On Monday night, while I was in line at the concession stand during the first intermission of the Sabres/Wild exhibition game in Grand Forks, I had the opportunity to educate Maxim Afinogenov on what a corn dog is (and yes, it was as funny as it sounds). Afinogenov sat out this exhibition contest, along with teammates Brian Campbell and Derek Roy which made the game far less exciting than it could have been had they played (Exhibition hockey: Gotta love it!). After watching the Sabres morning practice and exhibition contest, I figured it was time for a Sabres season preview.
Without further ado, here are five questions people have about the 2007/08 Buffalo Sabres:
Will the team have enough offensive punch after losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency?
If any team is capable of withstanding the loss of scoring machines like Briere and Drury, it is the Sabres. Many forwards on the Sabres had reduced roles in 2006/07, not because of their lack of scoring ability, but rather because of the high number of quality forwards the team had at its disposal. With the departure of Briere and Drury, forwards such as Derek Roy, Maxim Afingenov and Thomas Vanek should all expect to see their ice time increase in 2007/08. Factor in more than capable forwards Ales Kotalik, Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and the team is anything but offense-starved. Expect the Sabres to continue to light the lamp in 2007/08.
Will the Sabres miss the leadership of Drury?
The loss of Drury’s leadership will, arguably, be more difficult to replace than his offensive production. Regardless of the fact that the Sabres alternate their captaincy, the undeniable leader of the Sabres the past few seasons was Chris Drury. The hard-working forward plays in every single game situation and leads by example. Without his quiet leadership, the Sabres are going to have to look for other players to step up in the leadership role. Worsening the loss of Drury was the team’s loss of Teppo Numminen’s leadership after the veteran was recently sidelined with heart problems. The Sabres are a very, very young team that will require someone new to take the bull by the horns and lead Buffalo back to the playoffs. Whether this will happen or not is anyone’s guess.
Is the team’s defense good enough to compete?
The Sabres have one of the more underrated defensive units in the NHL. Anchored by Tony Lydman and Henrik Tallinder, the Sabres’ defense moves the puck extremely well out of its own zone. Additionally, by splitting up Lydman and Tallinder to start the season, the team will become more defensively well-balanced on the back-end. Brian Campbell, who has improved his defensive game significantly over the past few seasons, will continue to quarterback the team’s powerplay. Also, the Sabres are expecting improved play from Dmitri Kalinin and Jaroslav Spacek this season as they both weren’t at their best in the in the 2006/07 campaign. Overall, the team’s defense is definitely strong enough to help the team clinch a playoff spot.
Can Ryan Miller carry the team?
The Sabres are admittedly weaker than last season, and if they expect to accomplish anything close to their playoff success of the past two seasons, they will need the former Michigan State netminder to carry them. Miller is more than capable of handling this burden. He is a positionally sound goaltender, who keeps an even keel and has good reflexes. Look for him to rebound from his subpar 2nd round playoff performance last season and contend for the Vezina Trophy in 2007/08.
Can the Sabres be a threat to win the Eastern Conference?
Most people probably say they aren’t a contender, but stranger things have happened. Although the team is extremely young, and without an established leader, Lindy Ruff, one the best coaches in the NHL, always finds a way to get the most out of his players. Teams with talent levels like the Sabres are always capable of surprising their contemporaries and making a run in the playoffs. Don’t expect the Sabres to win the Eastern Conference, but, then again, don’t be surprised if they knock off a serious contender in the first round either.
On to the morning papers:
- The Sabres were defeated 2-1 by Minnesota in Grand Forks last night. Prior to the contest, the Sabres sent five players back to their junior clubs.
- Brian Rolston is already in mid-season shooting form after scoring both the Wild's goals on Monday night.
- Goaltender Nicklas Backstrom continues to maintain an even keel regardless of the situation writes Michael Russo in this morning's Star Tribune.
- According to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, the Dany Heatley contract issue could be decided by this weekend.
- Dan Wood of the Orange County Register examines whether Todd Bertuzzi will affect the Ducks' team chemistry.
- It looks like Brett Sterling will crack the Thrashers' opening day roster; Craig Custance of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wonders if center Bryan Little will join him.
- David Krejci may have shored up his defensive game enough to make the Bruins' starting roster as a third line center.
- The Bruins want to finish their pre-season schedule on a high note heading into the regular season opener.
- Adam Pardy is likely to be sent down to the Flames' AHL affiliate in Quad City to start the season, but his expected demotion won't be for a lack of good play at training camp.
- Andrew Ladd has arrived at Canes' training camp more mentally prepared than last season writes Lorenzo Perez of the News Observer.
- Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren't the only impressive rookies at Hawks' camp writes Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.
- With an assortment of lingering injuries at Avs' camp, coach Joel Quenville may have to hold off a little longer before making roster decisions.
- Kris Russell has impressed everyone at Blue Jackets' camp, including, most importantly, coach Ken Hitchcock.
- The Stars have allowed far too many goals in their first four pre-season games for Dave Tippett's liking.
- Nick Lidstrom is looking forward to playing with his newest defense partner Brian Rafalski, now that the Wings' big off-season acquistion is fully healed from a hip injury.
- Marty Reasoner knew he was going to be in a battle for playing time this season and, therefore, took upon himself to increase his summer workout regimen.
- The Oilers are having quite a battle for their number one center spot writes Robert Tychkowski in this morning's Edmonton Sun. Meanwhile, Anson Carter was back on skates at camp yesterday and coach Craig MacTavish says his chances to crack the starting roster are not over yet.
- Former Finnish leaguer Cory Murphy is impressing coaches in Florida camp. (Writer's note: Props to Illegal Curve writer Ezra Ginsburg for tipping us off to Cory Murphy a few weeks back.)
- The Habs made some cuts on Monday, but Carey Price was not among them writes Kevin Mio of the Montreal Gazette.
- Nobody has taken the bull by the horns in the fight for the backup goaltender job in Nashville this season. Coach Barry Trotz is still undecided on his final forward lines writes Jessica Hopp of the Tennessean.
- Kevin Weekes has a mild concussion and may not be ready for the Devils' opening game in 10 days writes Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger. With so many Devils going down to injury in training camp, Mark Everson of the NY Post details who could be in line to replace the injured Devils on the roster to begin the season.
- The Rangers/Islanders exhibition game saw a goalie fight and multiple game misconducts. The start of the brawl can be attributed to the stick-swinging incident between Chris Simon and Ryan Hollweg late last season. By the way, the actual final score of the game was 5-4 in favor of the Islanders.
- In other Rangers' news, Darius Kasparaitis was waived by the team on Monday.
- Sidney Crosby's groin has been acting up, but according to coach Michel Therrien, "it's not a major thing."
- Mark Eaton's is going to stick with the defensive side of the game and leave the offense to his Penguin teammates writes Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- The Capitals powerplay should be much improved this season after all the summer acquisitions made by GM George McPhee.
- Christoph Schubert played defense last night, after playing wing the game before, and scored two goals to lead the Sens to a perfect 4-0 record so far this pre-season.
- The Flyers are undecided on whether to keep Claude Giroux with the big club or send him back to juniors writes Tim Panaccio of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Even if he doesn't make the Sharks, Sandis Ozolinsh has done a good job of turning around his life writes David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News.
- The Leafs weren't exactly impressive against the Sens in exhibition action on Monday night. However, the combination of Sundin and Blake did have the crowd buzzing on a couple of occassions.
- Ryan Craig is out of the Lightning lineup indefinitely with a herniated disc.
- Barry MacDonald of the Vancouver Sun wonders whether Markus Naslund can have a bounce back season.
For Illegal Curve, I'm Richard Pollock.