Key Offseason Additions: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr
Key Offseason Losses: Tim Connolly
Last Season Ranking: 7th in East
Offense: Much like last season, the offense will be lead by the dynamic Thomas Vanek. He had a bit of a rebound season in 2009-10, and posted 32 goals and 41 assists. His 41 assists tied a career high, and his 73 points were the most since he tallied 84 points in 2006-07. Also expected to contribute big numbers will be Drew Stafford, who collected career highs in goals and points last season, with 31 and 52, respectively. Stafford’s impressive numbers came during an injury shortened season, where he only played in 62 games. His Sabres teammates know what he’s capable of, however, and when he posted hat-tricks on four separate nights, not a single one of them was surprised. In fact, Stafford contributed seven multi-goal games last season and will be counted on to do a lot of the same in 2011-12.
Joining the Sabres crew this year will be Ville Leino, former Philadelphia Flyer. Leino excelled during the 2009-10 playoff run, after being traded to Philadelphia from Detroit, then continued his solid play into last season. His 53 points would rank fifth on an offensively charged Flyers squad. Leino was brought in to the Sabres organization with the expectation that he could continue to improve his game, and point totals as well. If he continues to battle in high traffic areas and drive to the net, Leino should make a big impact in Buffalo this season.
Another player primed for continued success this season is Tyler Ennis. Last year, as a rookie, Ennis piled on 20 goals and 29 assists. Playing alongside guys like Jason Pominville, a perennial 50-60 point scorer and Paul Gaustad, he’ll be given a great opportunity to improve. Ennis could see time playing alongside guys like Leino, Brad Boyes, Derek Roy or Nathan Gerbe as well.
Defense: An upgraded defense will put the Sabres back on track to help Ryan Miller dominate games. Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr join a Sabres defense that will be much more poised with them in the line-up. These guys bring a lot more credibility to the blue line, especially on special teams. Ehrhoff will be a monumental addition to the power-play, while Regehr will help keep the puck out of the net on the penalty kill.
After struggling in his sophomore season, Tyler Myers will return to top shape this season. If paired with Ehrhoff, they will make a very respectable top defensive unit, and will be a great threat on the power-play. As Myers continues to put size on his 6’8″ frame, he will be more of a physical threat in addition to his defensive and offensive talents. Expect career highs in goals, assists and points from Myers this season, as he continues to grow into his role.
Goaltending: As long as Ryan Miller is in net, the Buffalo Sabres will not have much to worry about. Last season, Miller continued his strong play and posted a .916 save percentage, along with a 2.59 goals against average. While neither was a career high, they were still fantastic numbers. His five shutouts did match a career high, however, and it was actually Miller’s third consecutive season posting five shutouts.
HWB Playoff Prediction: Playoff bound. The signing of Ville Leino, growth of some young talent, and defensive signings will put the Buffalo Sabres back into the race for the Stanley Cup.