On the eve of the new season, I read with interest DBTB's various posts but it only made me sad thinking about how disappointing the last two years have been. So, in order to cleanse the debacle of last (half) year fully and completely, I thought I'd lay out my hopes for the new season. Feel free to add yours in the comments!
1. Focus on the Youngsters: I really am ambivalent on the topic of BFLO dealing Miller and Vanek (and Stafford, Leino, even Ennis). While they both are or have been in the conversation as elite players over the course of their career, both are life-time Sabres, and both seem like stand-up guys, they both have the stench of the previous five years of under-performing, lackadaisical, inconsistency on them. I want to see ice for Larsson, Grigs, Pysyk, Z, Foligno, Risto, even guys like McNabb or Catenacci. Take your lumps now, together. Learn together, build confidence together, turn this thing around together. Over the next 18 months, add the young guys in from Roch, juniors, US college, see what you've got. That's your new 'Core'. Let's see them develop.
2. Effort, Hustle, Grit, Fire: I want to see it. I want to feel it. Corsi, shmorsi. Let me see guys flying around the ice, backing up your teammates, hitting, support in the corners, full-throttle backchecking, 60 minute, 3-zone play from everyone out there (well, except for John Scott). Feel their excitement and the joy when they score. I know there will be lulls, I know they'll go thru stretches when they can't finish or just get dominated, b/c they're young, but show me the consistent effort and desire. The past few years have had me sitting up when they exhibited those qualities b/c it was so rare. This year, I want to sit up when they come out flat for the 2nd and say "Wow, something's wrong here...they must be tired or banged up or something." Not "Here we go again."
3. Rolston Establishing Himself and the Team's Identity: I don't mind the hire, but I was not enthused either. Another 'Meh'. But if he can get the Sabres playing smart, sound, don't beat yourself hockey, and can do it with young guys up and down the line-up (esp on the back end) I will really start to respect him and possibly come around to preferring him as a long-term solution as HC.
4. Smarts: Make the simple play. That's all I ask. No clearing passes right up the middle of the D-Zone 20 times a game or blind leaves behind your own net. No O-Zone entry that looks like it came out of pee-wee gameplan (esp on the PP!). No more refusal to carry the puck out of trouble b/c the system focuses on hitting the long 2-line pass. Chip it out. Carry it out. Dump it. Stay with your man. If I don't see the opposition hitting a back-door cross-ice pass once per game, or Ehrhoff forced to make a diving break-up of a 2-1 every other night, I'll be SO pleased.
5. Improvement: This goes hand in hand with the youngsters comment above, but I expect to see hiccups. A lot of them. Esp if they move Vanek. But I am excited for the season. It seems like a fresh start. I want to be able to watch the last game of the year and say "Wow. These guys have really stepped it up since the beginning of the year". Better D-zone play, more consistent puck possession, while maintaining continuous effort and hard-nosed play - that's what I hope to see by the end of the year. Will it translate into wins? Maybe not, but I'm OK with that. This SHOULD be a transformative year for the organization. Those are typically tough. But I'd rather see that than another half-hearted 60 games before the 'let's turn it on' moment that JUST misses squeaking into the #8 spot...again!
I don't expect a lot out of this year's Sabres. Probably a 36-38 win season. Out of the playoffs. But I'm more excited about this season than I have been in 2 years (since they dominated the two Euro games and I thought BFLO was going to be world-beaters to start off the 2011 season). I want to cheer for these guys, get my kids singing "Woo-haa, Sabres on the war path!". I hope they let me!
Let's Go Buffalo!