Buffalo - July 9, 2014 - With the rest of the summer still ahead of us before the start of the 2014/15 season, there’s still plenty to speculate about and plenty of time to spend on it.
For the Buffalo Sabres and their fans, most of the speculation revolves around the end of next season when the Sabres will begin gearing up for what could be the biggest draft in the history of the franchise. They hold three first rounders (for now) in what is considered to be a deep draft, but the real bounty comes in the top two: a shot at franchise centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
McDavid is the “chosen one”, the next Sidney Crosby and seemingly the most can’t-miss prospect there’s ever been. Eichel is the American golden boy, called the best American prospect since Mike Modano and the only challenger to McDavid’s claim for the top overall spot in the 2015 NHL Draft.
But after this offseason, there are questions as to whether or not the Sabres will be bad enough to finish in a spot where they can grab one of the franchise pivots. General Manager Tim Murray traded for veteran defenseman Josh Gorges, signed wingers Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson, brought back well-liked grinder Cody McCormick and signed the hard-nosed Andrej Meszaros on the back end. This comes after buying out defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and winger Ville Leino while choosing to not re-sign Cory Conacher, Henrik Tallinder, Matt D’Agostini and others.
Despite all of those quality additions, one thing should remain clear: the tank is safe.
Let’s take a look at the losses first. Buying out Ehrhoff means the team’s best defenseman over the last few years is gone. There’s your top pairing defenseman and someone who could run a power play out the door, not to mention the fourth-leading scorer on the team last year. Losing Leino doesn’t hurt much as he hadn’t scored a goal in seemingly forever and losing Conacher and D’Agostini from one of the worst offenses in history isn’t really doing much, either.
And while it isn’t a recent subtraction, there’s one other thing to consider: no contributions from Ryan Miller at all this year. He didn’t really help things last year, but he was still playing very well before his trade. It’s highly uncertain how the Sabres will fare in net with Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth platooning the crease.
As for the additions, they cover a few bases. The addition of Gorges means adding a solid defenseman who can play in all situations. He’s not spectacular at any one thing, but he does just about everything well, not to mention the fact that he will bring valuable leadership to the table. He was in line to potentially become captain when it was determined Gionta wouldn’t be back and a team this young can use all the guidance it can get.
Speaking of Gionta, leadership will hands down be his biggest contribution to the team. He’s 35-years-old and past his prime, but he’s a respected leader who should be able to step right into the captain’s role on a team that has struggled to find consistent, solid leadership the last few years. He can still score a little (18 goals, 40 points last year) but those numbers could go down on a team that can’t compare to Montreal in terms of talent.
Moulson is the most interesting addition/return. He played fairly well in his short time in Buffalo (11 goals, 29 points in 44 games) and will clearly be one of the best offensive players the Sabres have. The hope is that maybe he can pair up with Cody Hodgson and bring some life to his offensive game. He’s a nice offensive addition, but he’s not the kind of player who is going to excel on his own. Adding him back to one of the worst offensive teams in recent memory is only going to have so much impact.
Meszaros and McCormick bring experience and a physical edge, but not a ton more. They are both solid – and very different – players, but they aren’t game-changers. They are there for a consistent, solid effort and veteran leadership. In fact, Moulson aside, that’s what most of these additions are about: veteran leadership for the millions of kids that are going to be permeating the lineup in the next few years.
Simply put, this was a team that was barely competitive last season. They couldn’t score to save their lives and ended up as one of the worst offensive teams since the aughts because of that. Adding a solid second-line winger, an over-the-hill winger and two solid defensemen isn’t going to do much to change that. Not to mention the fact that Ryan Miller becomes Neuvirth and Enroth in net. If anything, the Sabres will be much more competitive this season and they’ll likely come closer to winning in a few more games than last season, but don’t expect too many more points when all is said and done.
They may not be the worst team in the NHL next season, but the Sabres will certainly be in contention for that spot. It’ll be the one thing they’ll be in contention for.
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