Part 21 in my "State of the Franchise" series.
Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great.
Current Rankings List:
20. Tampa Bay
22. Los Angeles
25. New Jersey
30. San Jose
#10: Buffalo Sabres
Top Fws: Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford
Top Ds: Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff
Top G: Ryan Miller
Top 3 Under-23s:
1. D Tyler Myers (22)
2. F Tyler Ennis (22)
3. F Cody Hodgson (22)
Top 5 Prospects
1. F Mikhail Grigorenko (18)
2. F Joel Armia (19)
3. D Mark Pysyk (20)
4. F Zemgus Girgensons (18)
5. F Marcus Foligno (21)
Prospect Pool Rating:
Bluechip Talent: B
The Sabres have a glut of scoring wingers on their NHL roster. Thomas Vanek has been inconsistent through his tenure in Buffalo, but he's a top line winger, and guys like Pominville, Leino, Stafford, Ennis, and Hodgson have all spent some time on the flanks. Ryan Miller and Johnas Enroth offer stability in between the pipes. The Sabres also have a deep group of NHL defensemen, Tyler Myers chief among them.
With the trade of longtime stalwart Derek Roy, the Sabres lack a proven high-caliber scoring center up the middle. While the defense is deep, the team lacks a number 1 defenseman (as well as top 4 defenders in general), and while Tyler Myers has shown glimpses of potentially being one, he has not yet put it all together on a consistent basis. The team's two big acquisitions of last summer, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr, underachieved and they were joined by a lot of last season's Sabres roster in that regard.
Buffalo has managed to obtain a few high-caliber prospects in their system. The Sabres, courtesy of a terrible start, managed to nab offensive dynamo Mikhail Grigorenko in the 2012 draft. He's joined by fellow 2012 draftee Zemgus Girgensons in forming a strong 1-2 punch up the middle of the pool. Joel Armia is another bluechipper on the wing, and defender Mark Pysyk has accomplished just about everything possible at the junior levels.
The team's overall prospect pool is shallow in terms of depth. While they have some of that at the center and defensive positions, the dearth of NHL-caliber talent on the wings and in goal negate any advantage the Sabres might have. The team has been bringing up many of their best prospects to the NHL squad in recent years, and because of that the players remaining are either newly acquired, too young to make an impact at the professional level or have seen their development stall in the minor leagues.
The Sabres went through a rollercoaster of a 2011-2012 season. With new owner Terry Pegula and some high-profile acquisitions over the summer, the team headed into the season optimistic of a potential playoff berth. That hope was dashed as the team got off to a horrid start. With Ryan Miller underachieving and injured for the majority of the season, it seemed like the Sabres would be among the lottery teams. But a late season surge gave them new life and the Sabres would end up pushing for a playoff spot right up until the last week of the regular season before finishing 9th in the East.
The Sabres have been retooling their roster for some time now. With a smaller budget, GM Darcy Regier has had to let go of some key players, such as Daniel Briere and Brian Campbell, and replace them with young, homegrown talent. That has given young players such as Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber a chance at an NHL role, which the majority have run with, giving the Sabres a young, improving team coupled with some veteran talents such as Jason Pomiville and Ryan Miller.
Now that Terry Pegula is on board (and more importantly has a year under his belt to get his feet wet), the Sabres will look to contend for a playoff spot again this year.