BUFFALO (LGS) — This October the cold, brisk air will surround HSBC Arena. The 2008-09 Buffalo Sabres will be on the ice in front of their typical sold-out crowd. All 18,690 will be in their seats while viewers across Western New York and beyond will be tuning in to Rick Jeanneret. The whistle will blow, the puck will drop and Sabres hockey will begin again!
But not yet.
We are only in the first few days of summer and free agency has just begun. General manager Darcy Regier has some work to do and some moves to make. Even now Sabres fans should definitely be excited about the team this upcoming season as there is plenty of young talent on the current roster that will try to rebound from a disappointing campaign in 2007-08.
Leading the charge up top will be center Derek Roy, who led the team with 81 points this past season. After having a breakout year, Roy will look to ascend to the rank of a number one center. He can be counted on to play both ends of the ice, and he has impressive defensive play for such a talented forward.
While offense shouldn’t be a problem for a team that finished fourth in goals last season, Regier and company may look to reshuffling the deck up top. The future of Maxim Afinogenov is up in the air. One has to believe the Sabres would trade the speedy Russian if the right deal comes about.
During this off season, it is imperative that the Sabres find a backup goaltender that is capable of playing 15-20 games. Ryan Miller was overused last season, especially during the final stretch. He looked burnt out and his fatigue affected his performance. Miller finished 24th in the league in goals against average and 29th in save percentage. It was clear that Ruff, and several others, had lost faith in backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault. What the Sabres need is a dependable backup goalie they can count on and one that can take the pressure off of Miller when needed.
With the new NHL schedule going into effect, Buffalo will have to adjust in order to compete with the Western Conference teams. There are two completely different styles of play between the East and West. The speedy forwards in the East may not be able to get by the tough, physical defense of the West. This is why the Sabres need to remove Andrew Peters from the lineup. Although he may be somewhat of a physical force (when he does play), he rarely contributes anything on offense. It looks as if Patrick Kaleta will be taking over his spot on the roster. With other talented forwards such as Adam Mair, Steve Bernier and Paul Gaustad, Buffalo as a team could become a much stronger physical force.
The Sabres also need to acquire a couple of defenseman. Part of the reason for Miller’s poor goaltending was the poor defensive play in front of him. There are a few players that Buffalo could go after. The first one being Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik. The East Amherst native was a first round draft choice in 2000, and he can log a good amount of ice time throughout the game. Orpik is 27, and would help the Sabres on the blueline with his punishing style of play. In addition to a physical defenseman, another player to go after would be someone like Michael Rozsival of the New York Rangers. Rozsival is a good skater, has playoff experience and is moving towards the top of the leagues’ best offensive defensemen.
Returning for his 12th season behind the Sabres bench, coach Lindy Ruff will try to put Buffalo back into the playoffs this year. He is currently the longest-tenured coach in the NHL and is the all-time winningest coach in Sabres’ history. Ruff has established himself as one of the league’s top coaches, and Buffalo fans know how well of a job he has done. With Lindy behind the bench, you can expect good things to happen this year no matter what acquisitions are made this summer.