Buffalo - September 30, 2014 - It’s here! It’s here! The NHL regular season kicks into high-gear on Wednesday night, October 8th with the Sabres taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets at home the following night.
With the season on the doorstep, you’re probably wondering what’s going on with the Sabres and what to expect for 2014-15. Well thankfully for you, yours truly is here to address some of the biggest questions facing the Sabres as they head into the season.
Which of the kids will stick around?
It’s no secret that the Sabres will be a young lineup this year, what with the total rebuild effort and the tons of prospects in the system that could potentially have an impact both this season and well into the future.
But who’s here for 2014/15?
The opening night roster was announced and it’s surprisingly short on the youngins. Of the 24-and-young crowd, only Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe don’t have extensive experience.
Also, while not on the opening night roster, it wouldn’t a shock to see second overall pick Sam Reinhart get a cup of coffee in the NHL before being sent back to his junior club in Kootenay. After all, when you take a player like Reinhart, you have to get a good idea of what he’s doing as an 18-year-old before you just ship him back to junior.
There’s also the logjam on defense with Chad Ruhwedel, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov having been in the mix during camp. Ruhwedel and Ristolainen will likely battle for the right to be the first called up in the event of injury and could stick if they perform up to par. Zadorov, meanwhile, will spend the year smashing other teenagers back in the OHL.
Ultimately, the Sabres will likely stay the course with the lineup they have unless injuries decimate it. There’s a clear plan in place and the last thing General Manager Tim Murray wants to do is rush any of his valuable prospects into the lineup for the sake of having them there.
Who’s the captain?
Right now on the Sabres website, the only letter-wearing member of the Sabres is Drew Stafford with the alternate captain’s “A”. That will no doubt change by opening night, though it’s still not certain if head coach Ted Nolan will name a formal captain or go with the “no captain, multiple alternates” route.
The aforementioned Stafford is certainly a choice; he’s worn the “A” for years now is reportedly one of the longtime leaders in the locker room, even going back to the Jason Pominville/Thomas Vanek days. His choice would certainly make sense as he’s one of the longest tenured Sabres remaining in the locker room and he seems to be well-liked.
The favorite(s), however, are a couple of Montreal boys. Former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta has to be considered the favorite. The 35-year-old was signed by the Sabres for more than his offense (which dipped to 40 points last season) and Gionta is a well-respected leader and former captain. With a young core ready to make an impact in Buffalo, Gionta could be the steady veteran presence to help bring the kids along as they learn the ins and outs of the pro game.
The other likely candidate was a teammated of Gionta’s and an alternate captain for the Canadiens: defenseman Josh Gorges. If I were in charge, I would name Gorges captain simply because he refused a trade to Toronto due to his hatred of the franchise. If that isn’t Buffalo captain material, I don’t know what is.
Gionta is likely your man, with Gorges and Stafford sporting the “A”s. Girgensons is also a darkhorse to earn a letter, earning rave reviews even at a young age about his leadership abilities.
Which Sabres are on trade watch?
The obvious candidates right out of the gate are Stafford and winger Chris Stewart. Stafford is in a contract year and has been the subject of trade rumors many times before. More importantly, he could be a valuable asset if he plays up to his ceiling. He’s a power forward capable of 25-30 goals on a good team and there are plenty of franchises out there that could use those assets. Problem is that he disappears for stretches and his effort has come into question from a lot of people. If the Stafford of last year shows up – going to the net, working hard along the wall, creating chances – he could be one of the more valuable pieces on the trade market come deadline time.
Stewart, meanwhile, is one of the pieces brought back in the Ryan Miller trade from last deadline and word around the campfire is that he’s looked very good this season. Like Stafford, he’s a big body with good offensive upside that hasn’t exactly done a great job living up to that potential consistently. Also like Stafford, he’s capable of 25-30 in the right situation. Unlike Stafford, he skates hard and uses his frame in more of a bruising way; perfect for the playoffs. Teams will likely be ringing up the Sabres more and more as the deadline nears, asking about Stewart in particular.
Will anyone win the starting goalie job?
Sure, but the answer is a little convoluted. Both Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth will be starters this season, splitting the duties down the middle unless on manages to steal the spotlight and stand out more than the other.
The diminutive Enroth has that capability and looked like a mini-Superman at times over the last few years. He doesn’t have very good size, but he’s a tremendous athlete and he battles with the best of them. Behind a better team, he’d be grabbing the attention of more than a few folks. In a place like Buffalo, he’s merely serviceable.
Neuvirth, meanwhile, has prototypical goaltending talent and size, but he just never managed to put it together in Washington. Not only that, but it remains to be seen if he can focus his talents into a supporting role. If he can, the tandem can be very good. If not, well, there’s always a lottery to be won.
Follow me on Twitter: @TwoPadStackRW
When not inanely bantering about the Sabres, Ryan Womeldorf can be found here and at TwoPadStack.net talking all things hockey. He's usually got a lot to say, but sadly most of it is wrong. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at email@example.com