In virtually every review of the failures of the 07-08 Buffalo Sabres that I have read, we keep hearing the same story: the departure of Drury and Briere killed the franchise and the team couldn't win because there was too great a gap in the offense.
Or was it?
When comparing the difference between the 06-07 Sabres and the 07-08 Sabres the obvious difference was the departure of Drury and Briere. Indeed, Drury's ability to score in the clutch was a great loss and Hecht was the only player who could even attempt to fill that role. Their leadership and their offensive production was hard to replace and seeing the men in blue and gold drop from the President's Trophy winner to out of the playoffs, it is easy for pundits to point the obvious finger, proclaim that is the problem and then blissfully go away and focus on another team. However, the situation is a little more complicated than that and all you have to do is to do a ranking comparison to see why.
- The 06-07 Sabres were 1st overall in goals scored and 13th overall in goals against.
- The 07-08 Sabres were 4th overall in goals scored and 22nd overall in goals against.
Now it takes either a certain amount of chutzpah or a profound amount of gross ignorance to say that when a team is 4th in the league in goals scored but 22nd in goals against that the team's primary problems are in the offensive zone. The biggest difference between the 06-07 offensive numbers and the 07-08 offensive numbers is that goal production league-wide was down by about 9%. That is an enormous drop yet in every review I have seen of the Sabres performance last year, this league-wide drop was not even mentioned once. Do you not think that a 9% drop in goals scored league-wide would have a significant impact on offensive productivity comparisons from one season to the next? It mysteriously escaped notice by the people who are paid to notice such things.
But because of that, we have neglected what was truly the core of the Sabres problems last season.
- Biron/Conklin was a far, far, far superior backup goaltender combination to Thibault.
- Because Thibault was so utterly unreliable, Miller was overused and his production went significantly downhill.
Now we hope that the signing of Lalime will help solve that, presuming that he can play at something remotely resembling the level that we Sabres fans all knew and hated him for when he was wearing the red and black of the Senators. If he cannot, then we are looking at a repeat of last season.
Miller's poor play last season is the 300 pound gorilla in the door that no one wants to see. He is the only marketable star on a team that is effectively starless. He is a fan favorite but you simply cannot be considered a top goaltender in this league while your team is in the bottom third of the league in goals against. It is ridiculous. Miller has got to start showing some of the skills that made him such a desirable and marketable player in the first place. If he doesn't, the Sabres should start exploring how quickly Enroth can be made NHL-ready.