(Note from Krantz: Between now and the start of the preseason on the 19th, I will be asking a pressing question about each team and attempting to answer it. Today it continues with the Buffalo Sabres)
“Starting today,” new Sabres owner Terry Pegula said, “the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup.” He provided the Sabres, a.k.a. Pegulaville, with an infusion of cash that has not been seen there in a long time. Which brings me to my question.
Question: Will Pegula’s spending and subsequent new faces make a difference for Buffalo?
In free agency, the Sabres, to name a few, signed career third-liner Ville Leino for $27 million over 6 years- more than $4 million a year; and Christian Ehrhoff, former Canuck, to a 10-year, $40 million deal which is one of the most cap-circumventing contracts I have ever seen. they also traded for Robin Regehr and Ales Kotalik from the Flames. Regehr was a career Flame (yes, many jokes there) who agreed to waive his no-trade clause to go to Buffalo, which says something about the air of credibility that Pegula has given to Buffalo.
The Sabres also lost center Tim Connolly to the Leafs and D Steve Montador to the Blackhawks. Connolly, who has had concussion problems, is a very skilled center with great hands when healthy. The key there is “when healthy”- Connolly is known to be injury prone, and a history of concussions is never a good thing. Montador had the highest +/- on the Sabres at plus-16 and is a solid offensive defenseman.
With all that change, what old faces will we see? Thomas Vanek will continue to anchor this offense, along with center Derek Roy, who will be coming back from an injury that resulted in his missing 47 games and 6 of the Sabres’ 7 Playoff games. Roy is a point-per-game player when healthy, and Vanek posted another solid season, netting 32 goals. And, of course, there is goalie Ryan Miller. The American is as solid as they come in the NHL. However, he will be looking to rebound from a slightly down season last year (.916 SV %).
The Sabres’ loss of Connolly and Montador was an under-reported one, it will greatly impact the team. However, they also brought in Ehrhoff, who was one of the Canucks best d-men last year, and Leino, who has the potential to be a useful top-6 forward. Plus Kotalik and Regehr. There will be some chemistry issues to start the year, but I think the fact that the Sabres play their first 2 games in Europe actually helps that, as they can work out the issues there. Then they have a lengthy homestand to come back to. Assuming Miller has a better season, this is a team that we can expect to see around 5th or 6th in the East. And much of that is due to their signings, trades, and the return of Roy.
But will it help the team achieve Pegula’s goal of a Stanley Cup? This year, probably not.