Flortheast Division Previews: The Buffalo Sabres

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Over the next few days, we’ll take a brief look at the teams in Toronto’s newest division. The division is called the “Atlantic” but only three of the teams in the division are even close to the Atlantic Ocean. Given there are six teams in the Northeast and two in the state of Florida, the hockey community as a whole has decided to rebrand this division “The Flortheast”. We will get team bloggers from each group to profile their teams as we get ready to start the season…

Today’s preview comes courtesy of Derek Jedamnski and Colin Bruckel from The Hosers. They will be looking at the Buffalo Sabres.


The popular word around Buffalo this offseason has been “suffering”. A choice word that was taken from a Darcy Regier press conference this summer, in which he said that building a Stanley Cup Champion “would require some suffering”. With the talk of how the team is beginning a rebuild, most fans have braced themselves for what is expected to be a very rough season.

With that said, we’ve seen in the past that a rebuild does not necessarily mean you will suffer for years on end before becoming relevant again. In fact, a well-guided rebuild does not need to entail any suffering at all. Continuing on with that notion, I really do not think the Sabres are going to be as bad as a lot of people think they will. I should state, my perception of being as “bad as a lot of people think” means them being a bottom 3-5 team in the NHL.

Three Questions:

How does the coaching change impact the Sabres?

The term “tire fire” was invented for this team under Lindy Ruff last season. They were an absolute wreck at both ends of the ice without so much of a hint of structure or cohesion. The team was completely reliant on Thomas Vanek and/or Ryan Miller to singlehandedly attempt to drag the team from the jaws of defeat on a nightly basis. With the Lindy Ruff firing came hints of improvement; the team was 6-10-1 (0.382 pts%) under Ruff and 15-11-5 (0.565 pts%) under Rolston. Granted, 0.565 pts% is not great but that puts you on the brink of playoff contention (~92 full season, ~54 points in the shortened 48 games season or one point out of the playoffs). To get a better look at the shift in team performance from Ruff to Rolston, here is a look at the 10 games rolling totals for points per 10 game sections:

*Ruff was fired after game 17

What’s your initial take on the roster?

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There is a ton of uncertainty with this team heading into the season. The backend looks shaky with limited scoring up front as well. What we do know is that the team will be backed by a pretty solid goaltending duo of Miller and Enroth, a duo they relied on to keep them in games way too often last season. From the perspective of player improvement, the biggest positive that came from the coaching change was the turnaround in Tyler Myers from just complete and total suck to adequate NHL defenseman. There’s a long way to go before he gets back to where he could (or should) get to, but this is the first sign of improvement we’ve seen in years, and his preseason play is reflecting further improvement. His importance to this team cannot be overstated and if he can keep moving the right way, that could go a long way to alleviating some of the worries with the back end. Buffalo will also be looking for youngsters Mark Pysyk and Rasmus Ristolainen to step up and fill the void left by the departure of Andrej Sekera (which is sure to hurt).

Where do you see the team finishing in 2013-2014?

There is a ton of potential with this team but also a ton of uncertainty. Ron Rolston is lauded as a player developer and this will be his first extended chance to show that at the NHL level. A lot of the team’s success will be based on his ability to do just that with this team loaded with young players in virtually all facets of the game. Though the playoffs are likely a long shot, I wouldn’t view this team in the same vein as the team from early 2013. The problem was never the talent, the problem was the mix of players along with the team simply not responding to a coach anymore. With the coach gone, and a few players shuffled in and out the team was actually playing some pretty good hockey at the end of last season. With a motivated Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek (and if they’re here for a full season), a seemingly resurgent Tyler Myers, and a group of talented youngsters looking to break out, I don’t think the suffering will be quite as bad as many Sabres fans are expecting.

Key Stats:

2013 Stats Buffalo (Lg. Rank)
Points/82 Games 82 (23rd)
Goal Differential -18 (25th)
Corsi Tied 44.5 (28th)
5v5 Shot % 8.00% (14th)
5v5 Save % .927 (12th)
PDO 100.7 (11th)

If these numbers carry over to 2014, it’s going to be a long (or short) year for the Buffalo Sabres. Even with better-than-average save and shooting percentage numbers, the Sabres finished with a minus-18 goal differential, they shot the puck so little.

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Numbers via NHL.com and Hockey Analysis.

Jeffler’s take:

The “lets go win at all costs” era brought with Terry Pegula purchase of the Sabres has hit a fading point in Buffalo. Whether that leads to a bottoming out or a different approach to acquisition remains to be seen, but this year is expected to be an “evaluation year” of sorts.

Nathan Gerbe is the only notable loss up front*, but make room for youth to move up the depth chart, if not into the roster as it is. Early performance will decide the fate of pending UFAs Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. I expect a low seeding in the Atlantic Division, and at least one of the above two traded near the deadline. -Jeffler

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Charron’s take:

I feel as if there’s a medium ground between the total and utter disaster predicted by Jeffler, and the not “quite as bad” as predicted by Jedamski and Bruckel. Vanek and Ehrhoff are elite players at their position, but most of the uncertainty comes from all the young players and rookies on the roster. Rasmus Ristolainen, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk aren’t known to NHL observers just yet. 

Still, while there are some pieces to be optimistic about, I don’t think this group has bottomed out yet. They’re still a couple of lottery picks away.

Consensus Rankings:

The Sabres did not rank higher than 6th on any one poll:

Buffalo 8 6 7 7 8 8 8 8 7.5

There’s a chance that any team in the division just completely implodes and finishes below the Sabres, but I think too much has to go right for the Sabres to have a chance at the playoffs for it to be a prudent prediction.

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