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More Darkness Before the End of the Tunnel: The 2013-2014 Buffalo Sabres

Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season.  Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page.  Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres.


And it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel is just a freight train coming your way…” – Metallica

The Past

What can I say?  The Buffalo Sabres had an absolutely awful 2013 season.  Just how bad was it? Try this on for size; they ranked 22nd in goals per game, and 22nd in goals against.  Special teams?  Their power play ranked 29th in the league, and their penalty kill ranked 26th. Here’s another compelling statistic – out of 29 roster players, 17 of them were on the negative end of plus/minus.  Now, we acknowledge that plus/minus is not a perfect stat, but 17 roster players in the minus column? Really? The frustrating thing for Sabres fans must be watching their new owner bluster on about committing to bringing a Stanley Cup to the franchise in a short period of time, and just failing miserably to the point of embarrassment.

After spending a life age behind the Sabres bench, Lindy Ruff was relieved of his duties before the end of the season. Knowing Ruff, this must have been relieving, since it didn’t get much better before the season closed out.  I’m quite sure Sabres fans were quite happy to see it come mercifully to a close, especially with so many questions about the future.


The Offseason

After trading Jason Pominville and Jordan Leopold before the deadline, it looked like the great rebuild would begin.  It also seemed that Thomas Vanek, who led the team in scoring, and Ryan “Atlas Shrugged” Miller would be traded for picks and prospects, as the Sabres organization built for the future.  Except nothing really happened.  Ruff’s assistants, James Patrick and Kevyn Adams were relieved.  Ron Rolston was promoted, and Joe Sacco was hired as an assistant.  Maybe GM Darcy Regier has something up his sleeve before the opening game, but if it was the re-signing of John Scott, than the Sabres have more problems than just who is going to be in the opening night lineup.  Top four d-man Andrej Sekera was traded to Carolina for Jamie McBain, in a move that was pretty vanilla.  But past that, it’s been a fairly quiet summer.


What to Watch

The Rebuild is going to be a long one, however there is a positive thing to come out of this upcoming dark time for the Sabres.  They will be able to continue to collect top notch blue chip talent, like Mikhail Gigorenko, who will continue to develop into star quality talent.  Not only that, they have Joel Armia, who will be a shining star on the right wing, along with tremendous depth at center.  You can take a look at our Top Shelf Prospects column on the Sabres here.  Add in Matt Hackett to boost depth behind Miller, and possibly allowing Regier to trade the former Olympic hero for even more young, high-end talent.  Even on defense, there is plenty of talent in the system, but who really knows when the fruit on the tree will be ripe enough to harvest, and will management be patient enough to let the tree grow naturally.


Who to Watch

Drew Stafford, Ryan Miller, and Tomas Vanek all have good reason to question their future with the club.  Miller, after being extremely involved with the negotiation of the NHLPA’s new collective bargaining agreement, had an absolutely awful season.  Despite only being able to collect a 17-17-5 record with 2.81 GAA, he is still a very marketable asset on the trade market, especially with a shortage of top-end goaltending talent on the market.  Tomas Vanek is also probably wondering if Regier’s rebuilding plans include him.  Vanek is a legitimate top 6 forward, who would look good on many teams’ top line.  He also would fetch a healthy package of picks and top-end prospects.

Stafford is another interesting player to watch.  He seems to have lost his way a bit last season, finishing the 2013 schedule with only 6 goals and a -16, which is the first time he has been on the minus end in his NHL career.  He was mostly invisible on the ice, and spent long periods of time facing the ire of the Sabres faithful.  The Sabres will look for him to bounce back, but if he does, who knows what his future actually will be.

Conventional wisdom says that, out of the three players mentioned, two of them wil stay in Buffalo.  Considering Miller, when he’s on, can carry a team on his own wide shoulder pads, so my guess is that Miller stays, but both Stafford and Vanek are moved.  And maybe that would be the best thing for Stafford.  It would give him a fresh start on a new club and maybe he will discover he is better than his play last season reflected. 


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