If there were only two words to describe my emotions regarding the year the Buffalo Sabres had it would be: pleasantly surprised.
Thinking back to the beginning of the 2009-2010 campaign most hockey "analysts" had the Sabres being at best a 7th or 8th seed going into the playoffs. There was also large number of commentators who didn't even have them making it to the postseason. Respect is something that is hard to come by for most small-market teams, like the Buffalo Sabres, but it is also something that, when earned, makes the experience that much better.
As a life-long Sabres fan stranded in the Washington, DC region since late 2007, the NHL Center Ice Package is a necessity, and it was certainly bittersweet to see the team back in the playoffs while missing the excitement that is generated around the WNY area as a result. I cannot stress this point enough - never take for granted the Sabres playoff atmosphere because it is one of a kind, and like Santa Claus, only comes once a year to those who wait and are worthy. I know that is a stretch but seriously, Buffalo is a certified hockeytown and the Washington Capitals fans are like Journey sans Steve Perry...merely a cheap imitation of the real thing which lacks the understanding for what makes the end-product great.
Ok enough with the metaphors, to reiterate what bflo said: this season saw the emergence of new stars (Ennis and Myers), solidified the elite status of our goaltender and savior, Ryan Miller, and exposed a glaring deficiency in our “core” group of forwards who are undersized and fail to put the puck in the net when they need to the most – in tight games and on the power play.
Here’s a few suggestions for the 2010-2011 season:
Lindy Ruff – keep him here, I think the coach is the least of our problems.
Regier – Torres was the snowflake that broke the Buffalonian’s awning. Time for a change.
Stafford/Connolly – one or both of these guys have to go.
Roy – he’s a potential game changer every time he takes the ice, don’t move him.
Vanek – our best forward, enough said.
Tallinder/Lydman – not sure which one I’d like to keep but you need some experience on defense to help the young guys. Bring up Weber and develop Butler/Sekera if possible.
McCormick – I like his game and he’s a big body that we need.
Ellis – I could go either way on him, a tough, gritty player that plays hard every night but he’s not untouchable by any stretch of the imagination.
Rivet – strip him of the C but he may stick around if he can pick up his game.
Grier – extend his contract a year or two.
Lalime/Mair/Torres – goodnight and good luck.
I could elaborate on every player but I think you get my point. This will surely be an interesting and long offseason but I think if you add a few big-bodied forwards who can occasionally put the puck in the net this team makes a deeper playoff run.
Until then, I’ll be cheering for the Blackhawks…