The biggest question surrounding the Buffalo Sabres since they started this shortened season was whether or not Mikhail Grigorenko would stay with the team or be sent back to juniors.  Blowing this decision would have had a huge impact on his future with this organization.  So why was it the right move to keep him in Buffalo?

The Sabres’ game against the Washington Capitals was the rookie’s biggest litmus test so far.

He played over 17 minutes and was paired for most of the game with Marcus FolignoGrigorenko also saw some time on the PP. 

His performance in that game may not have been the overriding factor in the decision to keep him in Buffalo, but it certainly helped his case. 

Even GM Darcy Regier admitted as much to WGR 550 when asked how much of a role the game versus the Caps played.

Let’s take a look at the four biggest reasons, ranked in order of importance, that the Sabres chose to keep the 18-year-old Russian up with the big club.

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With the 2013 season starting to roll, the Buffalo Sabres are hoping to get over the hump they were unable to conquer last season: The playoffs. 

The Eastern Conference is very tight and the Sabres will need to find scoring, not only from their top line, but their second, third and fourth lines as well. 

The defense will need to be stout in front of Ryan Miller, and Miller himself will need to be strong. If all goes as well as it has for the Sabres in the early going, they should be easily in the playoff conversation.

Here are my predictions for the upcoming, truncated season for the Sabres.

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Before they began their shortened season this past Sunday, the Buffalo Sabres announced that they had signed GM Darcy Regier to a contract extension.  It was a surprise move for a team that badly underachieved last year under his watch.  So why would they reward him for another disappointment?

2011-12 marked the third time in five years the Sabres have missed the playoffs.

The thinking in Western New York when new owner Terry Pegula took over the team in February 2011 was that he’d want to bring in his own GM and coach.  That thought-process has been the furthest thing from the truth.

It’s no secret that Buffalo fans are not happy about this move.  Check the comments on (the radio home of the Sabres) for a sample of the negative reaction this news brought.

Ahead, we’re going to examine three reasons why this extension was a mistake and the effect it could have on the Sabres in the future.

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When the Buffalo Sabres picked Mikhail Grigorenko 12th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, they knew they were getting an all-world talent. For the first time in years, GM Darcy Regier picked a kid who had a chance to make an immediate impact on the team.

So why do so many think Grigorenko is destined to be a star?

Read TSN’s assessment of him midway through last season and you’ll understand why:

Possesses the size, strength and skill teams covet in a first-line centre, protects the puck well and has great hands for a big man. Also has a smooth, powerful stride and drives to the net with force. Has a heavy shot, great vision and passing skills, elite offensive talent. Not afraid to get his nose dirty when so inclined.

Realize, too, that they had him ranked second among all prospects at that point last year.

Coming up, we’re going to take a look at three reasons this 18-year-old Russian will become a star in the NHL.

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Now that the Buffalo Sabres‘ opening game of the season is less than 72 hours away, it’s time to really analyze what they have the potential to do this year.  Both Lindy Ruff’s and Darcy Regier’s future rest with that potential.  So what players does this team’s success (or lack thereof) depend upon most?

Surprisingly enough, it’s not Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville.

Sure, they’re both veteran leaders who Buffalo will need to produce offensively.  But if they stay healthy, you know you’re going to get that from them, no matter who their center is.

No, this team’s playoff hopes rest more so with guys like the one who’ll start the season in the middle of those two talented wingers.

Ahead, we’re going to look at five players crucial to the Sabres’ hopes in 2013, ranked in order of importance.

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Every Buffalo Sabres fan seems to have their eye on one player these days: Mikhail Grigorenko

The Russian phenom has come to training camp and captivated the collective masses, from fans to the media to his potential teammates. Whether they praise his vision, his poise or his skating, most seem to think that Grigorenko should be sticking with the Sabres this year. 

Now, the legions wait for the most important vote of them all: Lindy Ruff. 

Ruff certainly has not hidden the fact that he feels Grigorenko has played and practiced well over the course of camp. With a day off Thursday and rosters needing to be finalized Friday, one would think that Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier are coming to a decision tonight about the short-term future of their potential star-in-the-making. 

So why should he stay?

The simple answer is, as of right now, the Sabres don’t have a true third line center on the roster. Beyond Grigorenko, the Sabres are looking at the possibility of having to use Jochen Hecht, Cody McCormick or Matt Ellis at center on the third and fourth lines.

Grigorenko is certainly not defensively acclimated to Lindy Ruff’s system, and that is what got Luke Adam in trouble last season, but Adam didn’t have the defensive capabilities of Steve Ott and Ville Leino on his line. Grigorenko also immediately makes Leino a far more dangerous offensive threat and Steve Ott has the ability to pot some goals as well. 

With Hecht in that slot, the offensive push of that line is immediately diminished, and it becomes a defensive line that doesn’t help the Sabres’ long standing issue of secondary scoring that has been hampering them since Danny Briere and Chris Drury left in 2007. 

Not that you can or should expect Grigorenko to come in and score 30 or 40 points in the shortened season because that would be incredibly naive. Even if he adds 20 points, he’s probably doing great things for the team and his fellow linemates

Hecht had some success over in Germany, yes. But to think he can score 12 points in six games in the NHL is ridiculous and that’s not even considering his injury propensity the past two seasons.

McCormick and Ellis are fourth line guys, and they play a vital role in that position, but having the ability to move Hecht down to the fourth pivot and have those guys take on wing responsibilities will likely be the best option for the team. 

Are there risks with Grigorenko staying up? Sure. 

He’s 18 years old and might get physically battered, especially against grittier teams like Boston, Philadelphia and the Rangers. He may not pick up the system quickly and may be lost for most of the year. 

Many have pointed out that he didn’t “tear up” the World Juniors like he should have, but to say that means you just looked at the stat sheet at the end of the game and saw he wasn’t posting three point nights. He was everywhere on the ice and only—easily—outplayed Nail Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the draft last year. 

But, in reality, the biggest risk is that he only plays third or fourth line minutes, and his development is stunted by the lack of playing time, especially given the fact he’d be playing 20 minutes a night in the QMJHL guaranteed.

So, that’s the real decision. It’s not whether or not he’s good enough to be here. The question is whether or not being here is the best situation for him and his development moving forward.

To think he won’t be here next season is almost laughable given his performance in camp this week, so he knows he’s not too far off, but should he be here now?

Based on who they have placed on waivers—Kevin Porter, Mark Mancari, Nick Tarnasky and Adam Pardy the last two days—it seems they have plans for him to stay with the big club. At least for five games.

Ruff sees his offensive upside and his patience and his skating, so giving him beneficial time is just a matter of him assimilating himself to the NHL game. 

Don’t be surprised to see that happen real fast. 

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The Buffalo Sabres 2013 schedule has them playing 48 games in a mere 97 days. They can thank that monumental waste of time over the last five months for that. So what are some of the necessary steps for them to take to effectively get through such a heavy workload?

Something that should give them an edge right off the bat is that Lindy Ruff has always been a coach to roll four lines. 

His top defensive pair also rarely play more than 24 minutes a game. Ruff trusts his players, many of them in a multitude of situations.

However, what he’s also “notorious” for is overplaying his goaltender. Whether it’s been Dominik Hasek or Ryan Miller, too often, the Sabres have had tired and worn-out netminders come April. 

What Ruff needs to do is utilize one of the best backups in the league in Jhonas Enroth. 

Buffalo has nine sets of back-to-back games in this abbreviated campaign. Ideally, Enroth should get eight to 10 starts throughout the season to keep Miller fresh for playoff time.

Gone are the days of Patrick Lalime, when backup goaltender was a huge liability for this team. The young Swede has shown he can win games in this league, so his coach needs to trust him.

Keep in mind, though, this entire plan is predicated on the Sabres having secured a playoff spot before the last couple weeks of the season. 

If that spot is in doubt or up for grabs, Miller will be starting every night—and rightly so. If this ends up being Ruff’s last hurrah as coach, he’s certainly going to go down riding his supposed franchise goalie.

The reality of this schedule is that the Sabres don’t have three consecutive days off until March 13-15.  Only twice all year will they enjoy that. 

Plus, all of the matchups are interconference, which makes the impact of each contest that much more important to the playoff picture.

A benefit of being in the East is less travel. 

The Sabres visit Florida twice and Winnipeg once. There are no long, six- or seven-game road trips they have to face (four being the longest).

With that said, the biggest key regarding the schedule in 2013 is how they play on home ice.

The last two years, including overtime losses, Buffalo is 42-40 at home. That’s not going to cut it for a head coach and general manager who are going to be on the hot-seat early if this team struggles.

The Sabres close out with eight of their final 12 games at home. 

If April begins without a playoff spot locked up, the Lindy Ruff/Darcy Regier era may end in an ugly fashion if they don’t succeed in front of the First Niagara Center faithful. 

Whether you think they should have been fired years ago or not, they don’t deserve to go out like that.  And all Buffalo fans should hope they don’t.

That’s because the playing field is as even as its ever been in today’s NHL

We watched an eighth seed and the second-lowest scoring team in the league last year win a Stanley Cup. Jonathan Quick was masterful in leading L.A. to an unlikely championship.

Who’s to say Miller isn’t next? 

One thing is for sure about this compacted 2013 season. It should determine the long-term vision and direction of this franchise under new owner Terry Pegula.

Is it time for puck drop yet?

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Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news throughout the season: @SwordPlay18

Anytime a team doesn’t make the playoffs, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about themselves. No matter what happened, the reality is the team was not good enough to get into the postseason, regardless of the reasons.

The Buffalo Sabres faced those questions at the end of last season and are now ready to undertake the start of the shortened 2013 season with a few tweaks in their lineup.

Essentially, general manager Darcy Regier saw enough in the team at the end of last year to keep most of it intact this offseason, choosing to find the answers from within. 

With that in mind, these are the five biggest questions the Sabres will have to answer to get over the playoff hump this season. 

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The Buffalo Sabres schedule was released late Saturday evening after the NHL and NHLPA finally put their signatures on the Memo of Understanding under which the two sides will operate the shortened season. 

It goes without saying that the Sabres schedule, along with the entire NHL’s, will be high-paced and frantic as every team will play their 48 games in less than 100 days. 

While the compressed season and schedule will lead to enough drama for the Sabres, there are certainly some games that the team will be looking to a bit more than the others.

Here are the five games you absolutely cannot miss this season.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18

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Now that all of this lockout nonsense is behind them, the Buffalo Sabres can finally look at the 2013 NHL season as a certainty.  They hope to erase the memory of a terribly disappointing 2011-12.  So what are some of the issues facing this team as it begins to prepare for the shortened campaign?

Besides the typical topics like goal-scoring and goaltending, the biggest question marks are surrounding the Sabres’ psyche as a unit.

After the now-infamous Milan Lucic incident last year, Buffalo’s tepid response made them the laughingstock of hockey. 

They tried to save face later in the season, but at that point it seemed forced rather than genuine.

With that said, let’s take a look at five things the Sabres need to address as they get ready for the start of training camp.

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