help the Badgers rebound from a lackluster season following a Frozen Four berth two seasons ago. Likely staying on the top-pairing, McCabe will have every opportunity to improve his game in the WCHA. 

He will likely spend 2013-14 in Wisconsin as well, but look for him to sign an entry-level deal after that. With his superior defensive zone skills and puck moving abilities, he projects to play in Rochester, but he could challenge in Buffalo depending on the blue line situation at that time.

Despite the depth at the position, McCabe adds another high-end prospect to the Sabres’ defensive pool and will form the future of the Sabres’ back end along with Tyler Myers, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk.

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The Olympics commands the world’s attention.

Now that the Summer Olympics have been completed, they will begin to fade from the memory, and thoughts of the upcoming Winter Olympics will creep into our minds.

After a stunning performance by Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, much will be expected from the 2014 team that will compete in Sochi, Russia

The NHL has not said that its players will compete yet—it is one of the subjects up for discussion during the current Collective Bargaining Association negotiations—but it would still be surprising if the NHL does not suspend its season and allow its players to compete.

While there’s a long way to go before a roster has to be set, here’s a look at 14 core players and one surprise who should be on the U.S. roster.

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Right around February 1 last season, a certain phrase became popular on Twitter among Buffalo Sabres fans: “Do something Darcy.”

That certainly was not the first time last season that the phrase was a common thought amongst Sabres fans, and it was not the last. But at that point, with the trade deadline fast approaching and the Sabres’ playoff chances minimal at best, the cries for Darcy Regier to make a move—any move really—were as loud as ever.

Fast forward to today, a little over a month from when training camps will open across the NHL, and the Sabres’ roster has seen a substantial amount of change since then. 

Gone are “core” players Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy. Prized prospect Zack Kassian has joined them on the train out of town, along with once-touted Marc-Andre Gragnani. 

In are young and talented centers Cody Hodgson and Mikhail Grigorenko. Size and scrappiness have made an appearance as well, with Steve Ott and John Scott joining the ranks. Depth defenseman Alexander Sulzer and Adam Pardy have given the Sabres upwards of 10 NHL-ready back-enders. 

So, what is there left to do?

The long awaited No. 1 center has not been acquired, as far as Sabres fans know. The goaltending depth is far from deep, with unproven players waiting in the wings behind Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. 

But the team does have its strengths. 

The defensive corps may not be the most supremely talented in the league, but one can easily say that the team has at least five top-four defenseman on the team, with an argument to be made for as many as seven. 

At the wing positions there is ample goal scoring talent, with more talent coming up the pipeline in Rochester and the junior leagues. 

So, the question is, what can be done to shore up the weaknesses without hampering our strengths?

That is the question Regier needs to decide for this team moving forward, and it certainly is not an easy one for him to answer. 

The Bobby Ryan saga has now taken a backseat to the Shane Doan one, but Ryan remains the most plausible (and talked about) target for the Sabres right now. That’s certainly not to say he’s the best target or the most likely target, just the one that makes the most sense compared to the other options that have been discussed by reputable sources. 

Sure, Doan would be great for this team. Instant leadership. Instant grit. Instant offensive upside. Instant defensive zone responsibility. 

But the numbers that have been floating around the league as to what it will take to land Doan financially, and it just does not seem like a sound investment for a 35-year-old who has taken his bumps and bruises during a long NHL career. 

So, when Doan signs, eyes will return to the West Coast and Bobby Ryan. The Flyers and Sabres have been linked to Ryan since the draft, with the Sabres being linked to him since last November

Why no deal yet?

The easy, speculative answer is that the price for Ryan is ridiculously high right now. The last trade that was anywhere near this magnitude—Rick Nash to the Rangers—took over five months to be completed, mainly because Columbus‘ general manager Scott Howson wanted hockey’s version of a small fortune for him.

Forget the talks from last November, there’s no way Ryan Miller is going anywhere now. The reset button was hit somewhere around the end of the season, so it’s not completely illogical for it to still be dragging on. However, there are no solid reports on any offers or asking prices for Ryan out there right now, so all that to be done is to guess.

But, with no resolution in sight with Ryan, may Regier look elsewhere?

Philadelphia is hurting on defense right now, likely losing Andrej Meszaros for the season to an Achilles tear. Chris Pronger’s return is nowhere in sight and Matt Carle left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Could the two teams vying for Ryan look to each other instead?

Other teams light on defense, like the Minnesota Wild, despite their signing of Ryan Suter, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Edmonton Oilers or the New York Islanders may prove to be viable trading partners.

Basically, there are improvements to be made to the team. Regier has the assets to make it work with the right team.

What else do you think he should do?

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When the dust settled on the Buffalo Sabres‘ 2011-12 season, disappointment and excuses were all that remained.

No playoff run. No vindication for Darcy Regier. No credit for Lindy Ruff. 

All that was discussed were the injuries, the moves that were made and the moves that were not made. 

But that has come and gone. Now, with the 2012-13 season looming, the focus shifts. It’s no longer what went wrong, but instead what will happen?

The first thing to consider are the roster changes. 

While Bobby Ryan remains in an Anaheim Ducks jersey and Shane Doan plods through his free agency decision, hope will remain that Darcy Regier will bring that top-tier talent in this offseason.

But, as it stands right now, there are three major moves that Darcy made this offseason: Signing John Scott, trading for Steve Ott, and not bringing Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes back.

The John Scott signing was nothing more than a message. This was Darcy Regier telling the Boston Bruins that it’s no longer Sabres bashing time.

Scott is a scary fighter. Ask Kevin Westgarth. He’s a guy even Milan Lucic will think twice about going after, and it will hopefully make the future Bruins-Sabres games about which team brings it on the ice and not which team is “tougher.” 

But beyond the physical aspect, Scott is not a marquee signing. He’s huge, but he skates like he’s huge (as in poorly) and will be lucky to post five points and skate 40 games. (The Sabres also signed Nick Tarnasky, a gritty fighting center, who will spend 76 games in Rochester and six games playing for the Sabres, all of which will be against Boston.)

Yet it is a departure for Darcy in the sense that he signed toughness, something he has not been willing to do in the past. 

The second big move for Regier this offseason was the addition of Steve Ott in a trade with the Dallas Stars that saw the much maligned Derek Roy head to Texas.

Keeping the momentum of the Scott signing, Darcy gave Ruff even more toughness with Ott, known around the league as a deft agitator.

But what Ott does that Scott does not is make the Sabres’ top three lines extremely deep. Notwithstanding Regier’s latitude to make a major deal, Ott gives Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis the ability to concentrate on being the team’s top centers. 

Ott is a left wing, but he is a top-five centerman in terms of faceoffs and will likely be used in many defensive zone situations and the penalty kill at center. Look for him to be paired with one of or both Jason Pominville and Ville Leino, who are guys that can take over the center position in the offensive zone to maximize their puck control abilities. Their skills will fit in well with Ott’s mucking ability in the corners and on the half wall. 

And, like Scott, Ott will make the Sabres a bit tougher to play against, which is something this team has lacked since the post-lockout obstruction started creeping back into the game three or four seasons ago. 

The last major move Regier made was not really a move at all. 

Regier bid adieu to longtime Sabre Jochen Hecht who has been plagued by concussion issues since the 2010-11 season and Brad Boyes. 

Hecht has had this a long time coming, as his $3.5 million salary was prohibitive to the Sabres’ growth plans given his moderate point totals and diminishing defensive abilities. His leadership will be missed, but it can and should be replaced by the likes of Pominville, Stafford and Vanek. 

Boyes was almost painful to watch last season. The former 40-goal scorer found himself in Ruff’s infamous doghouse early and saw fourth line minutes for much of the season. Boyes still showed flashes on the power play and is a steal for the NY Islanders for $1 million next season, but his time in Buffalo was up. 

So where does this leave the Sabres moving forward? (Note: All of these points will be fleshed out in more detail in articles as the season inches closer.)

First and foremost, each forward line has an element of toughness on it now. Assuming status quo, Marcus Foligno will be the buzzsaw for Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson could start the year with Corey Tropp, who impressed in his 35-game stint last season. Ott will see time with Leino and Pominville, who may swap with Tropp on Vanek’s line. Cody McCormick and Pat Kaleta will police the fourth line. 

This gives the Sabres an edge they have needed for a long time. Darcy has been smart not to forsake talent for toughness, but the team does need some measure of grit to compete in today’s NHL

The departures of Hecht and Boyes also leave the door open for guys like Corey Tropp and Marcus Foligno to make the team from Day 1 this season, and the addition of Ott potentially allows Mikhail Grigorenko the chance to play with someone who can take the defensive load off his shoulders, giving him every chance to thrive offensively.

The glut of NHL-ready defensemen also gives Darcy the ability to make even more moves to fortify the top-six forwards especially. Shane Doan has not said no yet, but with his asking price seemingly at $7.5 million, a trade for Bobby Ryan seems a bit more reasonable.

A guy like Ryan or Doan to put with Vanek (assuming he does not need to go to Anaheim in exchange for Ryan) would instantly make Cody Hodgson better, potentially giving the Sabres that elusive No. 1 center they’ve coveted.

Also, the Northeast Division has not done much to make itself better this offseason. The biggest addition made was Toronto‘s acquisition of James Van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn on the second day of the draft. Other than that, the other teams have remained pretty constant, with the only other big story being the likely emergence of Dougie Hamilton on the blue line for the Bruins. 

But, as it stands right now, the Sabres have gotten tougher without sacrificing (too much) talent, and they have left the roster pretty much as is from last season.

After missing the playoffs by three points, that may not be the best plan at first glance, but when you lose Tyler Ennis for 34 games, Tyler Myers for 27 games, Christian Ehrhoff for 26 games and Ryan Miller for eight to 10 starts, those three points look a bit more conquerable. 

Status quo assumed, the Sabres have made the right kind of moves to position themselves much better in the division, especially with the Bruins, and assuming the injury bug doesn’t bite, then it is extremely likely they will reach the playoffs. 

Beginning of August prediction: 46 wins, 101 points and 6th in the Eastern Conference.

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