Ok, so I know the Sabres off season shopping spree has been covered to death, but I wanted to give my opinion on the matter. I wanted to discuss what I think the Sabres' new players, as well as the returning guys who got new contracts, can bring to the table.
By this point, every Sabres fan can probably recite new owner Terry Pegula’s vow to win this city a cup:
“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup.”
The primary concern was if Pegula was willing to talk the talk and walk the walk using his money and passion for the team. He held up his end of the bargain this offseason. He threw his money around like rice at a wedding.
His first move was flying to western Canada to visit Robyn Regher to convince him to waive his no trade clause to come to Buffalo. The move required the team to take on salary of both Regher and old friend Ales Kotalik (who is still making 3 million dollars a year thanks to Glen Sather).
Next came offensive defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, whose negotiating rights were acquired from the Islanders for a 4th round pick. Ehroff was originally a castoff from the San Jose Sharks roster and turned into a stud on the Vancouver Canucks’ blue line. He agreed to a whopping ten-year 40 million dollar contract with the Sabres.
The Sabres capped it all off by signing Phildelphia forward Ville Leino to a six-year deal worth 27 million dollars. Leino enjoyed a big breakout season and was rewarded for it.
One huge improvement the Sabres expect to see is on their power play. Top forwards Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy are two guys that have shown prowess on the power play. Leino is going to be expected to help out on the second power play unit and will probably play pivot between Drew Stafford and either Tyler Ennis or Nathan Gerbe.
One of Leino’s strongest areas is along the boards, which will help big time on the man advantage. He racked up a career high 53 points last season, with 11 coming on the power play. He’ll probably receive more power play time and with his puck control ability, he’ll be expected to at least match last year’s production and make an impact on the power play.
Leino will also be looked upon to produce in the post season. With 28 points in 37 career NHL playoff games, he’s a proven performer in the playoffs. He’ll be expected to continue that if the Sabres look to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Leino has the ability to live up to his contract. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in Detroit and Philadelphia, and now it’s time for him to bring the brilliance to Buffalo for a long time. His ability to handle the puck in tight will lead to more offensive zone time, more chances, and more goals.
The changes on the blue line will also bring lofty expectations. Robyn Regher is often regarded as one the best shutdown men in the league. He’ll be placed on the ice in critical moments in close games and be expected to hold down the fort. He’ll likely be paired with Tyler Myers, not only to teach the third year defenseman the finer points of shut down defense, but to also allow Myers to spread his offensive wings.
Christian Ehrhoff will be expected to contribute from the back end, especially on the power play. He also enjoyed a career year last year, posting 50 points for the Canucks. 28 of those points came on the man advantage. Ehrhoff’s biggest strengths are his point shot and his ability to sneak into the slot and other prime scoring areas.
Ehrhoff is good enough defensively, with a +19 rating last season and a +74 for his career. However, he’ll probably be paired with shutdown defenseman Mike Weber so he can also be afforded some offensive freedom.
Current roster players also enjoyed raises. Drew Stafford got a new 4-year 16 million dollar contract for his hat trick filled beakout season. Nathan Gerbe got a 3 year deal worth $1.43 million a season for his efforts. Andrej Sekera, Matt Ellis, Cody McCormick, Mike Weber, and Jhonas Enroth all got new contracts as well.
Last season, Drew Stafford showed he had a nose for the net. He scored a lot of ugly goals, cleaning up rebounds and battling away in front of the other team’s goalie. He ended the season with 31 goals, 52 points, and 4 hat tricks on the season. When Vanek isn’t lurking around the net in the offensive zone, that’s where Stafford will have to be. He’s a big guy and will probably put up more goals if he goes to the tough areas for a full season (he missed 20 games due to injury).
Nathan Gerbe has some expectations to fill as well. He showed an ability to not only score timely (and at times highlight reel worthy) goals but to be a critical component of the Sabres shutdown line with Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta. With soft hands, a big shot, and a bigger work ethic Gerbe has 20 goal potential and will be expected to come close to or reach that mark.
Although these deals have raised a lot of eyebrows, they make sense for the foreseeable future. 4 million a year for a 50 point defenseman (Ehrhoff) is a steal. If Stafford can put up 30 goals for the next four seasons, 4 million will look like a bargain. Leino’s deal will look wonderful if he can pump up his production even more, which he absolutely has the potential to do.
Every player on the Sabres has expectations to fill. The most pressure, however, will be on the fresh faces and old faces that got new contracts. All this activity has put the Sabres 3 million dollars over the salary cap. The players will have to prove they’re worth it, on the ice and on the stat sheet.