Well, the Sabres have certainly hit just about rock-bottom this year. It seemed that nothing went right for the Blue and Gold. While many fans were excited for the season to return, perhaps a lockout would have been better.
The Sabres finished with a 21-21-6 record, good for 12th in the conference. There were several stretches during the season where the team looked lost and uninspired. Perhaps none were more uninspiring than a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at home on Feb 19. The team went 0-3 on the power-play and Jason Pominville scored the Sabres lone goal. Winnipeg got on the board within the first minute of the game as well. The Sabres would be 6-10-1 after this loss. Management panicked. Fans thought the players had given up on Coach Lindy Ruff. GM Darcy Regier shook things up in a big way. He fired his long-time friend Lindy Ruff.
Lindy Ruff had been the longest-tenured coach in the NHL at the point of his firing. He had won 571 games and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals once in 1999 against the Dallas Stars. (Don’t get me started on the Brett Hull goal) However, with the team missing the playoffs in 3 of the previous 5 seasons, perhaps it was time for a change. Darcy Regier made Rochester Americans Coach Ron Rolston, the interim coach of the Sabres.
The Sabres did play a lot better after the firing. In fact, they finished the season with a 15-11-5 record under their new coach. Should Regier remove the interim tag on Rolston? I think he should be given the opportunity to be the head coach as he had some success in his first NHL stint. There are a lot of younger players on the team who could benefit from a coach like Rolston.
Remember when Ryan Miller won the Vezina Trophy a few years ago? Remember when he almost led Team USA to a gold medal? That seems like ages ago and he has certainly been not playing to that level since then. In a stretch from Jan 27-Feb 7, Miller appeared in 6 games and allowed 3 or more goals in all of them. Miller did face the most shots with 1270 and made the most saves with 1162 this season. This was only good for a .915 save percentage.
Perhaps adding frustration to Miller was the Apr 19th game vs. the New York Rangers. The Sabres had to have this game to stay alive in the chase for the playoffs. Miller let in 4 quick goals and was gone in the early minutes of the 2nd period. Before he left, he gave a wave to the fans. This reminded me of when Patrick Roy did this with the Montreal Canadiens and he never suited up for Montreal again. Miller has one year left in his contract and could be traded in the off-season if he is not part of the future.
Jhonas Enroth finally looked like a capable goalie down the stretch. Enroth went 4-4-1 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.60 Goals Against Average. The question becomes, if they trade Miller, can he be a number 1 goalie in the NHL? Enroth has shined in moments in the past, perhaps if given the opportunity; he can do well on a consistent basis.
Thomas Vanek had a heck of a year. Vanek led the team in goals (20) and points (41). Perhaps the most frustrating thing is his health. Vanek missed 10 games due to injury. Like Miller, he is in the last year of his contract and might not be in the fold for the Sabres. Cody Hodgson had a nice season with 15 goals and 34 points. He has the potential to be a 30 goal scorer. Tyler Ennis chipped in 31 points. He still needs to develop his game a bit as he disappears for stretches. Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter were nice call-ups from Rochester and have adjusted well to the speed of the NHL.
Steve Ott should be captain of the Sabres next season. He is a leader in the locker room and on the ice. Ott is not afraid to stick up for teammates and go after opposing players. He is well-spoken off the ice and with the departure of Jason Pominville (traded to Minnesota Wild) is the natural choice to lead this team.
Drew Stafford and Ville Leino-have no use for them on this team. Leino has been plagued by injuries the past few seasons. He is not worth the money ($4.5 million). Drew Stafford has also been a huge disappointment. He had 6 goals this season in 48 games. Stafford seems lost on the ice at times and is not much of an offensive contributor as he should be. He makes $4 million and like Leino, should be bought out.
Jochen Hecht was decent on the penalty kill this season. After playing in Germany during the lockout, he re-signed with Buffalo. Injuries have plagued Hecht the last few years which is probably why he announced his retirement.
It all starts with Tyler Myers. Remember when he won the Calder Trophy a few years ago? Most of us here in Buffalo do not either. Myers was benched for a few games this season and also looked sluggish at the beginning of the season. Myers needs to re-focus his efforts in the off-season and become the top defensemen in the NHL that he can be. He is still young (23 years old) so hopefully he can regain his Calder Trophy playing form.
Christian Ehrhoff finished with 22 points, good for 5th on the team. Ehrhoff also finished with a team best +6 among defensemen. He has been a solid contributor to the team and will continue to anchor the defense.
Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, Mark Pysyk, and Chad Ruhwedel will have to step up next season if Myers cannot be effective. The team also traded Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold during the season. Alexander Sulzer was playing well until his season-ending injury.
At the end of the season press conference, Regier stated that there would be suffering for the next few seasons. After trading away Pominville, Leopold, Regehr and Paul Gaustad (last season), the team is certainly in re-build mode. It’s going to take a few seasons to get back to the playoffs. Will Sabres fans be patient? It’s tough to say. The fans let the Sabres know their displeasure during the season with constant booing during poor play.