The Buffalo Sabres were close last season, real close. They finished 9th in the west, 3 points behind Ottawa for the final seed in the playoffs. They had one of the best goaltenders in the game, and managed to pick up points in 24 of the final 32 games down the stretch. The snag for the Sabres? The month of January where the team only managed to grab 9 of a potential 24 points. If Buffalo manages to go above .500 during that period, they would have been in the playoffs without a doubt.
Things have changed for the Sabres, however. After an interesting off-season, they’ve added a few pieces to their puzzle and look ready to challenge in the East in 2012-13. But what important changes have they made? And will they be enough to squeeze back into the playoffs?
The biggest off-season move for the Sabres saw the team send Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. Ott, who has a habit of getting under his opponents skin, will turn out to be a huge acquisition for the Sabres. The toughness Ott will bring to the Sabres roster will help for occasions like last season where Ryan Miller got run over by Milan Lucic. In Miller’s first game back after recovering, he was run over again, this time by Jordan Tootoo. Ott’s presence will certainly make opponents think twice before taking a run at Miller in the future.
Beyond his toughness, Steve Ott will actually contribute offensively. While we saw his goal count drop the past two seasons in Dallas, Ott is more than capable of another 15 goal and 40 point season. In fact, if he stays healthy all season, that’s exactly what I expect out of him. He’s not going to be scoring in bunches, because he’s not that type of player, but he’ll be a depth scoring addition that every team needs – especially come playoff time.
A big question for Buffalo moving forward will be where Mikhail Grigorenko ends up. Grigorenko was the Sabres first pick in the 2012 draft, and was picked 12th overall. As one of the top prospects in the draft, no one expected Grigorenko to drop as far as he did, but the Sabres were happy to pick him up. Due to his size and skill, it’s expected that Grigorenko will make the jump straight from the QMJHL to the NHL. As a skilled young center, Mikhail Grigorenko will add more skilled depth at his position and will greatly contribute to the team, even if he’s not putting up big numbers as a rookie.
With many familiar faces from last seasons squad, including one of the greatest goalies in the game, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Sabres right there battling for one of the final playoff spots at the end of the 2012-13 season. The two aforementioned acquisitions could be key, however, as Buffalo has added additional depth that they had been lacking. Although it will be a battle down the stretch, expect the Sabres to squeeze into the playoffs. Once they’re in the playoffs, it’s a whole new season. We saw that with the 8th seeded Kings last season – anything can happen come playoff time.