Last season Buffalo got away from its all-offense, all-the-time mentality and found themselves back in the playoffs. Leaning on their defense while scoring the fewest goals since the 2004 NHL lockout, the Sabres returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
The 207 goals Buffalo allowed were the fewest since 2001-02 thanks to Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. The United States Olympic hero had a career year, winning 41 games and posting a 2.22 GAA, both career highs to go along with his silver medal.
The other leader of the Buffalo defense, Tyler Myers, picked up some hardware of his own. He won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie last season. Unfortunately for Miller, Myers, and the rest of the Buffalo defense, keeping a D that ranked fourth last season in the league intact was not a priority of the front office this offseason.
Lindy Ruff, the longest tenured coach in the NHL, returns for his 13th season. Ruff has led the Sabres to the playoffs only three times in the last eight seasons, and if Buffalo fails to get into the postseason or even out of the first round again the angst in Buffalo will grow even larger.
The Sabres finished 45-27-10 last season with 100 points to win the Northeast Division and earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs they were dealt a tough blow when leading scorer Thomas Vanek was lost in the first round series against Boston.
The Buffalo Sabres schedule keeps them at home for four consecutive games after opening the season at Ottawa on Friday Oct. 8. A critical stretch for Buffalo comes in December when it meets Boston three times in three weeks.
The thinking of GM Darcy Regier must have been that the defensive success from last season had everything to do with Miller and Myers. Regier let defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman leave via free agency. Those two losses will have the greatest impact on the Sabres, but defenseman Jordan Leopold was brought in after a short stint with the Penguins and Shaone Morrisonn was signed after six years in Washington to help fill defensive holes. Center Rob Niedermayer (New Jersey) and winger Tim Conboy (Carolina) were two other low-risk free agent signings Regier oversaw this offseason.
Buffalo Sabres Predictions: Outlook
The heart and soul of last season's team took a hit in the offseason when Tallinder and Lydman left, but this will still be a squad that makes its living by preventing goals, not by outscoring the opponent. Even though they are defending division champs, the Northeast division is Boston's to lose. The Bruins proved that in a first round series win over Buffalo last season. Buffalo appears to have taken a step back from last season and this team will be forced to lean heavily on its goalie.
Buffalo Sabres Futures Odds
The reigning Northeast Division champions are not expected to repeat. Buffalo's NHL betting odds are +450 to win the division, behind Boston (-150) and even Montreal and Ottawa (+400). The Sabres' odds to win the Eastern Conference are +1800 and their odds to win the Stanley Cup are +3000. Their season win total ‘over/under' is 43.5. Odds are courtesy of BetUS.
NHL Predictions for Buffalo Sabres
A lot will be asked of Miller and a lot will be asked of Myers, who is only a second year player. The defense will certainly regress and another 45-win season does not look to be in the books. Expect Buffalo to get close to 40 wins but stay ‘under' the total of 43.5.