For a club that has a relatively new coaching staff and ownership, no one is quite sure if the direction that the Buffalo Sabres are going in will be different from what it was last season.
Last year, the Sabres’ season was an absolute mess, as the team missed the postseason for the second straight year and was the seventh worst team in the NHL, and fired long time head coach Lindy Ruff, officially naming Ron Rolston head coach back in May.
There appears to be more questions than answers for the Sabres heading into the upcoming season. Specifically, one has to wonder what trades are brewing when it comes to their two best players, what the offence will look like and how the team’s goaltending will be this season.
Let’s take a deeper look at the things that might prevent them from moving forward this season.
When a team misses the postseason for two straight years, trade rumours are bound to swirl.
This is exactly the case for the Sabres as they head into the upcoming campaign, specifically around forward Thomas Vanek. Thomas Vanek and starting netminder Ryan Miller.
Since joining the Sabres in 2005-06, Vanek has been the team’s best and most consistent forward - in 585 games, Vanek has 488 points (250 goals and 238 assists) while also being absolutely huge on the power play with 105 goals.
The Sabres have been looking to move Vanek - who had 41 points (20 goals and 21 assists) this past season - all offseason long, but as of right now, there have been no takers. Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier told the Sabres’ web site that: "The salary cap has a lot to do with not being able to make a move right now "The cap is a real big part of it. Any discussions that I have now involve taking back money, moving money. Money plays a very big role," he said. "I think you can look at clubs you wouldn’t expect to be up and around $60-million-plus and they’re there."
Not only are the Sabres having trouble moving Vanek, but they are also looking to deal Ryan Miller as well but are having trouble parting ways with their star netminder. While Miller has had a solid career in Buffalo, it is clear that he is looking for a new challenge and wants to play on a club that makes the playoffs and contends for the Cup year in and year out.
Miller has spent his entire NHL career with the Sabres and sports a 269-164-53 career record with a 2.59 GAA, a .915 save percentage and 28 shutouts. He is the Sabres’ franchise leader in wins, won the Vezina Trophy in 2010 as the league’s top goaltender and also led the United States Men’s Olympic team to the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Miller’s contract expires after this season, which Regier told Buffalo News hockey scribe John Vogl, makes it tough to move a player unless you are one of the better teams: "Unless you’re a highly competitive team, it’s very difficult to have players on your roster whose contracts are going to expire if you either choose not to or don’t have the ability to re-up them."
Should the Sabres end up losing both Vanek and Miller and have nothing to show for it, it will be a challenge for the Sabres to qualify for the postseason whether it is this season or even next season.
Besides Vanek, the team’s offence is rather quiet.
After his team leading 41 points, there is Cody Hodgson (15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points), Tyler Ennis (10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points), Jason Pominville (10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points), and Steve Ott (nine goals and 15 assists for 24 points) rounding out the top five in team scoring. Overall, the club finished 22nd in the league in goals scored.
Last season, the team also got a disappointing performance from alternate captain Drew Stafford. In 46 games, Stafford scored just six goals and 18 points and was a far cry from what Stafford did the previous two seasons (51 goals and 102 points).
If the team ends up losing Vanek either before or during the season, who will step up and lead the Sabres’ offence? No one on the Sabres can put the puck in the net at the rate that Vanek does and no one has been as consistent as he has been over the past few seasons.
Even if Miller does play with the Sabres this season, the team’s goaltending is a bit suspect.
Last season Miller did not play badly, but he also did not help get his team into the playoffs either. Miller finished the year with a 17-17-5 record and posted a 2.81 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
Miller’s back-up, Jonas Enroth, was not much better. In nine games, Enroth was 4-4-1 with a 2.60 GAA, a .919 save percentage and one shutout.
If the Sabres lose Miller either before the season or during the season, is Enroth ready to be the team’s starter? If he’s not, who does the team turn to next?
Simply put, the Sabres are a giant question mark going into the upcoming season.
No one is sure where the team stands in regards to their two best players, the team’s offence needs more than Vanek in order to succeed and the team’s goaltending is not as good as it used to be.
To put these things together, it spells trouble with a capital "T" for the Sabres heading into the 2013-14 season.