This time of year, everybody tries to be an expert. Everybody tries to make people think that you know what you're talking about. Well, that's what I'm doing now. Of course I'm talking about predictions. Everybody knows how the season ended last year...no, don't go back and remember what happened, it'll only get you upset. The Sabres are a Cup contender, no doubt about it. I broke down the NHL, and specifically the Sabres, and here are my predictions for the upcoming NHL season.
Let's review this offseason. Hasek announces he'll retire. A couple of boring moves. Lindy Ruff extends contract. That's your offseason folks. That of course, not counting the signings of restricted free agents.
Let's break down this Sabres team.
The Sabres have the best goaltender of the decade, and quite possibly of all-time. The Dominator hasn't slowed down a bit as far as his goaltending prowess goes. But, Hasek is getting old, and more injury prone than he was even a couple years ago. The Sabres backup to start the season will be Dwayne Roloson. Roloson is a good backup, but not a very good starter. The Sabres also have Martin Biron, one of the best goaltending prospects in the league. Biron has played well when in the NHL, and one day could be an all-star in this league. However, Biron was reassigned to Rochester earlier this week.
As long as Hasek is starting, the Sabres have the best goaltending in the NHL. Grade: A
Buffalo is one of the fastest teams in the NHL. This team is gritty, and not afraid to hit. Buffalo, though, does not have much scoring. Miroslav Satan, who is still holding out, was a 40 goal scorer, but only had 66 points overall last season. Michael Peca can be a very good offensive player. But, Peca has the duty to play against the top lines of other teams, and worry about defense first. The rest of the lineup just seems to be a bunch of average scorers. Stu Barnes came alive in the playoffs, but is very streaky. Michal Grosek will have to improve and become more consistent. Vaclav Varada is going to have to put up more offensively. Geoff Sanderson has to have learned not to shoot 5-hole on every shot. There are guys though who should step up this season. Many publications are predicting Curtis Brown to have a break out year. I tend to agree with them. The forwards are good, but not great, and would highly benefit from another high scorer. Grade: B
I really like this defense. It's a very well rounded D that can do a lot to you. The defense can also generate offense, from the likes of Alexi Zhitnik and Jason Woolley. It can get nice steady stay at home play from Richard Smehlik and James Patrick. It also provides a very tough pair in Jay McKee and Rhett Warrener. Those two will punish you. Not only that, but this defense has a lot of depth. Youngsters such as Cory Sarich and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre can step into the lineup, and may even be starters by the time the season ends. Then the Sabres have solid backups in Jason Holland and Mike Hurlbut. If needed, these guys could step in and play some solid hockey. What if the Sabres want to go more offensively? Then they could insert Brian Campbell in to the lineup. Campbell was possibly the most impressive Sabre during the preseason. They'd like him to toughen up though, and get some more strength. Grade: B+
Lindy Ruff had his contract extended...rightfully so. Ruff has led this team to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Stanley Cup Finals in his first two seasons behind the Sabres bench. Darcy Regier, in my eyes, has done a very good job. Let's see some of his moves. Matthew Barnaby for Stu Barnes. Sabres get the better of it. Mike Wilson for Rhett Warrener. Must I explain? Joe Juneau for Alexi Tezikov. It may not look so great now, but if we were in that situation again, I'd make that trade in a heartbeat. Besides, Juneau has lowered his asking price, and there has been rumblings that he'll be back with us soon. The Sabres also got Brian Campbell signed to a contract before he could re-enter the draft. Regier got Afinogenov from Russia and has signed both Barnes and Varada to multi-year deals. Last thing to see about him is what he does to make this a Stanley Cup winning team. Grade: B+
A young team that got a lot of experience going through the playoffs, with extra motivation on this being Hasek's last season, and how the season ended last year. I like the Sabres to...dare I say it? I like the Sabres to win the Stanley Cup.
Now, with much less detail, what I think about the rest of the league.
4. Maple Leafs
1. Red Wings
Eastern Conference Championship: Buffalo over New Jersey
Western Conference Championship: Dallas over St. Louis
Stanley Cup Finals: Buffalo over Dallas