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Buffalo Sabres 2009-2010 Season Preview

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One of the great parts of being part of a network is the ability to participate in group projects.  This preview is part of the SB Nation Hockey Previews feature that is ongoing until the season starts.  Every site in the network will have a preview up on their scheduled day.  To view the schedule for the previews please see From the Rink by James Mirtle.

Two years ago the Buffalo Sabres were on top the world and the community had fallen deeply in love with the team.  Things have changed considerably since then.  The Sabres were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals that season by the hated Ottawa Senators.  A couple months later the co-captains Danny Briere and Chris Drury left via free agency and now the team has missed the playoffs two consecutive seasons. 

The 2008-2009 team was difficult to figure out.  They started the season with a four game winning streak and winning six of their first seven.  Unfortunately consistency was an issue for them last season.  They would often rattle off two or three wins in a row but would follow that up with four or five losses.  It was difficult to ever get a gauge on the season.

Despite the lack of consistency this team showed last season; they seemed primed to make the playoffs at the end of February.  On February 21 the Sabres were in sixth place and had just won a key game against the New York Rangers.  That was the same night that Scott Gomez took out Ryan Miller behind the net and forced him to miss a month with a high ankle sprain.

There are many theories on what happened next and why the Sabres missed the playoffs; reality is they just weren't good enough.  The team obviously relied upon Ryan Miller last season and although backup Patrick Lalime played well at times it wasn't enough.  The entire team went into a defensive shell and the new defensive philosophy had far reaching effects.  The Sabres kept the goals against down but in the process the offense was non-existent.  When they tried to open things up after they became desperate, the defense and goaltending failed them.

Sabres fans are a passionate bunch but they are not patient.  It is now or never for the current regime in Buffalo.  GM Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff need to win now.

{More after the jump}

Who's In -  Steve Montador (Boston Bruins - 2 years), Mike Grier (San Jose Sharks - 1 year), Joe Dipenta (Sweden - 1 year), Cody McCormick (Colorado Avalanche - 1 year), Jeff Cowan (Peoria Rivermen)

Who's Out -  Dominic Moore (UFA), Maxim Afinogenov (UFA), Jaroslav Spacek (Montreal Canadiens - 3 years), Andrew Peters (New Jersey Devils - tryout), Mikael Tellqvist (KHL)

Team Strengths -  Since the lockout the Buffalo Sabres have been able to score goals.  They have built their team with an offensive first mentality and it has shown on the scoresheet.  They have been especially good on the power play.  Last season the Sabres were 21% with the man-advantage which was good for seventh in the NHL.  With players like Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, Derek Roy and the return of Drew Stafford the offense and power play should continue to be good.

Ryan Miller was an enormous strength for the Sabres last season.  He suffered the ankle injury late in the season but he played well in the couple of games after he came back.  He has had all off-season to rehab the ankle and should be 100% for the start of the season.  Miller will be playing with extra motivation this season because of the Olympics in February.  Four years ago Miller was left off the team because he was injured for much of the season.  Although he understood the decision he wants to prove that he is the best American goalie.  This could be a great thing for the Sabres.

The Sabres are still without a superstar player but this might be the deepest team they have had in years.  There are plenty of young players that are trying to crack the opening day lineup and a couple have the potential to do it.  Tyler Myers came to camp with huge expectations because of being a first round draft pick and his play in the World Junior Championships last season.  Tim Kennedy led all AHL rookies in points and Nathan Gerbe was the AHL Rookie of the Year.  All three guys could find themselves in the lineup on October 3.

Team Weaknesses -  Toughness.  This has been an issue with the Sabres since after the lockout.  The first couple of seasons it was not easy to see the glaring weakness, because the game was called very tight to the vest and the Sabres skill players were able to shine.  In the last two seasons the NHL has become a little bit more lax in the way they call penalties.  It has become a glaring need for the team.

The Sabres made an effort to address the issue of toughness but they may not have enough.  They signed Steve Montador and Mike Grier but beyond that they signed fringe players like Cody McCormick, Joe Dipenta and Jeff Coan for depth.  All of those players will play a physical style of hockey but may not help the big club this season.  The Sabres also drafted Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb to help the future toughness of the team.

Another glaring need for the Buffalo Sabres has been leadership and consistency.  I think we put too much stock in the "leadership" issue because we aren't in that room.  Every time a team, especially a young team, struggles we chalk it up to leadership.  I would change the wording to confidence.  This team plays scared when they have the lead.  If Mike Grier does what he is supposed to do this season, he will help this team play with more confidence.

Depth Chart -  This is the way I see the depth chart as of now. It could change as we move through the pre-season because of injuries and the play of certain players.

Forwards

Thomas Vanek Tim Connolly Jason Pominville
Daniel Paille Derek Roy Drew Stafford
Clarke MacArthur Paul Gaustad Mike Grier
Matt Ellis Jochen Hecht Patrick Kaleta
Adam Mair

 

Defense

Craig Rivet Chris Butler
Andrej Sekera Steve Montador
Toni Lydman Henrik Tallinder
Nathan Paetsch

 

Other Players of Note -  LW Nathan Gerbe, LW/C Tim Kennedy, C Cody McCormick, F Jeff Cowan, D Tyler Myers, D Mike Weber, D Joe Dipenta

 

Fearless Predictions -  Please read no further.  This is my least favorite part of writing a season preview, the prediction.  I think we can all agree the Sabres are a very difficult team to predict as far as finish.  There are so many variables that have to be considered.

With that being said, I have faith in this squad.  I thought they were a playoff team last season and I still feel they are a playoff team.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sabres finish five or six in the Conference but I will say 2nd in Northeast Division (behind the Bruins) and 7th in the Eastern Conference.