Sabres: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrunWhen billionaire Terry Pegula shed tears after seeing Sabres great Gilbert Perreault at Pegula's introductory news conference as new team owner, you knew a new era had just begun in Western New York.
An era that begins with dollar signs and aims to be remembered for Cup rings.
Oh yeah, baby, things have changed in Buffalo.
The players returned from their offseason to find a remodeled dressing room. More staff was added in different departments of the organization. And, of course, players were expensively recruited.
The puck had yet to drop on the 2011-12 season but already puck fans in Buffalo were sold.
"What he's done for the team so far, we're very lucky to have Terry," star blueliner Tyler Myers told ESPN.com.
1. Open the vault
The Sabres not only spent like drunken sailors to reel in Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, they also dug deep to extend Myers and acquired a big contract via trade in Robyn Regehr. Both Ehrhoff and Myers have front-loaded contracts with big signing bonuses.
"With the addition of those guys and the core we had last year, it's a very exciting time in Buffalo," Myers said.
The Sabres opened training camp more than $3 million over the salary cap. These aren't your father's Sabres. Heck, they're not your 5-year-old daughter's Sabres.
So, what's it like to have money?
"I view it as your assets in your organization. They're your draft picks, your prospects. They're your players. And, of course, cash as well, to the extent that you can go to the cap," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told ESPN.com. "For Terry to come in and say, 'Go to the cap,' it's an area that we haven't been into very much in the past."
Of course, with that newfound financial wealth comes expectations. The Sabres can no longer play the poor-and-broke cousin card. They have to win now, and there are no more excuses. Just how the Sabres deal with that will be an important storyline over the next few years.
2. Blue-line boost
The Sabres had a young blue line last season, and although those youngsters made important strides, they also made the traditional mistakes that come with being a young blueliner in the NHL. Having lost two experienced defensemen in Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman to free agency in the summer of 2010, Regier, a year later, made amends by upgrading big time with Ehrhoff and Regehr.
"I like our youth, but we needed to add a little more experience and get people that had played longer and in more critical situations," Regier said. "That becomes an important thing when you get down the stretch and get into the playoffs."
Experienced blueliners can take a bigger load of the minutes without making as many mistakes. The Sabres aimed well here.
3. Robyn Regehr an important addition
Regehr, acquired via trade from Calgary, doesn't play a sexy game, but he's a fearless and intelligent defenseman who brings experience to a young blue line. When the going gets tough this season, Regehr will make his voice heard in that dressing room and calm down his younger mates.
"He's a big, strong guy, defensively very sound, competes hard, and he's tough to play against," Regier said. "For us, that's a dimension that we needed to add to our defense. It was also important not only trading for his rights, but he agreed to waive his no-move clause. That ended up another positive that going into the free-agent market helped us a little bit, too."
Myers saw Regehr up close as a youngster.
"I'm going to take as much as I can from him," Myers said of his new defense partner. "I've been a big fan of Robyn Regehr ever since I was a kid growing up in Calgary. I'm going to take anything I can from him on and off the ice. He's going to bring leadership and experience to the room."
4. Healthy Derek Roy a good thing
No. 1 center Derek Roy missed the second half of last season through quad surgery. The point-a-game playmaker is fresh and healthy entering this season, and we believe he's poised for a huge campaign. Remember that he was a player star-studded Team Canada thought enough of to invite to its Olympic orientation camp in August 2009. Don't be surprised if Roy unleashes a career-best season this time around.
5. Myers has to forget first half
Myers came off his 2009-10 Calder trophy by falling right into the old sophomore slump trap in the first half last season. If the Sabres want to contend for the division and conference title, they can't afford to have a player who leads them in minutes slump again in the first half. It affects too many facets of their team game.
"Terrible first half," Myers said self-critically. "I was coming into last year putting way too much pressure on myself coming off a Calder year. I felt I had to do a lot more than I had to coming into my sophomore year. The first half was really rough; it took me a long time to find my game again. But in all honesty, I'm in a way glad it happened. I've learned so much from it. Coming into this season, I'm in a whole different mindset than I was last year. I feel there's still a lot to learn, but compared to last year, it's night and day."
6. Paging Mr. Vezina
Ryan Miller wasn't bad in 2010-11. He had a good season, especially when you consider he battled knee and hip injuries and a late-season concussion. It's just that when you set a lofty standard such as the 2009-10 Olympic year, when he was the league's top netminder and the Olympic MVP, anything but great will be deemed not good enough. Perhaps also tired mentally and physically last season, a refreshed Miller needs to bring that greatness back for the Sabres to contend for the Cup.
"It's really more about getting back to where he was the previous year in that Olympic year, where I had never seen him so focused," Regier said. "He was just outstanding. I think that's what he's looking to do as well."
We also must keep an eye on 23-year-old Jhonas Enroth. He surprised many when he held down the fort in Miller's absence late last season. Let's see whether coach Lindy Ruff tries to keep Miller fresh for the playoffs by spotting Enroth more starts than Buffalo backups are used to in the Miller era.
7. Unheralded Mr. Leino
Ville Leino was a cap casualty in both Detroit and Philadelphia. In Buffalo, he's finally found a home, and as he proved in the 2009-10 playoffs during Philly's Cup run, he's a clutch player who has abilities on both sides of the puck. He'll get to play his natural position of center on Buffalo's second line.
"We played against Ville quite a bit, and he was always a very effective player against us -- good with the puck, good with distributing the puck, not a big shooter but really has a nice ability to make plays," Regier said.
8. Quick start imperative
The Sabres slumped out of the gates last season, and that first half made them scramble to get into the postseason. The Sabres might have been a tired bunch heading into the playoffs after the mad dash just to make it, which is why October-November points in the standings are just as critical.
"Big start is huge," Myers said. "My rookie year, we had such a strong start; it definitely made us realize last year how much a strong start can help you. That's going to be big for us. We want to work on our consistency, showing up for each game."
9. Lessons of first-rounds defeats
Two years in a row, the Sabres have been knocked out in the first round -- Boston two years ago and Philly this past spring. The Sabres believed they should have won both series. What's important is to learn from those defeats.
"It's tough," Myers said. "We felt we should have had that series against Philly. But at the same time, you have to come out of that, you have to really look at what we did in [the] second half. We had to be one of the better teams in the league in the second half just to make the playoffs. To be able to do that and come together as a group, especially where our position was midway, that was exciting. We want to build off that."
10. Bringing back the talent
Somewhat lost in the frenzy of Pegula's arrival and subsequent lavish spending on new players is that the Sabres put together a 96-point season in 2010-11 and won the Northeast Division in 2009-10. This was a club already knocking at the door. But what the additions and bigger payroll have allowed is for this small-market team to think big. It's OK for the Sabres to say it out loud: We want to win the Cup.
"I think it's important for us to have those conversations internally, to confront them, to embrace them, to get after it," Regier said. "For a number of our players, whether it's Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville or Derek Roy or Ryan Miller, we've been together and we've had a little bit of success, [but] it's time now to make a deep run. You really have to talk in terms, as an organization, of what it's going to take to win a championship. To me, that's why we do what we do."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering 14th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• Lindy Ruff is the NHL's longest-serving coach, and it bemuses us every time we hear some fans in Buffalo call for his head. Are you kidding? The day the Sabres fire Ruff is just one day before another team scoops him up.
Ruff is one of the most respected bench bosses in the league. One of his greatest achievements during his long run in Buffalo has been his ability to shift systems and style of play for his club depending on what players he's been handed and what style of play works at that particular time in the NHL.
He is a great communicator with his players and doesn't pull punches through the media when he's not happy with them. He has an Olympic gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games as an assistant coach on Team Canada. Now he just needs that elusive Cup ring. -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Ryan Miller
Miller was the greatest fantasy goalie in all the land in 2009-10 and went in the first round or shortly thereafter in just about every roto league for 2010-11. While his end results weren't terrible (34 wins, a 2.59 GAA and .916 save percentage), it was a poor return on that high draft-pick currency. Miller's magical season appears to be more outlier than a trend of dominance. In six seasons since the lockout, Miller has averaged just fewer than 36 wins, a 2.55 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers, but they're not elite, which is why Miller shouldn't be amongst the first goalies off the board. -- Tim Kavanagh
Risky pick: Drew Stafford
Stafford is either primed to build on his breakout season or some third-line ice time. There are more cooks in the proverbial kitchen than the Sabres need for their top two lines, and some players will be relegated to the bottom six because of it. Stafford has some of the best goal-scoring instincts of the group and fantasy owners could take solace in that even the Sabres' third line will have quality talent. Stafford rates higher than others because he has some of the highest upside and could earn big power-play minutes. -- Sean Allen
Sleeper pick: Tyler Ennis
Ennis didn't blow the roof off during his rookie season, but 49 points was respectable considering he wasn't always at the top of the Buffalo Sabres' depth chart last season. As is the case with several Sabres forwards, Ennis will have to win some training camp battles for a prime spot in the top six. Ennis' breakaway speed should serve him well in a role with a playmaking center and a power forward on the other flank, but that exact line setting will be up in the air until the season begins. -- S.A.
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Sabres:
• June 3: Re-signed RW Drew Stafford.
• June 25: Acquired D Robyn Regehr, RW Ales Kotalik and 2012 second-round pick from Calgary for D Chris Butler and C Paul Byron.
• June 29: Re-signed C Nathan Gerbe.
• June 29: Acquired the rights to negotiate with D Christian Ehrhoff from Islanders for 2012 fourth-round pick.
• June 30: Signed D Christian Ehrhoff.
• July 1: Signed LW Ville Leino.
• July 1: Re-signed C Cody McCormick.
• July 4: Re-signed D Mike Weber.
• July 19: Re-signed D Andrej Sekera and LW Matt Ellis.
• July 21: Re-signed G Jhonas Enroth.
• Aug. 3: Named Kevyn Adams assistant coach.
• Aug. 11: Re-signed D Marc-Andre Gragnani.
• Sept. 15: Re-signed D Tyler Myers.
• D Chris Butler (traded to Calgary)
• C Paul Byron (traded to Calgary)
• C Tim Connolly (unrestricted free agent, signed by Toronto)
• D Steve Montador (traded to Chicago)
• RW Mark Mancari (unrestricted free agent, signed by Vancouver)
• G Patrick Lalime (retired)
C Rob Niedermayer (unrestricted free agent, signed by Swiss club Lugano)
• RW Mike Grier (unrestricted free agent)