Spending spree could make Sabres force
The Sabres were stopped in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season when the Flyers ousted them in seven games, one year after Boston beat them in six. But Buffalo is determined not to let that happen again, a commitment new owner Terry Pegula proved with his checkbook this summer.
The Sabres were among the most active teams in free agency, to the point where they will have to shed $3.6 million before the start of the season to get under the cap. On paper, there's no denying Buffalo appears improved, but how those new pieces come together on the ice will determine if it was truly money well spent.
2010-11 record: 43-29-10, 96 points (3rd Northeast Division; 7th Eastern Conference; lost in first round of playoffs to Philadelphia, 4-3)
Key additions: D Robyn Regehr (trade with Calgary); F Ales Kotalik (trade with Calgary); F Ville Leino (free agent); D Christian Ehrhoff (trade with NY Islanders); F Michael Ryan (free agent); F Paul Szczechura (free agent); G Drew MacIntyre (free agent)
Key losses: D Chris Butler (traded to Calgary); F Paul Byron (traded to Calgary); D Steve Montador (signed with Chicago); F Rob Niedermayer (signed with HC Lugano, Switzerland); F Tim Connolly (signed with Toronto); G Patrick Lalime (retired); F Mike Grier (free agent); F Mark Mancari (signed with Vancouver); F Mark Parrish (signed with Ottawa)
Burning question: How much better will the Sabres be after their summer spending spree?
New owner Pegula wasted no time putting his stamp on his new team, giving GM Darcy Regier the freedom to splurge on talent this summer. Regier responded by acquiring defenseman Robyn Regehr and his $4.02 million cap hit for the next two years (along with one year of forward Ales Kotalik at $3 million) from Calgary. Regier then traded for the rights to impending free agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and signed him to a front-loaded 10-year, $40 million deal that includes a $10 million payout this season. Regehr is a physical stay-at-home defenseman who will help shore up the back end, while Ehrhoff, who had 14-36-50 totals last year with Vancouver, will add some offense to the blue line.
Forward Ville Leino, signed away from Philadelphia for six years and $27 million after a 19-34-53 campaign with the Flyers, will further help improve the offense. Those are nice pieces to add, but very costly. The Sabres are already in need of finding a way to dump salary before the start of the season and could be in even more cap trouble next summer when Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta will all be restricted free agents looking for new deals.
2011-12 outlook: With their offseason additions and the nucleus already in place, the Sabres are poised to challenge the Bruins in the Northeast Division and could be one of the top teams in the entire conference. Much will depend upon goalie Ryan Miller returning to his Vezina form of two years ago after slipping to a 2.59 GAA (tied for 23rd in NHL) and .916 save percentage (tied for 18th) last season. He'll have a better defense in front of him with Regehr and Ehrhoff added to a unit that already featured the 6-foot-7 Myers (10-27-37), Jordan Leopold (13-22-35), Andrej Sekera (3-26-29) and talented rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani (1-2-3 in 9 games). Up front, Leino bolsters a group led by Thomas Vanek (32-41-73), Brad Boyes (17-38-55), Drew Stafford (31-21-52), Jason Pominville (22-30-52) and Ennis (20-29-49).
Did you know? Stafford shattered his previous career best of 20 goals with the 31 he scored last season, and he can thank the Bruins for much of that success. While the rest of the league found it difficult to get anything past Boston netminders Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, Stafford scored seven goals against them in just four games. He scored hat tricks in back-to-back games against Boston on Dec. 15 and Jan. 1, adding another tally in the shootout in the latter encounter for good measure. Stafford didn't have more than three goals against any other opponent.