Apr 3, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; The Buffalo Sabres celebrate after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Leafs 6-5 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
The Sabres have a clear team style, and it's one of finesse. Much like the Avs a few years ago, they're a small and fast team that does really well on the rush. They excel at passing, but physical play is a rarity. However, that's not as much of a drawback in the East as it is in the West, and the Sabers just barely missed the playoffs this year, finishing in 9th.
However, unlike the Avs of a few years back, Buffalo actually has good defensemen. Almost across the board, fans cited this position as the team's strongest. They're lead on the blueline by veteran (and former Av) Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff, and the up-and-comer 22-year-old Tyler Myers. Robyn Regehr (another former Av), Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, and Alexander Sulzer round out their top 7, and many fans believe that top prospects Brayden McNabb (the one that concussed Hishon) and TJ Brennan would have already been called up on most other teams in the league. It appears the Avs aren't the only team with way too many blueliners.
However, they struggle at Center, which is probably why many of the Stastny rumors has him going to Buffalo. They did acquire Cody Hodgson from Vancouver earlier this year and Steve Ott this summer, but neither are the type of player that you can really build a franchise around. Hodgson scored 19G/22A/41Pts in 83GP last year (.494PPG), and Ott tallied 11G/28A/39Pts in 74GP (.527PPG). Even when you compare them to our underpreforming centermen (Duchene was .483 and Stastny was .671PPG), and you can see why they're concerned about that position. However, they did take 6'3" Mikhail Grigorenko in the draft this year. With their lack of depth at the position, he may end up making the team this season. It will be interesting to see where he fits.
Luckily, they're a bit better off at wing. Jason Pominville (RW), Thomas Vanek (LW) and Drew Stafford (RW) were the top three scorers in Buffalo last year. Youngsters Tyler Ennis (LW) and Marcus Foligno (LW) also have bright futures with the club. However, just like the Avs, Buffalo lacks "that guy" - the go-to scorer - on their team. They also struggle with size and physicality up front. Steve Ott should take of some of that, but the rest of their forward corps is still pretty slight and easy to push around.
I did ask what they expected their lineup to look like, but no one took a shot at it. I guess their head coach, Lindy Ruff, likes to mix things up as much as Sacco does. Their lines are very fluid, although I gathered that the Foligno - Ennis - Stafford line was rather effective and fans would like to see it stick together. However, judging by my research, I think something along the lines of
Vanek - Hodgson - Pominville
Foligno - Ennis/Ott - Stafford
Leino - Ennis/Ott - Tropp
Gerbe - ??? - Kaleta
Ehrhoff - Leopold
Regehr - Myers
Sekera - Weber
might be close to correct.
I asked them about their little spending spree last summer and how it's worked for them so far. If you remember, Terrance Pegula bought the team in late January 2011 and decided to allow his GM (Darcy Regier) to make a slash in the free-agency market that year. They brought in D-man Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $40 mil), and Ville Leino (6 years, $27 mil). They also acquired Robyn Regehr (2 years remaining on a 5 year, $20.1 mil contract) at the draft. Most fans are a bit upset over the Leino contract - they feel that his 25 point output this year was not worth the $4.5 mil cap hit (or the $6 mil plus $5 mil signing bonus in actual money) that they paid him. They seem optimistic about Ehrhoff and Regehr though, although most are still in "wait and see" mode on all three since they were such long-term deals.
As a side note to that, fans also think that Regier and Co. are doing a decent to great job of running the team. Ruff's approval rating is also fairly solid. However, most of them sound the most sold on their scouts and player development personal. They have a number of solid prospects in the system (McNabb, Brennan, Grigorenko, Armina, Pysk to name a few) and are very excited for the future.
Kaleta, Myers, and Foligno are fan favorites. From their descriptions (and what I've been able to find out on my own), Patrick Kaleta is an overachiever who hits and is still loved despite annoying quite a few of the fans on-ice with turnovers and penalties, Tyler Myers is a very young, very good, and very tall defenseman (6'-8"), and Marcus Foligno is a young star in the making who also happens to be the son of Sabre great, Leapin' Mike Foligno. Vanek and Sekera (solid 2-way defenseman) are the most underrated players by the rest of the NHL.
The player they'd most like to have on their team is Giroux, Datsyuk, or non-concussed Crosby. As far as the Avs go, Duchene and Landeskog each received 3 votes, Stastny got 2, and Jones was mentioned as well (it's worth adding that this survey was taken before his new contract). The Bruins, Flyers, Sens, and Leafs all were fairly disliked, and Lucic (understandably) received the most hate votes.
Their view of the Avalanche is mostly a positive one. They think we're a somewhat mistake-prone young team with a lot of good talent and tons of potential that has underachieved in recent years. Across the board, they also expect a very exciting and close game - probably ending in OT - any time our two clubs meet. Considering what happened last game, I think they're right. At least one of them was a Nords fan, and Sakic got a couple mentions. Our good buddy, UZ, even chimed in (he's originally from Buffalo).