Rebuild looming as clock winds down on Vanek and Miller?
Jamie McBain, Henrik Tallinder.
Nathan Gerbe, Adam Pardy, Andrej Sekera.
Last year: In missing the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons, the Sabres hit bottom by finishing last in the Northeast Division for the first time in a decade.
The futility cost long-time head coach Lindy Ruff his job after 16 seasons behind the Buffalo bench and by the end of the shortened season the team had unloaded captain Jason Pominville and defencemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr for prospects and draft picks.
Through it all Buffalo’s two most expensive pieces – Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek – remained in blue and gold despite frequent trade speculation.
The Sabres finished with 48 points in 48 games, 12th in the Eastern Conference and seven points out of a playoff spot.
This Year: Yes, the “R-Word” is in full use in Buffalo – rebuild.
The club now belongs to head coach Ron Rolston – the interim tag was removed from his title on May 7 – and the organization will need to make some decisions about the direction it wants to take going forward.
General manager Darcy Regier has now taken care of the first thing on his to-do list by signing restricted free agent forward Cody Hodgson to a new deal on Sep. 11. He was the last of Buffalo’s four RFAs who remained unsigned going into training camp.
Miller and Vanek return to lead the squad this season but even those two assets are on the clock in Buffalo – both are in the final years of their contracts and are eligible to become unrestricted free agents next summer.
If they are not signed to extensions and the Sabres have another mediocre season, one or both of the stars could become prime candidates to be moved before the trade deadline.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Sabres' performance after a shortened season?
According to NHL.com, the Sabres were the youngest team in the league by April last season so there aren’t many veterans on the team who will be winded by the jump from 48 to 82 games.
With the playoffs a lofty goal, the Sabres will use the length of the season to test different line combinations and get a good feel for their roster and prospects to help frame their future plans.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Sabres make to get themselves back in cap shape?
According to Capgeek.com, the Sabres have committed nearly $55 million in salary for 2013-14 and are now adding Hodgson's deal to the payroll.
The club will spend time considering their future plans for Miller and Vanek – the pair of potential UFA’s will earn over $13 million combined this year, or nearly a quarter of the team’s payroll. The team will have to pony up big money to sign either to an extension or decide to invest that money elsewhere for the future.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Sabres after realignment.
Buffalo finds itself in the new Atlantic Division, which will comprise its usual Northeast rivals along with newcomers Detroit, Florida, and Tampa Bay.
With three of the eight clubs guaranteed playoff spots (with two conference wild cards also available), it will be a long climb for the Sabres to make up ground against clubs like the Bruins, Red Wings, and Canadiens.
The Maple Leafs and Senators were also playoff clubs last season, so the campaign starts with five playoff teams from last season chasing three guaranteed berths. It all makes for tough sledding for the Sabres.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Tyler Myers, D - Since scoring 48 points as a rookie in 2009-2010, Myers' production has declined, down to just eight points in 39 games last season. He's a 6-foot-8 defenceman who can skate and handle the puck, but he needs to hit the reset button and, considering the state of the Sabres, they need Myers to be much, much better.
Christian Ehrhoff is the one proven point producer on the Buffalo blueline, so there is ample opportunity for 23-year-old Myers to re-establish his place as a cornerstone piece for the Sabres. If he can't, then the reset button may have to be hit in another location.
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Pressing Question: Should the Sabres re-sign Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek or go in a different direction?
Miller and Vanek are the last links to Buffalo’s back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 and 2007.
Vanek turns 30 in January and could be looking for one more long-term deal, while Miller recently turned 33. The Sabres will have to make the call about whether to pursue extensions or else possibly trade one or both of the duo as rent-a-players before the deadline. Otherwise they will watch them walk as unrestricted free agents next summer.
So what should the team do with its one-time franchise pillars?
- Buffalo Sabres Preview by Barry Riz, TSN.ca