Despite having one of the league's most skilled netminders in Ryan Miller, the Sabres have struggled to match their winning form, as they've continued to lose talent like Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, JP Dumont and Brian Campbell.
The franchise also appears to be threatened by the possible move of an NHL franchise to Hamilton, which, according to some reports, could erode the Sabres' fan and season ticket base.
So what's ahead for the Sabres?
Yahoo Sports provides this team report:
Inside Shots: The Buffalo Sabres
June 1, 2009/Yahoo Sports
Tim Connolly has been hurt. He’s been a talented playmaker. He’s turned into a scorer. So what’s next? It’s time to be a leader.
Connolly signed a two-year, $9 million contract extension with the Sabres in March, and he knows a deal like that brings bigger expectations than just solid on-ice play. He says he wants to deliver when the Sabres reconvene this fall.
“That’s just part of maturing as a hockey player and going from a young guy to more of a veteran guy on the team,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s something that’s got to be done. You’ve been around for a while, you’ve seen and know what it takes to try and get to the next level, and it’s just something that needs to be done.”
Connolly, who missed nearly two seasons with concussions and most of the past two seasons with myriad injuries, dressed for Buffalo’s final 42 games. That may not sound like a milestone, but it was the center’s best run since 2005-06. He’s confident injuries are behind him.
If so, he can deliver on the ice. Connolly set career highs with 18 goals and a plus-12 rating in his 48 games.
“There’s still some room for improvement,” Connolly said. “I think one of the areas is I can be a little more physical out there. There’s guys that that’s their specific job, but I think it could help me become a more well-rounded player.”
Season Highlight: The Sabres started the season 6-0-2, and they looked like world-beaters. They were holding opponents to fewer than two goals per game, and they were scoring nearly four per outing. Thomas Vanek had eight goals in the span.
Turning Point: Goaltender Ryan Miller went behind the net to play a puck Feb. 21, and the Rangers’ Chris Gomez clipped his leg. Miller sprained his ankle and missed five weeks of crunch-time hockey. The Sabres went 4-7-2 in his absence and fell behind in the playoff race.
• Sabres owner Tom Golisano, a three-time candidate for governor of New York, has decided to leave the state. The native of Rochester, about 60 miles from Buffalo, blasted the way New York is run, and the billionaire said he can save $13,800 per day in income tax by moving to Florida. “I can put that money to a lot better use, whether it be charitable contributions or even to try to change the system,” said Golisano, who said his move will not impact his ownership of the team.
• Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn said he didn’t believe Jim Balsillie’s bid to move the Phoenix Coyotes into southern Ontario—Buffalo’s backyard—would reach a legitimate enough level to comment on. But New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand issued a statement opposing Balsillie’s try, saying a move would be “crippling” to a Sabres team that gets 20 percent of its revenue from Canadian residents.
Quote To Note: “I don’t want to be commenting on this proposal because it’s not one that’s been presented to the league. I don’t think it will be. If it is someday, then we’ll make a decision on that.”—Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn on Jim Balsillie’s bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to southern Ontario.
Most Valuable Player: Goaltender Ryan Miller was everything the team hoped for when it signed him to a five-year, $31.25 million contract extension before the season. Miller was among the NHL leaders in victories and saves when he was injured in February. He returned in March and went 5-2-1 in his final eight starts.
Most Disappointing Player: Jochen Hecht scored 22 goals last season and was a candidate for captain. His output was down by nearly half this season. He is more of a “lead-by-example” type, and his game was too depressing to inspire anyone.
Free Agent Focus: Jaroslav Spacek is the Sabres’ biggest concern. The 34-year-old led the Buffalo defensemen with eight goals and 36 assists. He said he would like to return. Forward Drew Stafford could attract attention as a restricted free agent. Unrestricted free agent Maxim Afinogenov, the longest-tenured Sabre in his ninth season, will not be back after two poor seasons.
• D Henrik Tallinder continues to be discussed as a player on the way out. The former lockdown defender has had problems in his zone the last two seasons, and the Sabres could be interested in moving Tallinder, who has one year left on his contract at $3.25 million.
• G Patrick Lalime is a member of the rumor mill. The 34-year-old goaltender’s season ended early because of a hip injury, and the Sabres have yet to issue an update on the severity of the ailment. There are concerns it is a chronic problem that could impact his playing future.
• D Tyler Myers, signed to a three-year entry-level contract in early May, helped the Kelowna Rockets advance to junior hockey’s Memorial Cup before losing in the finals to the Windsor Spitfires.
• G Patrick Lalime has a bad hip that forced him to miss the final two weeks of the season. He may need offseason surgery.
So are the Sabres a team to reckon with next year? Or will they be overtaken by other teams in the East? What do they need to add to return to the playoffs?
Over to you.
Last edited by davetherave on Sat Jul 11, 2009 7:05 pm; edited 2 times in total