The Buffalo Sabres are coming off an injury plagued season, where failed to qualify for the postseason after a highly active offseason and trade deadline. Although summer offseason addition Christian Erhoff was a productive player, the additions of Villie Lieno, and Robyn Regehr failed to make a positive impact on the team. Maybe thats a major stretch to say about Regehr, but I dont care, I'll say it. I was expecting a much better player than what Buffalo got. Physically speaking, Regehr was as advertised, but he really had a disappointing season in my book. He was a -11 and had his worse statistical season since his rookie year. I didnt acquire Regehr for his offense obviously, but I also didnt want another Craig Rivet. The Sabres also got hit with injuries during the season starting with Milan Lucic's brutal collision with Ryan Miller, starting a rash of injuries, and prompting a downward spiral in December and January. By the trade deadline the Sabres made a heroic march to playoff contention. They also made a solid move in dealing Paul Gaustad for a first round pick to Nashville, as well as top prospect Zack Kassian for center Cody Hodgson. Although the Sabres were getting healthy, it proved to be too little too late, as the Sabres would miss the playoffs for the 3rd time in 5 years.
The Sabres offseason this summer has been slightly disappointing. Although they did make a splash at the draft, acquiring Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensens, the Sabres have yet to make a major trade for a top line center that everyone wants so badly in Buffalo. Steve Ott and John Scott are notable acquisitions, and will make the team tougher to play against, I believe its safe to say that until a top line center is acquired, it would be tough to see the Sabres making the playoffs next season in a much more competitive Eastern Conference.
In order for the Sabres to make the playoffs next year, a team or two from the Eastern Conference playoffs must fall out. The Canidates most likely for this are the New Jersey Devils, and the Florida Panthers. Eventhough the Devils lost Parise, dont underestimate them, as Martin Brodeur will return and Ilya Kovalchuk is still on the roster and was the driving force of that team last season. Both the Devils and the Panthers are tough sells in terms of declining teams. Two teams on the outside of the playoff picture last season in the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, made signifigant strides this offseason, and will most likely make a push for the playoffs in 2013.
The Sabres simply aren't good enough right now to make the playoffs next year. They still do not have a proven top line center, or even a proven second line center. The Sabres are hoping and praying that next year that Hodgson and Ennis will be productive over an 82 game season. They are also hoping that Mikhail Grigorenko will be the real deal, real soon. They dont have a true power forward, and the efforts to acquire Shane Doan or Bobby Ryan have been stagnant, and too many key players on this team are models of inconsistency or underachievers. I dont mean this in terms of statisically, but from a standpoint of, this team over the last 5 years always seems to put itself in a position where they miss out on wins and points that are obtainable during the middle of the season, and have to rely on a surge late in the year to make the playoffs.
The jury is also out on coach Lindy Ruff.
Lindy Ruff has made the playoffs four times since Dominik Hasek left Buffalo a decade ago, and you have to wonder, at what point does Lindy Ruff start to take blame for the last decade of mediocre years of the Buffalo Sabres. Brad Boyes, and Derek Roy are two players of many other who have pubically acknowledged their dislike for Ruff, and speculation has emerged this offseason questioning if Lindy Ruff hurts this team in luring free agents to play here? In any other city, Lindy Ruff would have been fired, but yet, head coach of the Sabres is a lifetime appointment?
Many pro-Lindy Ruff fans and columnists will make it excuses for the misfortunes of Ruff, but I cant buy any excuses for Ruff any more. Other teams have cheap owners, other teams lose players, and other teams have injuries. The truely great coaches can overcome adversity, and get the most out of his players, but instead, many of Lindy Ruff's team's collapse when it matters most, and god knows that in the seasons the Sabres missed the playoffs since 2003-04, the Buffalo Sabres have been in position to sneak in the playoffs, but usually find a way to flatline in the end. I'd like to say things will be different under Terry Pegula's ownership with his deep pockets, but unfortunately, the head coach is still here and it doesnt appear is going anywhere anytime soon. Until Lindy Ruff is removed from head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, the Sabres will never win the Stanley Cup, and Why? 05-06 was the closest Ruff will ever come to the cup and was stopped in the postseason by the Hurricanes. Many people believe it was because of the defense, I personally just buy the injuries that year to the defense as an excuse. The NHL in 2005-06 was about scoring goals and multiple powerplays as they had one of the 3 most potent powerplays and offenses in the league that year.....you couldnt even play defense in the league that year with the way the rules were enforced. The bottom line to me is that Buffalo lost the series because they ran into a Carolina team that was equally matched, and if not better, and they proved it. They did better than Philly and Ottawa did in the playoffs at controlling the powerplay and Buffalo made critical mistakes late in the game and Carolina made them pay. The biggest one was Brian Campbell's (cant remember if it was him but im pretty sure)delay of game in the 3rd, that Buffalo never recoverd from, and lost that game 7. They were winning that game 2-1 going into the 3rd. The sad part is many Buffalo fans automatically assume they would have beaten Edmonton, and this was far from a gaurentee......this was the same team that eliminated the Presidents trophy winning Red Wings. Is it Ruff's fault they lost to Carolina? Likely no, but what is his fault is the fact that he has overstayed his welcome big time. After the Carolina series, the offense/ penalty heavy league in 2005 the smallish and skilled Sabres benefitted from was gone and the league reverted to more defense slowly but surely, Briere and Drury left, and the Sabres would make the playoffs only twice in 5 years. Here's the major reason why Ruff will never win a Cup as a Sabre: Disappointment has been a recurring them for Ruff over the last 5 years, his act has gone way too stale, and he has worn out his welcome here in Buffalo, and this team cleary has respectablility issues as a result as I will further explain. They miss the playoffs in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, they have a heck of a regular season and lose to Boston, with Miroslav Satan addidng insult to injury. in 2011, the Sabres would lead Philly 3-0 in game 6, only to blow the lead, lose the game and the series....in 2012, the Sabres would overcome their injuries, go on another heroic surge and yet, get shutdown by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pens and Flyers and go 1-3-1 in their last 5 games. The major problem is that mediocrity is a tough sell injuries or no injuries. If youre a free agent looking to come to Buffalo as a free agent, if youre Shane Doan, its a tough sell if the team making the offer is one who has a head coach who has made the playoffs 4 times since Hasek left, and has a long history of losing big high stakes games. Injuries or not, it doesnt matter. These are the same problems other teams have like Florida, who lost more man games to injuries but still made the playoffs, and Washington, who was without Green and Backstrom....or better yet, talk to Detroit who lost Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Howard late in the year, and also struggled with injuries to Darren Helm, Danny Cleary and Johnathan Ericcson.
The bottom line, is: this team had injuries, but yet the Core guys and leaders who were healthy such as Vanek, Pomminville, Roy, and Stafford, along with vets Regehr and Leopold, coached by Lindy Ruff failed to carry this team through the adversity. Especially with the rise of Carolina and maybe Tampa Bay playoffs become more of a fallacy. Winnipeg could also be a darkhorse. This core group last year. Injuries or not, these are the same problems every team in the league has, and there is absolutely NO excuse for winning only 3 games over a 17 game/ 1 month stretch. With so many question marks on this team, and Ruff still coach, playoffs are a tough sell for me right now, and if you dont agree....sorry you feel that way, but i'll see you at the end saying I told you so when Buffalo misses the playoffs again for the 4th time in 6 years.
For a sign of optimism though, as I dont want this to be entirely negative I will say, this team has some great young talent, and the future is bright, but I just dont think they're quite ready yet. In 2013-14, and 2014-15, I'll be writing about how the Sabres are the breakthrough team in the NHL.