To offer a brief recap, Terry Pegula swept in at the beginning of the Sabres’ unlikely run to the playoffs shortly before spring had fallen in WNY. The magic surrounding his arrival certainly fueled the dim hopes many Sabres fans had. His support brought additional results to the run that had begun shortly before his official takeover.
Acquiring Brad Boyes was huge. His contributions were a major reason the Sabres reached the playoffs. Sadly, he disappeared during Buffalo’s first-round loss. However, the summer brought more change. Laser beam Zambonis, sweeping renovations to the arena and a deep pocketbook for Darcy Regier to utilize. Utilize he did. Regier acquired Robyn Regehr for a song and inked two high-priced free agents. Perhaps that is where the downfall began.
Fall and the early winter, while devoid of snow was filled with nothing but doom and gloom for “Hockey Heaven”. A promising start has since fizzled out and many are thinking lottery pick before planning a parade downtown. The overall lack of mental and physical toughness has reared its ugly head many times this year, the constant complaints from fans regarding the core remain and just about every fan is sick of the goaltending, no matter which goalie they tie their allegiance to.
With 2012 beginning, the Sabres will need another outstanding run to the postseason. Much like the one they went on last season. While their chances of advancing with a deep run seem unlikely, a playoff berth would certainly trump an early start to the golf season. While numerous changes can be expected, many wonder which changes will be made. In addition, will the necessary ones be made?
Here is a rundown of a few changes, expectations and questions that should feature prominently as the season winds down, the offseason begins and as the franchise moves forward into the 2012-13 campaign.
- Not to start on an ultra-negative note, but this is not a team that can succeed in the playoffs. There are plenty of talented players, but there are far too many missing pieces, particularly when compared to teams that have had success in the past few seasons. To expect a Price of Wales Trophy, or even a Stanley Cup, is unrealistic this year. There are definitely pieces in place, the Sabres just need to dig up the rest.
- Ryan Miller is playing his way out of Buffalo, quite quickly I may add. While I have long been a staunch Miller supporter, his play of late is concerning. On the whole he has been quite strong and steady. However, his numbers are alarming and he cannot seem to keep the score to fewer than three goals against. I am holding out some judgement until the Sabres can prove they’re capable of scoring more than once or twice on a nightly basis. Until then, Miller will need to start stealing games.
- Ville Leino is slowly looking like a bust. Short of an amnesty clause in the next CBA, fans could be stuck with him for a long while. There is hope, however. He found some serious chemistry with Luke Adam and Zack Kassian, picking up five points in his last seven games (prior to his suspension and injury). If Leino finds a consistent scoring touch, the Sabres will be closer to discovering the depth scoring they desperately need.
- The core needs to change, sooner rather than later. The trade deadline will offer the first opportunity to move some of the players who have become so obviously stale in the Sabres’ system. The next will be the offseason when guys like Gaustad and Hecht have expired contracts. While fans have grown comfortable with their style, it is obvious that a sweeping change in the locker will be the only thing to rouse the team into top form.
- Removing the coach and GM certainly seems far more feasible now than it did last summer. Ruff and Regier completed a great run and opened this season with a good looking roster. They also had high expectations and it would seem they are falling well short. Removing Ruff, while it would likely be the wrong decision, would bring temporary change to the locker room. The onus is very much on Regier to reshape this roster into a winner. That may be difficult for the typically patient, slow-to-move attitude he possesses.
The summer is too far off to include in any sort of prognostication for 2012. Ending the 2012 regular season on a high note will be key of the Sabres. Again, they certainly aren’t a team capable of capturing the Stanley Cup. However, signs of improvement would be more than welcome. Those signs could begin soon if Darcy Regier is truly working hard on the trade front.