The first order of business should be a contract extension to Steve Ott. Immediately following that, he needs to be named Captain. Ott's first season in Buffalo saw him win a team and a city over in a way that hasn't been seen since Chris Drury. The second item that needs to be addressed is getting the roster set. That may sound obvious since every team needs to do this every season, but there are still some spots that need to be figured out. Decisions needs to be made on Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller. Both are unrestricted after this season and could bring in significant returns. I went to the preseason game on 9-19 versus the Carolina Hurricanes and Vanek still skates like he's dragging an anchor. He clicks with young center Cody Hodgson, but moving him out for a promising roster player/prospect and high draft pick may prove to be worth it. Vanek will continue to net 30 goals a season, but his effort lacks consistency and he is easily frustrated. He has never been confused for a leader. Other openings can be made if the Sabres can find trade partners for Drew Stafford, Ville Leino and Pat Kaleta. Stafford is wildly inconsistent, Leino, who I was initially excited about just doesn't seem to fit and Kaleta is, hold your breath hometown fans, garbage. He takes unnecessary penalties, is known for diving and has quite the reputation in downtown Buffalo for his partying and tough guy talk. It's time to move on, Buffalo, and it's time to do so with a younger group looking to establish themselves.
Now, to the positives. There is a wealth of promising talent for new coach Ron Rolston to work with. Marcus Foligno could become a real force with the proper coaching and patience. Last year's 1st round picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons and this years 1st round picks Rasmus Ristolainen all appear ready to go. There is a serous log jam on the blue line, though, making it difficult to fit both of them in. It would make me wonder if one of the youngsters are available in a trade - McNabb or Pysyk perhaps. For what it's worth, I would really hate to see McNabb go. Zadorov looked more poised and physically able to handle other NHL players than Ristolainen did. I know it was only one game, but what swayed my decision was the mean streak Zadorov showed. Corey Tropp was all over the ice and could provide 15-20 goals with a lot of grit. Hopefully he returns from his jaw surgery quickly and he is able to spark this team a bit.
A lot of people don't expect the Sabres to be competitive this year. The general feeling is they will be very average and will be in rebuild mode with Vanek and Miller's anticipated departures. From what I've read, few people think both players will be here for the entire season. Regardless of whether they finish the season in Buffalo or not, I actually do have high expectations. There is enough young talent here to go with a coach who has just come up from the AHL - the makings are there. They need to compete.
My lineup below isn't going to be what the Sabres bring out next week. Tallinder will be starting and likely teamed with Myers and Ristolainen would probably make the team over Zadorov. Kaleta will be trotted out for the benefit of Western New Yorkers, likely at the expense of Tropp or Luke Adam. Youngsters Brian Flynn, Johan Larsson, Joel Armia and Chad Ruhwedel offer a great crop for the Rochester Americans to grow around. If it were up to me, the 23 man roster should look something like this: