Sabres: Lockout Over, Looking Ahead

The last time Buffalo hockey fans watched an NHL contest was over nine months ago on April 7th when the Sabres finished the 2011-2012 campaign with a loss to division rival, Boston Bruins, in shootout fashion.

Since that day, planet earth has continued to spin dependably on its axis despite the notions of the ancient Mayans and those in charge of ensuring the NHL’s continued growth and development.

When the world of the NHL came to an abrupt halt September 15, 2012, an entire continent paused for a second to notice.  Unfortunately for the game of hockey, only the impassioned fans of the sport continued to keep tabs on the 100-plus day lockout that followed.

While the NHL and NHLPA bickered like two infants over a toy in a playpen full of them, the rest of the country went along concerning itself with real life issues such as; who will be the president for the next four years, the recently avoided fiscal cliff and Kimye.

Now that the two sides are close to finalizing the
negotiations that should have been settled over four months ago, the lasting
impact on how the product on the ice, and interest off of it, will be affected
remains to be seen.

It seems as though the major hockey markets will resume
business as usual, but for the teams that typically struggled to draw a crowd
before the lockout, there may be an even tougher realization once the season
begins.

It has been confirmed that the league will play a 48-game
regular season beginning on January 19, 2013, but no formal schedule has been
released.  It is being forecasted that
each team will play 30 of the 48 games against conference opponents, while the
other 18 will be played within the respective division.

Most players have done their best to stay in shape by
skating and working out in their hometowns or in the cities they call home
during the season, but any player will tell you there is no substitute for the
physicality of an actual game.

Those who haven’t been playing in juniors or overseas will
certainly be behind the curve in terms of ‘game shape’ conditioning when teams
convene for abbreviated training camps coming up in the next week.

As the Sabres players begin to migrate back to Buffalo in
anticipation of the deal being made official, there should be a cautious
optimism not only for the 48-game regular season, but for the chances of making
the postseason and a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

The Sabres have strength in numbers all over their roster
except one position, center.  After
trading away Derek Roy last season, the team will look to Cody Hodgson, Tyler
Ennis and possibly 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko to man the top
pivots.

Grigorenko should get a long look in training camp at the
first line center spot between the Sabres top scoring duo Thomas Vanek and
Jason Pominville.  So far in 2012-2013
with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Grigorenko has 29-goals and 50-points in
30-games.  He also registered 6-points in
7-games, leading the host team Russia to the Bronze medal in the 2013 World
Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.

That is not a knock on Cody Hodgson who has been a fantastic
playmaker in the middle for the Rochester Americans with 19-points in 19-games,
but the ceiling, size and skill set of Grigorenko make him an ideal fit for the
top center spot.

Should Grigorenko be sent back to the QMJHL then Steve Ott,
Ville Leino and Kevin Porter will be the candidates to pick up the third line
center duties while Hodgson plays on the top line.

It is tough to envision Tyler Ennis centering anyone but
Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, who created great chemistry together at the
end of the 2011-2012 season.  Foligno and
Stafford have the size and skill to work the corners and bury both the ugly and
pretty scoring opportunities from the offensive creativity Ennis infuses.

The Sabres have a few injury concerns for the beginning of
the season as Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick are both still recovering from
injuries and have been rehabbing with the team’s trainers throughout the
lockout.  Corey Tropp is also out with a
torn ACL he suffered while skating for Rochester.  When McCormick and Gerbe return to peak
physical condition, projected to be sometime in February, the competition will
ratchet up amongst the bottom two lines for playing time.

The greatest amount of depth the Sabres have resides along
the blue line, with 10 defensemen ready to vie for six NHL slots.  Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr
and Jordan Leopold are the four defensemen etched in stone, while the final two
spots could be decided over the next week.

Andrej Sekera and Alexander Sulzer are the top candidates to
don the blue and gold and will be pushed by a strong contingency of qualified
contenders.  Adam Pardy, Brayden McNabb, T.J.
Brennan and Mike Weber all have NHL-type skill sets that could be put to use if
they impress in training camp.

The most significant position for the 2012-2013 Sabres is
between the pipes.  Ryan Miller is the
unquestioned starting goaltender and Jhonas Enroth is his backup, but the real
quandary resides within which version of Ryan Miller will show up.

Will it be the 2010 Vezina Trophy winning, Olympic Silver
Medal wearing, Olympic MVP? Or the shell of that wall who showed up for much of
the 2011-2012 campaign?  Although the
Sabres do not have the offensive talent of teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia,
New York and Carolina, if Miller can be the rock he has been for many of the
past Sabres playoff runs, they should contend for a top-5 spot in the Eastern
Conference.

In order to contend for the Cup the Sabres need a lot of
things to go right.  On top of the defense
and goaltending living up to expectations, they need Hodgson or Grigorenko to
step in and become an immediate presence in the middle.  Additionally, the second and third line must
be more consistent contributors offensively.

With the amount of parity in the Northeastern Division there is no question the opportunity for a playoff run is there for the taking.  Should all of the stars align, and potential becomes reality, it’s conceivable that Buffalo could hoist its first Stanley Cup in the season that almost never was.

Image of Ryan Miller: sabres.nhl.com


About the author  ⁄ Kyle Gunn-Taylor

13 comments
ivan putski jr
ivan putski jr

You sound like you know what you're talking about.. a real sports fan..I bet we could enjoy a beer together sometime. Cheers bro!

The Boss
The Boss

I don't care what Scotty did anywhere else, in Buffalo Ruff has been better, that was my point. You speak as though the team did nothing to get better, and the exact opposite happened, they dumped two long standing patsys in Roy and Gaustad, piced up proven tough guys that can play and drafted two picks in the top 14.

FTheRedTape
FTheRedTape

Umm...no. There's no such thing as "dumbing down" writing that is littered with fluff and grammatical errors. Nice try, though. I like the idea behind your commentary...just the wrong type of comment for which to use it. Maybe keep this one in the hopper and resubmit it for a demolition story...?

LouisTully
LouisTully

Yeah, dude, but your example of Philly and Pitt as a model for going deep is weak. Yeah, the Sabres would've been smoked, I think you mean in 4 games since it is a 7 game series. But using that series or those teams as an example for making a good playoff run is weak, the foremost reason is because neither even made it to the conference finals. You can't even use Philly's previous success because their roster changed so much. You want to use a good example, take the Champs from last year as a well-rounded team.

16thStreet
16thStreet

Scotty has 8 cups, and bunch more playoff appearances- not exactly a great example.

The Pens and Philly series exploited the physical side of Hockey. I know Philly lost in round two, but had the Sabres played against Philly in that series, it would not have gone past 3 games.

I realize they picked up some “tough” players. Regehr and Leino were supposed to be “tough” too. Give them a few months under Ruff’s coaching and they turn into silly putty.

I think I’m being realistic, but I hope I’m wrong.

ivan putski jr
ivan putski jr

I thought it was good....dumbing it down for the typical BRO urban densityophile /every old building is historic / Amherst St is the new Elmwood / bike lane loving reader

The Boss
The Boss

As long as Regier & Ruff are at the helm we will never raise the cup" Ruff Stanley Cup apprearences as a Sabres Coach 1 Confrence Finals 3, Scotty Bowman 0 and 0.

"Lucic hit on Miller what happened" we dumped Roy and Gaustad (who was on the ice for the Miller hit) we picked up two tough rugged players, that is what happened. Also stole that 1st round pick for Gaustad and drafted two players in the top 14 picks of 1st round.

FTheRedTape
FTheRedTape

Rut-row; looks like BR has found a hockey version of Josh Bauer. You lost me with that grammatical disaster, run-on first sentence. Be concise and always tell the reader something they might not have otherwise known.

Nevertheless, good luck and keep writing.

Zetterburger
Zetterburger

"they should contend for a top-5 spot in the Eastern Conference"

Hahaha! I *guarantee* they'll get top five in the Northeast, but Eastern Conference is pretty optimistic...

LouisTully
LouisTully

"Did you watch the Pens vs Philly last playoffs?"

Bad example. That series was a disaster, though entertaining. And after the Pens flopped, the Flyers flopped the next round. Hardly 'deep'.

16thStreet
16thStreet

As someone who wears rose coloured glasses, I'm the eternal optimist when it comes to most things, especially my sports team.

So it hurts me to say it but, as long as Ruff and Rieger are at the helm, we will NEVER raise the cup.

We can’t keep acting like the “Buffalo Soft serves” and expect to go deep in the playoffs.

Example: after the Lucic hit on Miller, what happened? NOTHING! Did you watch the Pens vs Philly last playoffs?!? That’s what it takes to go deep. The Sabres would have folded like a cheap wallet had they been put to that challenge.

Until then, go Sabres :/

https://me.yahoo.com/a/FxFCjeIpmILr1s8UmNqaK.5EwqX
https://me.yahoo.com/a/FxFCjeIpmILr1s8UmNqaK.5EwqX

"With the amount of parody in the Northeastern Division . . ."

I think you meant "parity" -- though, given the fact the Sabres have missed the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, and got bounced in the first round the other two, "parody" would seem appropriate . . .

.

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