Last season was not a banner year for the Buffalo Sabres. It was a year of great change. Gone was the longest tenured coach in the NHL. In his place is Ron Rolston took over after 17 games, and pushed the team hard but couldn’t take them to the playoffs. They lost a lot, they lost some quality players to trades. Gone is Jason Pominville and with him Nathan Gerbe, Jochen Hecht is a Sabre no more, and the short stay of Robyn Reghr is over, Jordan Leopold wears another uniform, and those aren’t the only departures. They finished 23rd in the NHL with a 21 and 21 record. Interestingly, they took two of three from the Penguins last lesson, both after the coaching change, last season. On the plus side Henrik Tallinder is back and Tyler Myers played his best hockey during Tallinder’s first Buffalo tenure. Luke Adam added a year of seasoning, as did Grigorenko, Hodgson, Foligno, and new comer Jamie McBain.

The season opens with five games in eight days. They pay a visit to the Red Wings to open the season before scooting across the Great Lakes for a game at home in the first half of a back to back against the Senators, after the game they go south to play the Penguins, and then pop home for games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Number of days game 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4

The team can have a better season that last year if the young guns can pick up the pace and push some of the mote complacent members of the team forward. Uncertainty about how long Vanek and Miller will remain on the team, and serious questions about leadership will hold the team back. Also up in the air is the question of what this teams real identity is, they’ve been trying and trying to be tough guys, but I’m not sure there’s a team in the league who finds the Sabres physicality intimidating or even worth noticing. They could finish the season above 500, but will likely not make the playoffs as there are at least four better teams just in the new build “Atlantic Division”.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s retirement is the start of a new era for the weary franchise. It is also another severe blow to a team that lost Parise two years ago, and will likely lose the teams living avatar Martin Brodeur in another year or two.

For this season with a paltry passel of players on the left wing remaining, they may want to look within or to a trade to add some sort of replacement there. Stop gap measures might include two time evil Alexi Ponikarovsky, Danny Cleary, and Vinny Prospal. Each could help offensively but all are good for no more than two season. Kaspars Daugavins might be a solution for a depth winger, and Steve Begin has at times been an excellent penalty killer.

When it comes to acquiring offensively gifted forwards, the Devils are handicapped a bit by being in the same division as three of the NHL’s top six spenders. Of them Columbus probably doesn’t have the NHL ready talent to spare if they are serious about a playoff spot, Philadelphia can only rely on its forwards this season to get fans into the building. Pittsburgh is a wildcard though. The Penguins are very slightly over the cap with 12 forward 7 defenseman and 2 goalies signed. With as much money as the team will be spending on Malkin, Crosby and Letang starting in the 2014-15 season, they might get proactive and move a player for prospects and or picks. Moving Neal would be a blow to the teams offense, but would free up five million in space to add much needed defensive depth.

Out west, the Canucks are slowly edging towards the end of the Sedin era, and with Hovart likely to make the roster this fall, one or two players on that team might see themselves moved for chips. Ryan Kesler is a versatile two way forward who played college hockey, which Lou Lamoriello is known to like. The Dallas stars have shown they are willing to move some of their older players, Erik Cole could probably be had fairly cheap, and possibly Ray Whitney.

In their own system last season’s most productive AHL forward was Joe Whitney.  Whitney is a Reading, Ma native listed at five foot six, 165lbs and is two years removed from a four year stint with Boston College. 26 goals, 25 assists for the Albany Devils last season. After departing the Sarnia Sting, Reid Boucher put up five points in 11 games last year, after putting up 95 points including 62 goals in his OHL campaign. That’s about the extend of their systems depth.

The best forward left on the market who are not left wings include Grabovski, Jagr, Kyle Wellwood, Damien Brunner and Brad Boyes. If they want to roll the dice on success Max Sauve has always had nice hands if poor luck, Anthony Stewart is a first round pick who never managed to get into the right lineup, Chuck Kobasew shows up for every game with his hardhat and work boots, Simon Gagne has skill of poorish health and Nathan Gerbe is one of those Hockey East guys.

Overall this free agent class lacks depth, the left wing is perhaps the shallowest for top six pickings.

Vinny Prospal at 38 is had a productive year for the putting up .63ppg for Columbus after a stop in the Czech league. His numbers were pretty consistent through out the season. He clearly contributed to the Blue Jackets push towards the playoffs int he last half of the season. The 1993 entry draft 3rd round selection has 65 games of NHL playoff experience.

Victor Stalberg, with stops in the SHL (SEL) and KHL during the lockout, Stalberg may have played more professional hockey last year than any other NHL player with 72 regular season games, then 19 more in the playoffs for the Blackhawks. A middle or bottom six player on elite teams, Stalberg may just have the tools to play further up on some teams, at 27 there’s more tread on the tires than most of this UFA class of left wings posses.

Simon Gagne at 33 this injury prone but undeniably talented winger has played for Tampa Bay and Los Angeles while spending the bulk of his career with the Flyers. Any team looking for a potential impact player fairly inexpensively should look at Gagne, he might be this years Brad Boyes.

Nathan Gerbe is a one of the smallest players in the NHL, which has never stopped him from playing a physical game above his weight class. A depth forward who has played in all situations, he also has better playoff points per game than regular season. The former Boston College Eagle, and River City Lancer (USHL) may be a victim of Buffalo’s apparent clean sweep program.

Alexei Ponikarovsky is one of those wingers who played his best hockey early in his career and has bounced around the league trying to find his niche again.  Clearly there is something there other wise Lou Lamoriello wouldn’t have added him to the roster twice in the past few years, but maybe that something takes vacations from time to time.

Tonight the NHL’s oldest American NHL franchise will faceoff against their division rivals the Buffalo Sabres:

  • The Bruins Brass have purged all the Americans they could from the roster, Chris Bourque is the son of a Canadain, Jay Pandolfo is the 13th forward, so take your pick.
  • For the Buffalo Sabres, Nathan Gerbe and Ryan Miller lead the way with Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, TJ Brenna, Jordan Leopold,Tyler Myers, and Mike Weber filling out the roster.

The Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins will duel,

  • Dustin Byfugelien, and Blake Wheeler are part of a large of a very American crew that includes Mark Stuart, injured goalie Al Montoya, Zach Bogosian, Zach Redmond, Ron Hainsey, former Pittsburgh Penguin Eric Tangradi,  and Jim Slater.
  • Facing them will be Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Joe Vitale, Brandon Sutter for the Penguins.

When the Flyers and Devils square off, they’ll have their own American compliment

  • First round draft pick Stefan Matteau and Stephen Gionta will be joined by Bobby Butler, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, and Peter Harrold are the Devils Americans.
  • In Orange and Black are Tom Sestito, and Sean Couturier.

The Red Wings and Ducks will also play tonight.

  • Jimmy Howard leads the Red Wings Americans, and travels with Brian Lashoff, Drew Miller, and Justin Abdelkader.
  • Bobby Ryan and Nick Bonino will be in the lineup for the Ducks and Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri, will be out there with Nate Guenin and Ben Lovejoy.

The Sharks look to get back on track against the Blackhawks.

  • Patrick Kane highlights the Chicago side, with Nick Leddy and Brandon’s Sadd and Bollig.
  • Missing from the Shark tank are Justin Braun, Tommy Wingels, Scott Gomez and Adam Burish.

Despite recent news coverage, the Blues have stars other than Taresenko, and the Flames have the odd American of their own.

  • Lee Stepniak steps up under the red white and blue and brings Chris Butler, and Tim Jackman with him.
  • David Backes is the Captain of the St Louis squad, TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Ian Cole are on the ice as well while Jamie Langenbrunner is on the shelf.

The Canucks and Stars will square off on the left coast.

  • Expected to return real soon now is Ryan Kesler, David Booth is down and out, Jordan Schroeder is however enjoying some ice time with Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard and Cory Schneider for Vancouver.
  • The Dallas American element is a three man threat with Alex Goligoski, Richard Bachman, and Eric Nystrom.

Once more into the bottle. The last of the Boston Bruins divisional rivals take to the ice against the knights of north station.  Among them are the Marchand sized Gerbe and Ennis, the Chara-lite Myers and former linemate Patrice Bergeron the always enigmatic Brad Boyes.

Disclaimer: Even if your participation in this game is limited to drinking water something stupid is likely to happen.  No one actually cares what that stupid is since it will be your own damn fault, but if it should happen to get 500 or more votes on one of our favorite sites definitely send us a link, if it involves some hotties send pics too.

 

Take One Drink:

Any time the words “goalie rotation” are uttered.

Whenever the Bruins and Sabres last playoff meeting is mentioned.

If Lindy Ruff’s tenure is mentioned.

An injury graphic is shown.

Each time someone draws a size comparison among the largest or smallest players is made.

Take Two Drinks:

The changes in Buffalo are shown or mentioned.

A player, even one who isn’t Vanek or Pomminville, leaves the ice with an injury.

Boyes having been a Bruin or Paille having been a Sabre is brought up.

Goalie controversy is used to describe the crease competition in either city.

Any summer pickups by either team are mentioned: Ehrhoff, Regehr, Corvo.

Take Three Drinks:

Whenever you feel like it.

If a comparison is made between Rask and Thomas and Miller and Enroth.

Rookie Luke Adam is compared to Nugent-Hopkins.

The word expectations is tacked onto any mention of performance.

If a player who left the ice with an injury returns.

Take Four Drinks:

If at any point there have been more penalties than shots on goal in the period.

The record for either coach is mentioned.

The record for any of the goalies against the other team is mentioned.

The standings are shown.

There is a fight involving more than 3 million dollars in salary.

Skip a drink:

If Jack Edwards fails to apply the word “rocket” to any shot by Boychuk.

No coach is interviewed during a stoppage or intermission.

Someone breaks a stick.

With the Boston Bruins having won the Stanley Cup, and Brad Marchand having score as many goals as Jeremy Roenick or Mario Lemeiux in the playoffs. Like Niemi the year before last, he also managed to be a contributor to a Cup winner as a rookie, and in the last year of his contract.

In adding up the factors against him getting a big pay day here are the big ones:

  • Was suspended for two games.
  • Has only played one full season in the NHL.
  • In the partial season he did play he failed to score a single goal and was a minus player.
  • Took undisciplined penalties including multiple ruffing calls, and a throwing the stick penalty.

In his favor there are a few marks.

  • Led all rookies in short handed points.
  • Scored points short handed, at five on five, and on the powerplay.
  • Was not afraid to go to the “dirty areas”.
  • Played well as both a checking line forward and a more two way forward.
  • Was a +/- leader in both regular and post seasons.

For comparison here are some of the other guys who scored forty-one points in the regular season last year:

  • Devon Setoguchi: just signed to a new three year deal for three million a year, has been a thirty goal man, but also missed time each of the last two seasons. Does not play shorthanded.
  • Mike Santorelli: Had a short handed goal last year, was the second leading scorer on an abysmal Panthers team, but had one of the worst +/- on the team. $600,000 one year contract expires the end of the upcoming season.
  • Michael Ryder. Highly inconsistent during the regular season on the same Boston Bruins, very solid post season, his four million dollar per year deal is set to expire 7/1, is a two time thirty goal scorer.

Current market forces not being something you can ignore, here are some of the recent signings:

  • Tomas Kopecky, has not topped 15 goals in his career and is seven years older than Marchand, did not play shorthanded last year, and just signed a four year contract worth three million per year.
  • David Jones is four years older, has also played just one full season in the NHL, scored 27 goals last season, one year contract for two and a half million.
  • Brooks Laich, had his second lowest career goal total last season. At 28 his points total last season was lower than either of the previous two years. Has just signed a six year deal with a cap hit of four and a half million a year.
  • Nathan Gerbe of similar size to Marchand, has signed a new deal worth a shade under one and a half million a year, only scored sixteen goals and 31 points in 64 games last year.

To me, given the speed, ability to agitate, and ability to play in all situations and his chemistry with Patrice Bergeron, I’d call two and half million a little low, and probably barely fair a deal between $2.75 million and $3.25 woud be about market value for any deal under four years. A deal over four million, or longer than four years could be somewhat questionable, no matter how much we like him.