I would like to take a larger picture view for my first postseason post. I’m going to take a look at the things that went wrong for Buffalo this year. I’m also going to look at the things that went right for the Sabres. Though these are just opinions and much of what I write can be interpreted differently by different fans, this is what I saw when I watched this year.
What Went Wrong
Team Defense: This got better as the season progressed, but it was so atrocious at the beginning of the year that it is still a concern. Forwards looked absolutely lost in their own end. The defensemen also struggled clearing the front of the net and holding their positioning. It was rough and was something the Sabres never recovered from.
Tyler Myers: Myers, and his partner Jordan Leopold, were big reasons that the Sabres struggled defensively earlier in the year. Myers was horrible in his own end through much of the season and was once again a non-factor offensively. Just when he was turning his season around, he suffered a season-ending injury and there went another year of Myers’ promising career.
Alexander Sulzer: Sulzer was doing a nice job of establishing himself as an NHL regular before he too lost the season due to injury. It will be an uphill battle for Sulzer to become a full-time NHLer at this stage in his career.
Corey Tropp & Brayden McNabb: Both players missed out on NHL action due to injuries. Tropp missed nearly the entire season.
Joe Finley: Finley was claimed off waivers by the playoff bound New York Islanders before the season began.
Drew Stafford: Stafford was a team low -16 and only scored on 5% of his shots. Those two stats combined with his single digit block total makes anyone who looks at them wonder why on Earth he is still on this team, much less an assistant captain. A brutal year from Stafford.
T.J. Brennan: Brennan put the Sabres in a terrible situation by lighting up the AHL and not being NHL ready. They couldn’t waive him, because he would have been claimed. He also wasn’t ready to be playing in Buffalo. Thus the settled for a 5th round pick from Florida in exchange for their former 2nd round pick.
Nathan Gerbe: Gerbe didn’t establish himself as a top-6 forward and played far too timidly to be a viable 3rd/4th line option. He is playing himself out of a job right now.
Matt Ellis & Cody McCormick: Two of the best character guys in the organization couldn’t maintain a high enough level of play to stay in the NHL.
Luke Adam: Adam continued to stall in his development. He managed to score at the NHL level again, but how that will affect his future with the team remains to be seen.
Mikhail Grigorenko: Grigorenko struggled in his first NHL stint. He only managed 1 goal and 5 points while being bounced throughout the lineup. He was a mess defensively, couldn’t even manage to win 40% of his faceoffs and seemingly refused to throw a body check. Pretty much every knock on the kid coming out of the draft came to pass in his first season. He went back to juniors before jumping back to the Sabres just in time to play his 23rd, 24th and 25th games for the team, making him ineligible for the Calder trophy next season.
Marcus Foligno: This wasn't a bad season for a rookie, but it wasn't nearly the season Buffalo was hoping for. It showed that most experts were correct in assuming it would take some time for Foligno to adjust to the pro game after he burst on the scene last season.
Ville Leino: Leino played just enough to give Sabres fans hope and then shut it down for the year. He made us believe that he is a top player when healthy, but cannot stay healthy. Another wasted year on his hefty contract.
Special Teams: The Sabres were 29th overall in power play efficiency and 26th overall in penalty kill efficiency. Buffalo’s combined special teams’ rating was dead last in the NHL. The power play often looked disorganized and struggled to maintain pressure. The penalty kill was surprisingly chaotic. A staple of the Sabres since Lindy Ruff took over has been a very well coached and effective PK. This makes me wonder if the shortened preseason could be responsible.
Power Play Defense: So bad it garnered its own category. The Sabres allowed 7 shorthanded goals against. 7! They led the league in shorthanded goals allowed. Unacceptable.
Patrick Kaleta: Kaleta upped his game as a scrapper this year, but his offensive output flat-lined this season. He really couldn't find the net with a tracking device. If he can't find his scoring touch he will be replaced.
What Went Right
Thomas Vanek: Vanek once again scored more than 20 goals and proved he could be a dynamic player early in the year. Unfortunately he proved that he is almost useless when injuries strike, which they always seem to.
Trades: Darcy Regier made some trades to bring in some excellent pieces to the organization. A first round pick and three second rounders were the big draft picks in deals for Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and Jason Pominville. Add to that Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett and you have a successful foundation for rebuilding.
Jhonas Enroth: Enroth had a terrible campaign in 2011-2012 and made many fans question whether he was going to be a stable backup for Ryan Miller. He bounced back so strongly in 2012-2013 that he made fans wonder if he might soon be Miller’s replacement as the starter.
Cody Hodgson: Hodgson played his first full NHL season and he was second on the team in scoring. Hodgson had his ups and downs, but the future is bright for Buffalo’s young, top line center.
John Scott: John Scott was a player I didn’t expect much from. I really thought he would be in the minors by the end of the season. Instead he earned increased trust and responsibility from the coaches and team as the season progressed due to his heart and positioning.
Andrej Sekera: Sekera had a strong 2011-2012 season. He had an even more impressive season this year. He continues to be a player of great value for the organization and flies under the radar for the most part.
Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff stumbled a bit in his first season as a Sabre, but his second season saw him really earn his hefty contract. He was great defensively, averaged more than 25 minutes per game and put points on the board.
Mike Weber: Mike Weber’s career was nose diving, but the addition of Steve Ott and his off season transformation allowed him to make this season count. Weber didn’t get into the lineup right away, but once he did they couldn’t take him out. He was one of the most stable forces for the Sabres and earned his role as an NHL defenseman. He also earned the team’s Unsung Hero Award.
Adam Pardy: Pardy wasn’t meant to be a big contributor for the Sabres this season. He turned into a serviceable defenseman and showed some flashes of his form from his days in Calgary. He is a steady defenseman, but not quite a game changer. He might be worth a re-signing to give this team some competition during training camp.
Mark Pysyk: Pysyk made his Sabres debut and was exactly the player the Sabres were hoping for when the drafted him in the first round. If he can avoid a regression, he should continue to work his way up the depth chart.
Brian Flynn: The AHL rookie phenom went from being undrafted to playing in the NHL in less than a season. He was signed late last year and he made his NHL debut this season. He score 6 goals and tacked on 5 assists, while also adding a team best +6 rating. Not bad for a guy who no one expected much from at the beginning of the year.
Chad Ruhwedel: Ruhwedel had an even more meteoric rise than Flynn. He was signed straight from the NCAA and joined the Sabres in an attempt to save the Sabres from having to burn one of their call ups. He jumped right into the big leagues and earned his ice time with a stable presence alongside Mike Weber. He was an unexpected success story at the tail end of the season.
Kevin Porter: Porter was a player the Sabres conceivably signed to play with the big club, but at the beginning of the season they really couldn’t find a spot for him in the lineup. The demotions of Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick opened a spot and Porter proved he could play a solid 3rd line role and add some secondary scoring. He needs to improve his faceoff effectiveness, but other than that he proved to be a great addition to the team.
Jochen Hecht: Not only was it great for Hecht to get back into the NHL, but he contributed nicely to the team. He filled any role he was needed for and played nearly every game. It wasn’t the most positive season for the team, but at least Hecht was able to retire with his head held high. That is an important thing for Hecht and the organization.
Steve Ott: “Otter” came to Buffalo and instantly became a fan favorite. He threw big hits, agitated and added some scoring punch. Ott also added some leadership and contributed to the next item on the list.