2014/15 Season Preview – Buffalo Sabres
2013/14 Season Record – 16th in Eastern Conference, 8th in Atlantic Division
|Matt Moulson||Tyler Ennis||Joel Armia|
|Marcus Folignio||Sam Reinhart||Brian Gionta|
|Matt Ellis||Zemgus Girgensons||Drew Stafford|
|Nicolas Deslauriers||Cody McCormick||Chris Stewart|
|Tyler Myers||Andre Benoit|
|Mike Weber||Josh Gorges|
|Jake McCabe||Anrej Meszaros|
|Torrey Mitchell – C|
|Cody Hodgson – C|
|William Carrier – LW|
|Colin Jacobs – C|
|Jordan Samuels-Thomas – LW|
|Zac Dalpe – C|
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|Forward||Mikhail Grigorenko, Nicholas Baptiste, Patrick Kaleta|
|Defense||Chad Ruhwedel, Rasmus Ristolainen|
|Goal||Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov|
Despite the many predictions of a losing year for the Sabres, they have assembled a team with the potential to make the play-offs. No one would expect them to take home The Cup, of course, but it’s well within the reach of the team to enter in at the first round and possibly move onto the second. Tim Murray has once again shown his single-mindedness and good hockey sense by bringing in players with talent, leadership abilities, and the experience necessary to shape a young team into one that can be solidly competitive.
The forward lines are a perfect example of the strategy Murray is putting forth to rebuild. Bringing Brian Gionta is going to be a cornerstone to the success of their rebuild. Gionta is a natural leader with amazing talent who will be able to start to create an atmosphere of cohesion amongst the players. Keeping and bringing back solid veteran leaders like Drew Stafford and Matt Moulson will also go a long way in creating the new team dynamic Murray and Ted Nolan are looking to establish.
The young group expected to play are amazingly talented and are going to bring some of the speed the Sabres have lacked over the past seasons. Their passion and desire to prove themselves in the NHL will hopefully rub off on the returning players and renew their excitement. The overall success of the forward line will hinge on Nolan and Murray’s ability to establish a solid captain from game 1 and use the freshness of the players to up the pace of their play.
Buffalo’s defense is almost a complete reboot. Hanging onto Myers and Weber to establish a base for defense is a smart move. They know how the organization works and what Nolan expects from his players. The fresh faces Murray has brought in will be much more reliable than previous players. I expect to see defensive lines who are better able to take advantage of opportunities to score goals while still providing consistent support for their forwards and especially their goalie.
The Sabres have created an exceptionally deep goalie pool, not unusual for an organization who has typically relied on goalies to carry the lion’s share of the team’s ability to win. This season expect to see the goalies continue to provide outstanding defense, but with exponentially better support from their defensive lines. Watch for the Sabres to give opportunities to their AHL goalies to expand their time on NHL ice. Finally, don’t be surprised to see more frequent rotation of their goalies, especially early in the season. Both Enroth and Neuvirth have shown exceptional skill in the past and for now, there isn’t a clear direction on who will be Sabres’ ‘go to’ player.
Perhaps the most influential aspect of this new roster will be the players’ attitude about the team. Murray has brought together a group of players who genuinely want to be a part of this specific organization. Many have expressed their desire to play for the Sabres in spite of their failings. They appear to be on the bus with Murray’s goals for the team and are looking toward its future.
Who the Sabres choose as their captain is going to be a cornerstone to the team’s ability to move beyond the team’s recent woes. Brian Gionta is the most likely candidate for this position. His experience with a team like the Canadiens who play tight and fast will have a big influence on the pace of the team. Gionta also has the charisma to become an effective leader for a group of young players.
Buffalo isn’t likely to make a serious chase for The Cup this year, but they are going to surprise a lot of fans and pundits. Murray has methodically built a team with a great mix of young veterans and fresh talent with a desire to win. The success of their ability to establish solid on ice leadership and to insist on consistent play from both offense and defense will get them out of the basement and potentially into the playoffs. If they succeed, they will be a team with the potential to shake up the playoffs if they can manage to stay into round 2.
There is no way this team is going to pull its punches just to have a layup in the draft in 2015. They have heart and a need to get the team dynamic on solid ground. The organization will have no possibility of setting a precedent for ongoing improvement without going all out this season. Murray had such a smart and strategic plan for 2014 that he has positioned the Sabres well enough in this year’s draft to not need the courtesy pick for last place.
Besides, if you follow any of the Sabres fans on Twitter you’ll already know that, ‘Murray gives 0 F*cks’ about what people outside of the organization think and is focused on turning the Sabres into a team that can win Stanley Cups.
Let’s Go BUFFALO!
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