Buffalo Sabres 2013-14 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson
Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson
Apr 19 2013 Buffalo NY USA Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson 19 shoots on the New York Rangers net during the second period at the First Niagara Center Kevin Hoffman USA TODAY Sports

A dreadful 2012-13 campaign ended an era in Buffalo, effecting the termination of 15-year head coach Lindy Ruff. In the wake of Ruff’s departure, the Sabres finished dead last in the Northeast Division, triggering a complete rebuild that will continue beyond the coming season.

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The Sabres dealt captain Jason Pominville and veteran defender Robyn Regehr in April, and they lost Nathan Gerbe to free agency. Meanwhile questions continue to surround the future of Ryan Miller.

For the third straight season, Miller failed to recapture his 2009-10 magnificence, and the floundering face of the franchise could benefit from a new home. His contract expires at the end of the season, and unless things change, he may not be invited back.

Finishing with the league’s 19th best save percentage in each of the last two seasons, the former Michigan State star is no longer elite, and he will be forced to make more room for Jhonas Enroth this winter. The 25-year-old Enroth could take over the job full-time next season.

Another big name who may not be in town for Buffalo’s next winning season is Thomas Vanek. The 29-year-old star enjoyed the most productive season of his career in 2013, averaging more than a point-per-game for the first time since 2007. Like Miller, he’ll be a free agent next summer, suggesting that he’ll be the shiniest toy in the trade deadline window come spring.

As they look towards the future, the Sabres will need a bounce back season from Tyler Myers. The 23-year-old defenseman seemed like the next Zdeno Chara during his first three seasons, as he used his 6-foot-8-inch frame to excel in all three zones.

Myers regressed in 2013, seeing his offensive production cut in half while his minutes decreased. Myers’ minus-8 rating was the first negative plus-minus total of his career. The Sabres hope to build around him moving forward, but that won’t work out if he doesn’t get back on track.

23-year-olds Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis give Buffalo plenty of reason for optimism at the center position. The youngsters combined for 65 points in 2013, and they could emerge as legitimate stars this season. Don’t be surprised if either pivot-man cracks the 82-point mark by mid-April.

Another piece of the future Buffalo core is Mikhail Grigorenko. The Russian starlet made the jump to the NHL in 2013 after two dominant seasons with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. The results weren’t pretty. Grigorenko scored just one goal and tacked on four assists in 25 games.

The 19-year-old should fare better this season with more development time under his belt. Down the road, he projects to be a big, strong center who can light the lamp and make plays. A full slate of NHL competition this season should help him fulfill that potential.

Stuck in the brutal Atlantic Division with five 2013 playoff teams, the Sabres have little to no hope of a postseason berth. They simply aren’t prepared to challenge the likes of Boston, Detroit and Ottawa just yet.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in western New York. General Manager Darcy Regier put on a master-class at the draft, coming away with a superb haul of quality prospects. First-round defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov should make a big impact in a few years, and American forward J.T. Compher was a great value in round two.

Meanwhile top prospects Joel Armia and Zemgus Girgensons aren’t far from their NHL debuts. It will be a long winter in frigid Buffalo, but the pieces are already in place for a brighter future. The pressure is now on head coach Ron Rolston to turn a raw, young team into a contender.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');

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