It's never too early to start looking towards next season. I would guess that some teams that are still playing are already looking towards next year. In fact, it may have been the demise of the Buffalo Sabres last season. We all have admitted that Ottawa was a better team than Buffalo was but could it have been a lack of focus that forced Buffalo to fall in five games to the Ottawa Senators?
I have talked over and over about the future being bright for the Sabres and today will be the first time we will take a look at what the team may look like next season. In the interest of being as accurate as possible I will only use players that are on the roster as being on the depth chart. I will also list Restricted Free Agents but will put an asterisk next to them and list them below the contracted players.
- Thomas Vanek - (Buffalo Sabres)82GP 36G-28A-64P
- Jochen Hecht - (Buffalo Sabres)75GP 22G-27A-49P
- Ales Kotalik - (Buffalo Sabres)79GP 23G-20A-43P
- Andrew Peters - (Buffalo Sabres)44GP 1G-1A-2P
- Phillipe Gogulla- (Kolner Haie-DEL) 51GP 11G-33A-44P
- Dylan Hunter- (Rochester Americans) 70GP 20G-27A-47P
- Derek Whitmore- (Bowling Green- NCAA) 37GP 27G-10A-37P
- Daniel Paille- RFA (Buffalo Sabres) 77GP 19G-16A-35P
This depth chart is assuming that the Sabres move Jochen Hecht back to left wing after one season at Center. It's an interesting idea because Hecht had a career year playing center but he was extremely weak at face offs. It will be interesting to see how Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier handle that situation. Obviously Thomas Vanek is an elite player in the league and will remain atop the depth chart for left wing as long as he is employed by the Buffalo Sabres. After those two guys it looks a little bit weak, Ales Kotalik may or may not be a member of the Buffalo Sabres next season and beyond that there are no proven players under contract. Daniel Paille remains an option as a restricted free agent(I will have much more regarding all the free agents in the near future).
- Derek Roy - (Buffalo Sabres) 78GP 32G-49A-81P
- Tim Connolly - (Buffalo Sabres) 48GP 7G-33A-40P
- Adam Mair - (Buffalo Sabres) 72GP 5G-12A-17P
- Marek Zagrapan - (Rochester Americans) 76GP 18G-22A-40P
- Paul Gaustad - RFA (Buffalo Sabres) 82GP 10G-26A-36P
- Clarke MacArthur - RFA (Buffalo Sabres, Rochester Americans) (BUF)37GP 8G-7A-15P (ROC) 43GP 14G-28A-42P
This may be the Sabres weakest position and they will have to look outside the organization for help. Derek Roy is a dependable point per game guy but beyond that it's weak. Tim Connolly is also a superstar type player but his durability is a huge question mark. I expect the Sabres to keep him around for at least one more season but he may not make it through the season. Clarke MacArthur could also play left wing as well but he is a restricted free agent.
- Jason Pominville - (Buffalo Sabres) 82GP 27G-53A-80P
- Drew Stafford - (Buffalo Sabres) 64GP 16G-22A-38P
- Max Afinogenov - (Buffalo Sabres) 56GP 10G-18A-28P
- Patrick Kaleta - (Buffalo Sabres, Rochester Americans) (BUF) 40GP 3G-2A-5P (ROC) 29GP 1G-3A-4P
- Steve Bernier - RFA (Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks) (BUF) 17GP 3G-6A-9P (SJ) 59GP 13G-10A-23P
- Mark Mancari - RFA (Rochester Americans) 80GP 21G-36A-57P
The Right Wing position could have a whole new look in just a couple of months. Darcy Regier stated in his post-season news conference that it may be time to find a new home for Max Afinogenov. In a poll on this site a couple of weeks ago the majority agree with Darcy but I was surprised it wasn't by a landslide. There are a couple of restricted free agents in the group and Buffalo will have to take a look at how they want to proceed.
- Henrik Tallinder - (Buffalo Sabres) 71GP 1G-17A-18P
- Jaro Spacek - (Buffalo Sabres) 60GP 9G-23A-32P
- Toni Lydman - (Buffalo Sabres) 82GP 4G-22A-26P
- Andrej Sekera - (Buffalo Sabres, Rochester Americans) (BUF) 37GP 2G-6A-8P (ROC) 40GP 2G-15A-17A
- Mike Weber - (Buffalo Sabres, Rochester Americans) (BUF) 16GP 0G-3A-3P (ROC) 59GP 1G-13A-14P
- Nathan Paetsch - (Buffalo Sabres) 59GP 2G-7A-9P
- Chris Butler - (U. of Denver- NCAA) 41GP 3G-14A-17P
- Mike Funk - (Rochester Americans) 58GP 0G-10A-10P
- Mike Card - (Rochester Americans) 23GP 1G-4A-5P
- Mike Kostka - (UMass-Ahmerst-NCAA) 36GP 9G-12A-21P
There isn't much experience in the Sabres defensive corps outside of Spacek, Tallinder and Lydman. Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera both stepped into the lineup and played well at the end of the season but an entire NHL season could be different. Nathan Paetsch at one time showed a lot of promise for the Sabres but his progress regressed this past season. The signing of Chris Butler will certainly help in the future but it will be tough to jump right into the NHL from the NCAA ranks. This should be another position the Sabres try to solidify from outside the organization.
- Ryan Miller - (Buffalo Sabres)76GP 2.64GAA-.906 SV%- 3SO
- Adam Dennis - (Rochester Americans) 46GP 3.18GAA- .897 SV% - 3SO
The Sabres goalie situation will need to be taken care of from outside the organization as well. It has been well chronicled that Ryan Miller can not withstand the rigors of playing in as many games as he did and the Sabres will need a reliable back up. They thought they had that this season with Jocelyn Thibault but he struggled horribly in his limited opportunities this season. Adam Dennis is an average AHL goalie and will not be able to make the jump to the NHL.