A Look Ahead
What does the future have in store for the Sabres?
BUFFALO (LGS) — We found out plenty of good things about the future of the Sabres this season.
- Ryan Miller is a true number one goaltender.
Many questioned, especially after the Martin Biron trade, if Ryan Miller could shoulder the goaltending load. Let’s face it, Ty Conklin will never be a number one goalie in this league, but he is a very capable backup. After this playoff run, I think Miller has shut his critics up. His 2.22 goals against average in the playoffs was impressive, and he kept the Sabres in the playoffs with some dazzling saves and superb performances. I think all you need to look at is Game 5 against the New York Islanders and his miraculous stop on Miroslav Satan. His stop against Jason Spezza in Game 5 was an amazing stop, worthy of ESPN “Top Plays” mention.
- The Sabres have many strong prospects.
When Sabres seemed to be dropping like flies, many players came up from the AHL’s Rochester Amerks and made an impact. Drew Stafford was the more prominent of the prospects, recording 27 points in 41 games. Other players, like Mike Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, also made a strong impact on the Sabres.
But that’s only the good news. Here’s the bad news.
- The Sabres have 11 free agents to address.
The most prominent unrestricted free agents (UFAs) for the Sabres will be Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, both of whom will command higher salaries and could be with different teams next season. Adam Mair and Ty Conklin are also UFAs, but will be easier to sign for high six-digit salaries. Dainius Zubrus and Teppo Numminen are also UFAs. Zubrus wants a long-term deal, and he may be worth it for the Sabres. He’s a strong physical player who is needed in this lineup. In the Ottawa series, he was ineffective. I’m pretty certain his injury had something to do with that (whatever “lower body ailment” that was). Numminen is expendable. Nothing against him, he’s a great leader and a solid defenseman. But we have Nathan Paetsch waiting in the wings who deserves a shot. And… Paetsch will make far less than the $2.6 million Numminen made this season.
Of those 11 free agents, five are restricted free agents (RFAs). Thomas Vanek is probably the most important RFA we have. He will be due a bigger pay day after his great season. Derek Roy will get a raise, but he isn’t cracking seven digits. Paetsch, Daniel Paille and Andrew Peters are also RFAs, but they will be certain signees, unless the Sabres decide to can Peters.
So what does the future have in store? Here are my “predictions” for the upcoming off-season and for 2007-08.
- 8 of the 11 free agents will be back with the Sabres.
I think Buffalo will sign Zubrus. He’s probably the biggest question mark because he does want a long-term deal. If the Sabres aren’t willing to grant him that, he’ll go elsewhere. But I don’t think this was a “borrow your services” deal with Zubrus. I think he’s here to stay. Numminen won’t be signed because of Paetsch, and we’ll sign Thomas Vanek to a long-term deal. I think Vanek has to become the centerpiece of any team of the future. He and Ryan Miller are an integral part of this team’s success. As for Briere and Drury, if we have the money… bring Drury back. I like Briere. He’s a classy individual and has been a great Sabre for the last few seasons. But he’s becoming a star. And Buffalo can’t afford star players. He’s going to get a huge salary and never look back.
- Drew Stafford and Daniel Paille will be regulars next season.
One thing about the Sabres is that this year, they have a load of centers on this team. Briere, Drury, Tim Connolly, Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy. Jochen Hecht can also play center, and so can Adam Mair. Stafford and Paille will be very useful for this team. Don’t be surprised to be other prospects like Mike Ryan and Clarke MacArthur possibly crack this lineup as well.
- Ryan Miller will play 70 games next season.
He can carry this team. Without Briere and Drury, this is Miller’s team. In fact, I think even with those two on the team, he was the real voice of reason. He’s a great leader and as he showed in the playoffs, a great goaltender as well.
- My line predictions for 2007-2008.
Barring any free agent signings or the return of Briere and/or Drury: Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov, Hecht-Connolly-Pominville, Kotalik-Gaustad-Mair, Paille-Zubrus-Stafford
- And the ultimate prediction: What will the Sabres do next season and how far will they make it into the playoffs?
I think the Sabres will still be strong. As of right now, I don’t know what free agents loom that the Sabres could acquire or what impact other prospects within the organization may have. As for the results next season, the Sabres again will be an “underdog.” That title seems to fit them better. Who knows? People are already counting them out for next season. I think they have a shot of being a legitimate contender -- again.