Niagara Gazette

April 6, 2012

Vital offseason in store for Sabres

By Brandon Koch
Niagara Gazette


Last season the new regime made its mark.

Terry Pegula and Co. signed a pair of prized free agents in Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino and lured stay-at-home D-man Robyn Regehr to the self-proclaimed hockey heaven via trade.

It was the beginning of a new era in Buffalo. But how quickly that changed. The Sabres, along with their overwhelming expectations, fell flat by early November. 

A decent start to the season helped little when December and January rolled around. They were toast. 

And then the unthinkable happened. The Sabres went on a torrid run that saw them go 20-8-5 in their last 33 games. Still, it's not surprising to see them on the outside looking in on the postseason when the clock strikes zero in today's finale. 

But the reality of not making the playoffs gives us all a chance to digest the abysmal 2011-12 campaign. 

Ryan Miller stood on his head the last three months of the season, but succumbed to the pressures that come with being a Cup contender early in the season. Ville Leino was a complete mistake, despite picking his pace up late.

And guys like Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Ehrhoff struggled to make any sort of impact until the second half of the season. 

The Sabres have a budding star in Marcus Foligno, while Corey Tropp and Brayden McNabb, among others, have bright futures, too. But this team has plenty of issues to deal with this offseason.

And it starts with the top.

This year marks the sixth season in the past 10 the Sabres failed to make the playoffs, all of which — of course — under GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff. Ruff had a lot to do with his team's failure midway through the season. Regier failed to react quick enough, the same way his team failed to react when its star netminder was steamrolled in November, cost them dearly.

Going forth with both Regier and Ruff could mean more of the same — mediocrity — next season.

Then the players. Thomas Vanek was nearly invisible during the stretch run, and was one of the worst Sabres on the ice Thursday in Philly. Derek Roy's days in a Buffalo uniform should be numbered, too. The emergence of Ennis in the middle, and the addition of Cody Hodgson, certainly pave the way for Roy to be shipped off.

The Sabres need to show they're not married to Leino, who scored eight goals — EIGHT! —in his first year of a six-year, $27-million deal. Perhaps this summer's top unrestricted free agent, New Jersey's Zach Parise, is on Pegula's radar?

That'd be nice, sure. But there could be many more changes this offseason. And based on recent history, the more, the better.

Contact Tonawanda News sports editor Brandon Koch at 693-1000, ext. 4117.