Today's posting is the Season Preview Report (SPR) for the Buffalo Sabres' 2009/10 season. Forget Hamilton in the north where there currently is no NHL team and look southward to the HSBC Arena for this bunch...
Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called at Tee Time – out of the Playoffs – at Game 80 /1 April 2009 after a spirited fight to stay in the post-season hunt upon Goalie Ryan Miller’s return from injury. They were called as high as Sharpening Skates – just short of qualified for the post-season – at Game 10, and continued to improve through Game 15. But they went “0-Fer” in Games 16 – 20 and only played just barely above, but mostly at or below, the PQC minimum for the rest of the season. Their lowest spot came in the Game 66 – 80 span when they only won 6.5 of 15 games (where an SOL or OTL = .5 of a game). The Sabres finished the season a 4.55 for the No. 10 slot in the East. This was only a very slight improvement over the 2007/8 season when they also failed to make the Playoffs. But then again, playing .555 Hockey doesn’t generally earn you a Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Post-Lockout average PQC and what to expect this season: Buffalo averaged a 5.05 against the PQC over the last four seasons with two of their four years bolstering that average while including trips on into the Playoffs. The last two seasons have not been kind to Buffalo fans, however. So how do we know whether or not they are on track for a foray back into the post-season? The Sabres are known for strong starts out of the chute with an average PQC that is barely shy of Chasing Stanley – qualified for the playoffs – by Game 10. OK. But what about that traditionally deceptive Buffalo skid from Games 11 – 20 that has occurred in every season since the Lockout? Your indicators that this team is going to play on into late April are an absence of the early skid and/or a recovery from it in Games 21 – 30 that brings the team back above the PQC.
How do the Sabres look heading into the 2009/10 season?
Team Play: ISSUE – What’s old is new again, right? As the picture of the day on the OGA home page indicates, there will be a lot of clock watching this season in Buffalo. There will be games left with thoughts of ‘…If I only had a little more time…’ when the thought should really be ‘…If we’d ‘a only scored more goals….’ That’s because a sampling of off-season transactions indicates barely any change to this team. Mike Grier is in for knuckles; Steve Montador arrives to replace Jaroslav Spacek(!?); and Joe DiPenta and Cody McCormick are present for duty. That’s not a lot of additions, which implies (with the loss of Max Afinogenov and possibly an as-yet un-signed Drew Stafford) some room for Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy to step up. But it equally says there may be trouble putting the biscuit in the basket.
We had a look at the CBS Sports page for the Sabres which has a projected line pairing of Vanek-Roy-Pominville from left to right on No. 1 and Hecht-Connolly-Stafford on No. 2. Line 1 is the team’s formidable pairing. On Line 2, however, Connolly has not been healthy for an entire season since 2001-02 and Stafford remains an unsigned RFA at the time of this posting. So that leaves you with a potential mix of depth players to match up/call up throughout the season. That will equal some turmoil in the forward ranks from Line 2 on down.
On the blueline, ‘Houston, we have a problem…’ is an accurate characterization of the situation. None of the projected top six defenders scored even five goals last year (the average is 2.5), they were a combined +11 (bolstered mostly by Steve Montador’s +17 with Boston last year), and none broke an average of 22 minutes per game TOI.
This means the team will have to rely in good measure on the health and 65+ games played by goalie Ryan Miller. It remains to be seen if Miller playing Goalie/ Defenseman and a suspect blue line compliments a must-remain-healthy forward corps sufficiently to equal games in late April. As a bottom line call, there is room for c
concern this season unless those on the ice elevate their game.
Fantasy Value: Target Buffalo’s top line and Tim Connolly for your second tier of forwards in your draft. If they remain healthy throughout the season, they are likely to provide you with good scoring depth. Also keep in the back of your mind Clarke MacArthur’s five goals in the final eight regular season games when goals needed to count the most. He may not be the 2009 NHL Entry Draft’s Number 1 Pick, but he may just have potential this season, especially whilst playing for a new contract in the 2010/11 season. And while we will be shying away from the Sabres’ defense for their diminished fantasy value, we cannot help but recommend Ryan Miller in net as one of the top goalies in the NHL.
Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – Three back-to-back game pairs each in the Game 21 – 30 and 71 – 82 stretches. For a primary analysis of the team’s overall 2009/10 regular season schedule, go to this link.
Next up tomorrow is the Calgary Flames’ 2009/10 SPR…
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