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Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Sam Reinhart poses for a photo with team officials after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 NHL season preview: Buffalo Sabres

This 2014-15 NHL Season Preview features the Buffalo Sabres.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Do trades count? The Sabres traded Thomas Vanek to the Islanders for a return that included Matt Moulson, who they later dealt to Minnesota, only to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent this summer. At the end of it all, the return for Vanek ended up being Matt Moulson, Torrey Mitchell, Cody McCormick, a 1st round pick in 2014 and three 2nd round picks (2014, 2015, 2016).

20-year-old centre Zemgus Girgensons acquitted himself quite nicely as a rookie in the NHL, albeit while playing sheltered minutes. He posted 8 points and a +3 in his final 19 games however, playing over 20 minutes on 4 occasions. He’s the real deal and will only get better.

If there’s a positive to finishing near the bottom of the league, it’s that you get to draft high. In the Sabres case, it meant picking up Sam Reinhart 2nd overall in the 2014 draft. He’s supremely skilled, has great vision and is an excellent skater. He joins Girgensons in what is likely to form one of the better 1-2 punches down the middle in the later part of the decade.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

On the ice, pretty much everything that could have gone awry, did.

The powerplay was abysmal, connecting at just 14.1%. Only the Florida Panthers were worse with the man advantage.

Tyler Myers has been in a downward spiral ever since his Calder Trophy winning season in 2009-10. The 6’8″ defender posted a horrid -26 in 62 games and spent a quarter of the season on the shelf thanks to various injuries.

Ever since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, Ville Leino has been a disaster of “Scott Gomezian” proportions. 0 goals in 58 games was the last straw, as the Sabres bought him out this summer. He finished with 10 goals in 137 games over 3 seasons with Buffalo, at a total cost of 16 million dollars in salary.

After posting a very respectable +3 in 42 games the year before, defenseman Mike Weber was a team-worst -29 for the Sabres in 68 games. The fact that he was just 4th among defensemen on the team in quality of competition faced makes that number look that much worse.

So what did they do to get better?

If there’s one thing Buffalo is doing well, it’s rebuilding. They have a fantastic crop of top prospects, and this summer added some quality veterans to bring them along.

Stanley Cup Champion Brian Gionta was signed as an unrestricted free agent. The former captain of the Montreal Canadiens is from nearby Rochester, New York and will bring lots of experience and one of the best work ethics in the game.

Josh Gorges is another quality addition with a great work ethic who will help with the development of defensemen like Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe. He’s an elite shot blocker and always puts the team first.

Andrej Meszaros is a noteworthy addition on defense and should help alleviate the loss of Christian Ehrhoff. He’s a solid second pairing defenseman who can play in any situation, although he does sometimes struggle against top competition.

Player to watch

Time may be running out  for Mikhail Grigorenko with the Sabres. With Girgensons and Reinhart in the fold, it’s now or never for the big Russian to prove that he can play in the NHL. There have been questions about his commitment level as well as his work ethic. You have to think that with just this season remaining on his entry level contract, if the former 12th overall pick doesn’t crack the NHL lineup this season the KHL may come calling.

Patience is paramount with this group, as they seem to finally be building this thing the right way.

They will make the playoffs if…

Someone supplies the team with performance enhancing drugs. The potential is there for the Sabres to build a solid foundation, but they’re still too young and too raw to be a post-season team.

They will miss the playoffs if…

All goes as it should. At the very least however, it will be a season of great value in terms of experience for several of their young stars.

What should we expect this season?

The Buffalo Sabres will be a little tougher to play against than they were last year, and that could very well translate into a few more wins and renewed hope that things are finally turning around.

Patience is paramount with this group, as they seem to finally be building this thing the right way.

Prediction

25-49-8 58 points, 8th in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews Andrej Meszaros Brian Gionta Buffalo Sabres Josh Gorges Mike Weber Mikhail Grigorenko NHL Sam Reinhart Thomas Vanek Tyler Myers Ville Leino Zemgus Girgensons

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