State of the Sabres 2007-2008
Today TheNeilShow sits down with Tim Graham of the Buffalo News to discuss the state of the Sabres for the 2007-2008 season.
TheNeilShow-Do the Sabres have enough depth at this point to stage a competitive team as last season?
Tim Graham-Darcy Regier said the Sabres will not be as good as they were last season, and I’m certainly not going to argue with him.
The losses of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury will be felt in various ways throughout the season. The impact won’t be something that simply will be measured early on. Some fans might want to take a look at the first 20 games or so and try to digest them, looking for a comparison between the team as it is now and how it was with Briere and Drury. But the differences will manifest themselves in subtle ways on and off the ice from the day training camp begins through May. These guys were the leaders, and when the team hits a lull or encounters a rough stretch, there will be continued growing pains.
That said, the Sabres as they are right now are a playoff team. They’re just not a Stanley Cup favorite anymore. They’ll no longer be a dominant squad, but that’s OK. They never seemed comfortable as the top dogs anyway. Lindy Ruff’s teams thrive with a little underdog in them.
TheNeilShow-Who’s in line to wear the “C” this upcoming campaign?
Tim Graham-That’s an excellent question I can’t answer. Too bad it can’t be Ryan Miller because he’s clearly the leader of that team.
My prediction all along has been Teppo Numminen because it’s logical from an experience standpoint. He’s played the most seasons on the team (more games than any European-trained player in NHL history), was the alternate last season and was a captain with the Coyotes.
But one source close to the team insists Ruff won’t give Numminen the “C” because he’s on a one-year deal and might not be around beyond this season. Ruff might go with somebody like Brian Campbell instead. Campbell will be around for a while and seems comfortable in a leadership role.
TheNeilShow -In your opinion, did Chris Drury really want to play with Buffalo?
Tim Graham-Without question he wanted to stay. When the Sabres botched his contract negotiations last fall his wariness of the way the Sabres do business was heightened. For the first time, it got him thinking about going elsewhere when the season was over. Even so, Buffalo remained his first choice when the Sabres were eliminated. But then the front office went into hibernation and left everybody hanging for weeks. That’s when he wrote them off.
TheNeilShow-In your opinion, does Sabres management want to win? It’s kinda hard to believe it when they lose players they can afford when they were so close.
Tim Graham- Of course, they want to win. I don’t know Darcy Regier very well other than my professional dealings with him, but I have a strong hunch he’s sick over how the team has changed this summer. He painstakingly put the 2006-07 team together for years, a process that predated Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn taking over. And in a matter of hours the soul of the team was mutilated because of decisions I’m convinced were not made by him.
I think Larry Quinn has a hunger to win as well because, let’s face it, total redemption is a motivator for him given the way he went out under the Rigases. Tom Golisano, I’m sure he wants to win, but I’m not sure he’s driven to win a Stanley Cup as though it’s his mission in life (as it is for Regier). Golisano wants to be successful, and there are many levels of success to be found between bankruptcy and a championship.
TheNeilShow -In having the team to succeed last year the Sabres drained out just a little too early. What went wrong in the playoffs?
Tim Graham -I don’t think they drained out at all. Just the opposite. I think they left too much in the tank.
The Sabres didn’t flip the switch between the regular season and the playoffs. They went into the postseason with the same mind-set they had all along, that everything would be fine, that any adversity would be overcome by their even-strength offense. Their arrogance went unchecked until it was too late. Maybe arrogance is a harsh word to use, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.
TheNeilShow -They are rumors about that the Sabres will not be wearing their throwback jersey this season. Can you confirm this?
Tim Graham- The last I heard on this matter was several months back. I was told the Sabres would have the third jersey, but that the colors would match the standard home and away versions so that they would be the same as the pants and gloves. Maybe their plans have changed, but not that I’ve heard.
TheNeilShow -Will Vanek fulfill expectations that comes with his “superstar” contract?
Tim Graham -I think Thomas Vanek will be a superstar, but I don’t think his stats will live up to his contract this season. Not only will he be vastly overpaid at $10 million, but also he will be facing the opposition’s top lines on a nightly basis. Without Briere and Drury to send over the boards, coaches will gear up for Vanek’s line. His numbers will be difficult to match, and you can guarantee his plus-minus won’t be nearly as gaudy. By the end of his deal, however, he’ll be a bargain at $6.4 million a season.
TheNeilShow-What prospects will get a long look at camp this season?
Tim Graham- Unless there’s a trade between now and then, none. There’s no room for prospects on the roster. The Sabres have their two goalies, all seven defensemen from last season and 13 forwards. Among that group, only Drew Stafford doesn’t need to clear waivers, and he’s a virtual lock to make the team.
Of those not included in the breakdown above, Clarke MacArthur might have the best shot to make the team, but it will take a sensational camp from him or an injury to another forward.
TheNeilShow -Are the Sabres even in the running or at least talking with Mike Peca?
Tim Graham- I don’t think the Sabres are in the running for Peca at all because they’re not interested for the same reasons as mentioned above. There’s nowhere to put him without a trade first to clear room.
TheNeilShow -Will Nathan Paetsch make the team full-time this year?
Tim Graham- Fans should hope so because I think he brings a lot to the table and is of the age where’s starting to blossom. He also comes at the right price relative to other defensemen on the team, namely Dmitri Kalinin and Jaroslav Spacek. Paetsch’s presence allows the Sabres — if they choose — to unload some salary on the blue line without fear of a substantial dropoff in talent.
It would be a shame for Paetsch’s growth to be stunted by watching from the pressbox on a nightly basis, but Brian Campbell survived a similar situation just a few years ago and turned out fine.
TheNeilShow -What are your concerns with the Sabres heading into October?
Tim Graham- A slow start could be seriously damaging to the team’s psyche. The players have to be wondering how good they’re going to be without Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. They’ll learn a lot about themselves in training camp, but I think any team that loses a mammoth part of its identity will remain fragile until it experiences consistent success. If they stumble out of the gate, then they better have their leadership situation settled. October might be as important of a month for Ryan Miller as April or May.
TheNeilShow -Should Kevin Lowe be expecting a Christmas card from Darcy this year?
Tim Graham -After what Kevin Lowe did to the Sabres, I’m sure Darcy and Larry are convinced he’s godless. So why send him a Christmas card?
TheNeilShow -In your knowledge, did the Sabres make a pitch to anyone this offseason?
Tim Graham – Not that I heard of. So probably.
TheNeilShow -I am personally looking forward to a Sabres-Philly game this year. Any games you’re looking forward to?
Tim Graham – I’m looking forward to the Flyers and Rangers games for the obvious reasons. The Flyers are going to become a great rival for the Sabres with Briere and Biron wearing the orange and black, and I also think they’re going to be a dramatically improved team, battling for a playoff spot in April. I love watching the Rangers because I think Henrik Lunqvist is amazing. The addition of Drury makes that showdown all the more attractive.
Another game that should be fun to cover is when the Blackhawks come to town Dec. 15. South Buffalo boy Patrick Kane and, to a lesser extent, Kevyn Adams of Clarence will make that the most intriguing inter-conference matchup of the season.
Well, maybe not. … The Sabres visit the Ducks on Dec. 5. The teams will be much different that they were in the spring, but that won’t stop fans from stacking them up against each other to gauge how the Sabres might have fared in a Stanley Cup final. “Not well” would have been my prediction.
TheNeilShow -Will the Sabres be playing an outdoor game this season?
Tim Graham – I’m coming off a two-week vacation and don’t have any additional insight right now other that I’ve heard they were having trouble with financing the production. It’s expensive to build and maintain an outdoor rink, and the game must be economically self-sufficient.
TheNeilShow -Have you spoken with Chris Drury or Danny Briere lately? and are they excited to get the season going?
Tim Graham – I haven’t spoken to Chris Drury since about a week after he signed with the Rangers, and at that time I think his head was still spinning. Daniel Briere and I exchange text messages on occasion, and he’s pretty pumped.
TheNeilShow -Will Randy Cunneyworth get a shot in the NHL as an assistant coach to Lindy, or will it be a head coaching position elsewhere?
Tim Graham – Based on what happened this summer, I think Randy Cunneyworth’s shot will come elsewhere as an assistant. He came close to a couple of assistant jobs before agreeing to come back to Rochester. So clearly he’s willing to leave the organization for an NHL gig, and it doesn’t have to be as a head coach. Just playing the numbers, I think the odds are somebody from one of the 29 other teams gives him chance first.
TheNeilShow -Do you know if the Sabres had any interest in hometown boy Kevyn Adams?
Tim Graham – I think has they been interested in Adams they would have snagged him off waivers for nothing. As with Peca, the Sabres simply had zero room for him.
We at nhldigest.com would like to thank Tim Graham for taking the time to do this with us. Tim Graham covers the Buffalo Sabres for the www.buffalonews.com in Buffalo,NY. Tim gets you behind the scenes with the “sabres edge” blog online at http://buffalonews.typepad.com/sabres/and Buffalo Sabres fans can get ready for the season by picking up their favorite Sabres collectible right here on Ebay!
Tim is also Buffalo’s correspondent for the hockey news publication. I encourage you all to read Mr. Graham’s articles, he is in my opinion one of the best in the business.
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