Buffalo still has a sour taste in their mouth after their first round playoff loss to a Boston Bruins team that physically wore down the Sabres over the course of the series. Superstar goaltender Ryan Miller did all he could, and more for Buffalo, but in the end, a lack of scoring and veteran leadership from the forward position was Buffalo’s downfall in a very disappointing postseason.
The indelible image of the 2009-10 season will be Miller’s superhuman performance for the United States in the 2010 Winter Olympics. As good as he was for the USA in Vancouver last winter, he was even better night in and night out for the Sabres. Miller made a legitimate case to win the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL, posting a .929 save-percentage, a career-best 2.22 goals against, while winning 41 games in 69 appearances for the Sabres.
The Michigan State alum is undoubtedly the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Sabres, while consistent offense was the problem in Buffalo last season. Winger Thomas Vanek (28 G, 25 A) regressed a bit in 09-10, while Derek Roy (26 G, 43 A) had an average season by his standards. Meanwhile, winger Jason Pominville, who seems to fly under the radar in fantasy leagues, continued to be the model of consistency for Buffalo. For the fourth straight season, Pominville (24 G, 38 A) played in all 82 games for Buffalo. The most important part of the Sabre offense however is Tim Connolly. Connolly makes everything happen for Lindy Ruff’s offense, especially on the power play. The talented center finally put together a healthy season in 09-10, and rewarded fantasy owners who took a chance on him, posting 17 goals and 48 assists.
Defensively, it’s all about Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers. Myers led all NHL rookies with 37 assists, while posting an impressive plus-13 in his first season. A sophomore slump is always the fear, but it seems highly unlikely for a player like Myers, and the Sabres are hedging their bets that he will again be an assist machine on theie blue line. Buffalo let veteran defensemen Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder leave via free agency, and replaced them with free agents Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn. Andrej Sekera also should have a more prominent role in the defensive corps for the Sabres after battling through injuries, and time in Lindy Ruff’s dog house last year.
FROM A FANTASY PERSPECTIVE
THE BIG GUNS
Ryan Miller (G): Miller can almost singlehandedly win your fantasy league for you if comes anywhere near what he did a season ago. Game to game, there may not be a more focused player in the entire NHL, and Miller is bitter about how last season ended. An ultra-motivated Miller, without the worry of the Olympics and the condensed schedule that came with it, should have another enormous season in 2010-11.
Thomas Vanek (LW): Vanek played in two less games in 2009-10 than he did in the 2008-09, and he posted 11 less points as well. He battled through nagging injuries seemingly all season long last year, and that could be a reason for the regression. There is no reason to think a healthy Vanek shouldn’t come close to the 84-point season that he enjoyed in 2006-07. Vanek is as streaky a player as they come, but he’s still relatively young, and if he can become more consistent, he will be a nice value pick.
Jason Pominville (RW): If you draft Pominville, you can pencil in 82 games played, 20 to 25 goals, and 35 to 40 assists right off the bat. He is anything but flashy, but, Pominville is the perfect second-tier winger in fantasy leagues.
ON THE RISE
Nathan Gerbe (C): The first thing anybody notices about Gerbe is his size, or lack of. Regardless, he has done nothing but impress in his time with the big club, and he brought electricity to the lineup in the playoffs, scoring once and setting up another goal in the two games that he played. In two seasons for Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Portland, Gerbe has put up 84 points (41 G, 43 A) in 101 games. He figures to slide into the roster spot left open by Tim Kennedy’s departure, and could very reasonably top off around 30 to 35 points in his first full season in the NHL.
Tyler Ennis (LW): Ennis came up at the end of the 2009-10 season and raised eyebrows across the league when he notched nine points (3 G, 6 A) in the final nine games of the season for the Sabres. His success continued into the playoffs, where he had a goal and three assists in Buffalo’s six games against Boston. His spot on the 2010-11 roster seems set, and he should slide right into the third or fourth line and could be in the 40 to 45 point range.
TWO TO AVOID
Craig Rivet (D): The veteran defensemen experienced another steep decline in production last season for Buffalo. Add to it the fact that he will be 36 when the season begins, and the fact that he had off-season should surgery, and you have a guy who does not belong on too many fantasy rosters. He is Buffalo’s captain, and will be important in helping the growth of the young players on the roster, but he there will definitely be better options on the blue line in your league.
Chris Butler (D): Butler’s 20 assists last season are an anomaly, even going back as far as his days in Juniors. He appeared in 59 games with the Sabres, but was a minus-15 on a team that had a plus-30 overall goal differential. That doesn’t sit well with Lindy Ruff, and because of that Butler will again battle to be the sixth defensemen most of the season. Avoid the temptation to consider Butler a sleeper because of his point outburst last season. In his case, offensive numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Zack Kassian (RW): Kassian has gained a lot of notoriety for all of the wrong reasons since he was drafted by Buffalo with the 13th overall pick in the 2009 draft. Kassian was arrested for his involvement in a fight at a bar last season, only weeks after being suspended by the OHL for a violent hit to the head of Matt Kennedy. By all reports, Kassian is working hard both on and off the ice to overcome some of his issues, and should still be considered the Sabres number one prospect. It will be very interesting to gauge Kassian’s progress, both on and off the ice, this coming year.
Mike Weber (D): Weber will never be an offensive weapon from the blue line, but, he is a physical defender with a nasty streak. The Sabres have some age on the blue line, and Weber was called up from AHL Portland, appearing in seven games with Buffalo last season. Weber figures to again be the first defensemen who to get the call up in the event that the Sabres need bodies on defense. Do not count out Weber stealing a job in training camp however. Craig Rivet may not be ready physically, and Buffalo could use a defense-first type player like Weber.
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