Last season, the Buffalo Sabres opened up the year in January with what many determined was a surplus of talent on the blue line.
This year is much of the same, while at the same time being oh so different.
Last year's depth was based on experience. Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and Adam Pardy all had significant time in the NHL, and all were expected to have a big impact on the Sabres' success.
Of the four players mentioned, none remain with the team. Leopold and Regehr were dealt at the trade deadline for a glut of draft picks. Sekera was dealt at the draft. Pardy was allowed to walk as an unrestricted free agent.
So, how can the Sabres have a logjam on defense?
The queue is the product of the Sabres' prospects on the blue line progressing to the point of competing for a NHL spot. Sure, there is experience infused throughout, but the Sabres have a much younger feel to them on the blue line than they did last season.
This year, Tyler Myers, despite his rocky year last year, will enter the season as the Sabres' top defenseman, followed by Christian Ehrhoff, who quietly had a strong 2012-13 season.
Beyond those two, there seem to be a lot of moving parts.
The Sabres re-acquired Henrik Tallinder from the New Jersey Devils, likely to play with Myers to start. Mike Weber signed a three-year deal, which seems to suggest he has out-skated his role as the sixth or seventh defenseman. Jamie McBain, acquired in the trade for Sekera, has not lived up to his billing as an excellent offensive defenseman the past few seasons, but a change of pace may allow him to become a weapon for the Sabres.
Mark Pysyk likely earned himself a spot on the NHL roster with his steady play at the end of last season. Pysyk is a future top-four defenseman for the Sabres, so his ability to gain valuable game experience is important to the Sabres' future as well.
After those six, there is also Alexander Sulzer, who was re-signed this offseason, Brayden McNabb, who fought injuries last season in Rochester, Chad Ruhwedel, free agent signing out of college from last season who was steady in his short stint, and Drew Bagnall, likely a signing for Rochester's roster.
The wild card in all of this is Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres' pick at eighth overall in June's entry draft. Ristolainen has been touted as NHL-ready by numerous outlets and will have every opportunity to make the Sabres' roster from day one. Given that he is signed to an NHL-AHL deal, he does not only have the traditional nine-game tryout either.
So as it stands, only Tallinder, Ehrhoff and Sulzer the only defensemen who are over the age of 25 to start the season. That's a young blue line.
Seemingly, the top seven defensemen at first glance are Myers, Ehrhoff, Tallinder, McBain, Pysyk, Weber and Sulzer. However, Ruhwedel and Ristolainen should not be written off either.
That means that one thing that will not change this season is the trade winds swirling around the Sabres' defense, especially the youth. While unlikely to occur to start the season, as the months wear on, the Sabres may be in a position of strength to deal some pieces on defense.
So, the predictions for the opening night lineup for the Sabres on defense are:
First Pairing: Tyler Myers–Henrik Tallinder
Second Pairing: Christian Ehrhoff–Mike Weber
Third Pairing: Mark Pysyk–Jamie McBain
Notes on the above predictions:
Alex Sulzer will be scratched on opening night.
Ristolainen will be essentially fighting for Sulzer's spot, so if he were to make the team, the Sabres will either have to waive Sulzer or scratch two defensemen a night.
Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.
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Despite being division rivals dating back to the days of the old Adams Division, the Sabres-Bruins rivalry has become one of the NHL's best in only the recent past. The Bruins have been the far more successful team of late, winning one Stanley Cup in 2011 and falling just short in 2013.
Still, there's no shortage of history and bad blood between these two teams, giving every game a playoff atmosphere.
Like all good rivalries, this one was built in the postseason. There's nothing like beating each other up for four to seven games to stir the pot.
The Sabres and Bruins have met in the playoffs on eight different occasions, with the Bruins taking six of them. In the first five matchups in 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989 and 1992, the B's took it to the Sabres.
Finally, in 1993, Buffalo broke through. They swept the Bruins in four games in the opening round, capped off by this famous goal by Brad May and call by Rick Jeanneret.
In 1999, the Sabres and Bruins met in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Buffalo winning in six games en route to the Stanley Cup final.
The most recent matchup came in 2010, as the Bruins defeated the favored Sabres in six games in the opening round.
One of my personal favorite moments—though I was not alive to see it—was this awesome display of old-style hockey by Jim Schoenfeld of the Sabres.
With all of that history, you'd think there would be enough animosity right there. However, things have only gotten more heated in the past few years.
On Nov. 12, 2011, Milan Lucic barreled into Ryan Miller when both players were racing for the puck outside of the crease. Miller later left the game with a concussion and went on to miss an extended period of time. You can see the entire play in the video below.
Ryan Miller had some choice words that he shared with John Vogl of the Buffalo News after the game:
I'm not really going to get into that. [I] just stuck around because I wanted to say what a piece of [feces] I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It's unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he plays. That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of [feces].
Since then, things have hardly been cheerful. With guys like Lucic, Shawn Thornton and Brad Marchand for the Bruins and Patrick Kaleta and John Scott in Buffalo, there's no shortage of ammunition when it comes to the fisticuffs.
Most recently in 2013, Brad Marchand and the Bruins took offense to a timeout called by the Sabres in the dwindling seconds of a 7-4 Sabres win. That led to some more nasty comments to the media, which are becoming all the more common in this rivalry.
The Bruins lead the all-time series with a record 147-137-29. That's an awfully close battle considering that the teams have been playing each since 1970.
Right now, the Sabres are entering a rebuilding phase, while the Bruins are looking to add another Cup to their resumé. While some games may end up being lopsided in favor of the B's, every minute of these games is must-see hockey.
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Though the Buffalo Sabres have never captured a Stanley Cup in their 43-year history, the team has been the home of many successful NHL players. Today, we pay homage to 25 of the best men to sport the blue and gold (or the late 90s goat logo if you're into that).
Those who made the cut on this list include both Hall of Fame members and role players alike. Some were lifelong Sabres and others were only around for a short period of time. All of these players made a considerable impact on the team in their time in Buffalo.
In distinguishing from one player to another, there's an obvious degree of subjectivity. There's no way to make this an exact science, but the things taken into consideration are statistics, longevity and fan appreciation.
Let's dive in.
Last year, the Buffalo Sabres by no means lit up the scoreboard.
Ranking 21st in the league in scoring, the Sabres offense, while at times showing flashes of dominance, was far too inconsistent to allow the Sabres to compete for the playoffs.
Thomas Vanek, last year's leading scorer, will likely return to the Sabres lineup despite all of the offseason buzz that he would not. Vanek was limited to 38 games due to various ailments last season, but he was still able to amass 41 points, including 20 goals.
So what can Sabres fans expect from the team's forwards this season?
There are only a few certainties for the Sabres in 2013-14, the first being that Mikhail Grigorenko will not have to worry about being sent back to Quebec of the QMJHL. According to John Vogl of the Buffalo News, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said that Grigorenko would remain with the Sabres all season in July, and the consensus is that the declaration will help Grigorenko's development.
Another certainty is that Cody Hodgson, who remains an unsigned restricted free agent, will be the unquestioned first-line pivot after an impressive season last year. While he needs to work on his game defensively, Hodgson showed exactly why the Sabres were willing to trade Zack Kassian for him two years ago, posting 34 points in his 48 games.
Beyond those two things, the Sabres enter the season at forward very fluid.
The wild card is Ron Rolston and his willingness to play the team's youth from the get-go this season. Players that may benefit from Rolston's youth-leaning tendencies include Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Corey Tropp and Johan Larsson.
As it stands right now, Armia and Tropp have the best chance to start the season on the Sabres roster, but Girgensons especially has impressed as of late and may have a chance to crack the bottom six in October.
Another major question is how the former line of Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford will be broken up. Many seem to believe Ennis may be moving back to wing given his troubles defensively last year. That leaves Stafford as a candidate to flank Hodgson and Vanek on the first line and Foligno likely to land on the second or third line.
With all of that in mind, projections for the Sabres' opening night forward lineup are (see the nhl.com projections):
Line 1: Thomas Vanek–Cody Hodgson–Drew Stafford
Line 2: Ville Leino–Mikhail Grigorenko–Steve Ott
Line 3: Marcus Foligno–Tyler Ennis–Joel Armia
Line 4: John Scott–Zemgus Girgensons–Corey Tropp
A few notes on the above projections:
If Girgensons is not deemed to be ready by Rolston, Kevin Porter will fill the fourth-line center position.
Ennis at center seems to be the Sabres' best option at this moment, but if he is slotted in at wing, look for Steve Ott to play center full time instead of the center-wing hybrid he'll play with Grigorenko as his pivot.
The scratch for the opener will be Pat Kaleta.
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