With the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres season just one day away, the defensive roster has been set and it includes some face that you know well, some faces that you've seen before, and others that you'll get to know quickly.
2012 Defensive Recap
The 2012 Buffalo Sabres defense was a group that struggled at times during the shortened season. After all the dust settled, the team allowed 2.90 goals/game and a league worst 33.5 shots/game. The special teams for the Sabres wasn't all that impressive either as they gave up a league high seven shorthanded goals. The team had 11 defensemen dress for the team, including college free agent Chad Ruhwedel
As the calendar flips to 2013 though, the Sabres had a few changes in the offseason that mainly impacted the defensive core. Gone is Adam Pardy, who played 17 games for the team and Andrej Sekera, who played in parts of seven seasons with the team and scored 92 points over 339 games.
The Returning Guys
Tyler Myers was expected to the next best defenseman for the Sabres when they drafted him 12th overall in the 2008 Draft. That seemed to be true as well when Myers proceeded to put up 11 goals and 37 assists in 82 games played in the 2009-10 season. That earned him the Calder Trophy and a massive contract extension.
It has all been downhill for Myers after that though. The next season was the only other that saw him put in double digit goals and in the 2012-13 season, he only managed to get eight points in 39 games. Those numbers and his overall defensive play saw him draw the ire of Sabres fans and work himself into press box for a handful of games. Myers was given plenty of offensive opportunities in the 2013 season. He was second among full-time defensemen in power play time on ice/game at 2:12 and had the highest offensive zone starts at 50.9%. Luck may factor into a lot of things as well as Myers found himself with the second lowest PDO among defensemen at 981. PDO is the sum of on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage and regresses to 1000. A PDO greater than 1000 gives credence that a player has had better luck on the ice and vice versa for a PDO lower than 1000.
In 2013, the return of former defensive partner Henrik Tallinder may spark some production out of Myers that we haven't seen since his 2010 Calder Trophy winning season. The first thing that Myers should probably do to jump start his offensive stats would be to shoot the puck more. In 2012, Myers only had 48 shots on goal, which was a career low shots/game average of 1.23. By comparison, Myers average 1.5 shots/game in the 2010-11 season which was the last time he scored double digit goals.
Christian Ehrhoff would undoubtedly be the defensive leader for this young Sabres defensive corps. Ehrhoff is looked upon to bring everything to a Sabres defense that has been lacking some offensive power in recent years. He finished the 2012 season with five goals and 22 points, which led all defensemen in both categories. He also led all defensemen in time on ice/game and plus/minus as well.
In 2013, Ehrhoff should find himself in pretty much the same situation as last year, but this time probably wearing a letter. As the defensive leader on the team and one of the more veteran players, Ehrhoff has been a candidate to be the captain of the team since Jason Pominville was traded last year.
In his career, Mike Weber has been one player that has always had to fight his way into the starting lineup for the Sabres. In 2012, Weber played 42 of 48 games and seemed to have finally solidified his spot into the top six for the Sabres. In those 42 games, Weber had just one goal and six assists but was first among defensemen in hits with 122 and blocked shots with 92. He is the quintessential defensive defenseman as shown with the lowest offensive zone start percentage among full-time defensemen.
Weber has played most of the preseason with defensive partner Rasmus Ristolainen and the pair has been quietly good together. While Weber isn't going to be that offense lightning rod, he is going to give solid minutes on the blue line and during the penalty kill.
Drafted in the first round of the 2010 Draft, Mark Pysyk is the youngest of the returning defensemen for the Sabres. Having played in just 19 games last season he showed some offensive ability with one goal and five assists during that stretch. Pysyk grew in the AHL last season, having 18 points in 57 games and leaving tied with Kevin Porter for a team high +8. Defensive injuries gave Pysyk a chance to prove himself last year and during this preseason, he solidified a top six spot with a solid performance.
The New Guys
Henrik Tallinder isn't truly a new guy to the Buffalo Sabres as he played for the team from 2001-2010 before leaving for the Devils in free agency. His 2012 season was a season to forget as he appeared in only 25 games due to injuries and healthy scratches and his trade to the Sabres just represented a salary dump for New Jersey. He returns to Buffalo looking for a fresh start.
In 25 games last year, Tallinder recorded just one goal and three assists. Tallinder wasn't happy with the way he was used with the Devils last season and has something to prove when the season starts. He has bounced around playing partners in the preseason, but the expectation is that he should return to Tyler Myers' right side when the season starts. Tallinder was often thought as one of the main reasons that Myers was as impressive as he was during his first two seasons and reuniting the partnership will hopefully yield better results for the young defenseman.
Jamie McBain was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2013 Draft for a package that included Andrej Sekera. With the Hurricanes last season, McBain appeared in 40 games and had just one goal and seven assists. He's a fairly good shot blocker with 63 which was good for third on the team among defensemen. McBain is going to be fighting for playing time all season as he was on the bubble to even make the opening night roster. He currently sits as the seventh defenseman on the team, but could easily slot in if someone falters.
The eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Rasmus Ristolainen has quickly burst onto the scene to play his way into the Buffalo Sabres' top six. With his Finnish club, Ristolainen had three goals and 12 assists in 56 games. Early in the preseason, Ristolainen showed the defensive ability that made him eighth overall and he should start the season with Mike Weber as his defensive partner.