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2012 Sabres Preview: Sabres Look to Secure a Playoff Spot

Phil Golding

Phil Golding

Phil Golding writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Last season, Sabres GM Darcy Regier found out the hard way that a new owner with deep pockets doesn't necessarily translate into an instant contender on the ice. A spending spree that added Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr was uncharted territory for the formerly cash-strapped club, but the chemistry wasn't there and the injuries hit early and often.

A strong finish to the season almost secured a playoff spot, but the Sabres narrowly missed the post-season for the second time in three years.
It remains to be seen which version of the Sabres we see this season; the sluggish, disinterested bunch from last season's first half, or the high-octane juggernaut that emerged following the All-Star break.

The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, but don't be surprised if the Sabres go through similar mood swings again this season. It's a fool's game to attempt to predict the ups-and-downs of enigmas such as Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford on a daily basis, so if you're the impatient type it may be best to steer clear. The only real safe bet on this club is goaltender Ryan Miller, who likely ended your plans to buy low with his strong finish last season. Of course, all bets are off if Milan Lucic gets in his way again.

However, if you're a gambler, look for value in up-and-comers such as Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson, especially in keeper leagues. Both are the type of player that could explode offensively, leaving you with a summer of bragging rights.


THE BIG GUNS


Ryan Miller (G): Miller posted a stellar 19-6-5 record, with five shutouts, after the All-Star break last season, re-establishing him as an elite netminder following a disastrous first half. Seven consecutive 30-win campaigns suggest Miller is one of the league's top workhorses, but he and the Sabres could benefit from a stronger backup to ease some of the pressure on the Michigan native. Look for Miller to eclipse the 35-win mark in 2013, as he and the Sabres can't afford to come out of the gate slowly again. Miller's pricetag won't be as high as it was heading into last season, but don't wait too long on Miller after the elite netminders have been snagged.

Thomas Vanek (LW): Vanek is a marquee name in Buffalo, but his inconsistency continues to frustrate fantasy owners. His 26 goals last year were his lowest total since posting 25 as a rookie in 2005-06, and he was once again prone to extended cold spells, including just eight goals from January to the end of the season. It's reasonable to expect a return to the 30-goal plateau, but with the offense in Buffalo beginning to spread, it would be unwise to reach too soon on draft day. Vanek remains a talented winger, but he has failed to crack 30 goals twice in the last three seasons since his 40-goal campaign in 2008-2009.

Jason Pominville (RW): Pominville was a model of consistency in 2011-12, playing all 82 games and leading the Sabres in scoring with 73 points (30G, 43A), handsomely rewarding owners that took a flier on him in later rounds. He's missed just nine games in the last six seasons, making him one of the league's most durable performers. His low PIM totals won't be of much use in rotisserie leagues, but it's fairly safe to pencil him in for 60 points, a milestone he has achieved in all but one season since 2006-07. Don't overpay for last season's numbers, as Pominville has been known to disappear at times. Still, he can be a valuable source of secondary scoring.


ON THE RISE


Tyler Ennis (C): Ennis' early-season injury troubles gave way to a torrid second half, in which he posted 29 points in 33 games following the All-Star break. The departure of Derek Roy means Ennis will have ample opportunity to take the reins down the middle, and will have some of Buffalo's top scorers on his wings. A crafty playmaker with a goal-scoring touch, look for Ennis to easily eclipse the 49 points he posted in his rookie campaign as he blossoms into a star in Buffalo.

Christian Ehrhoff (D): It was a disappointing first season in Buffalo for Ehrhoff as he was hampered by a slow start and a mid-season rib injury; he failed to break 40 points for the first time in three seasons, finishing with 32 after signing a huge free agent contract. However, lying beneath the disappointment was a decent finish to the season as Ehrhoff looked to finally appear comfortable in his new surroundings. He had 15 points in 28 games after the All-Star break and a full season in '12-13 should yield a return to the 40-point plateau for the German blueliner.

Cody Hodgson (C): Hodgson struggled after being acquired at the trade deadline from Vancouver, but showed flashes of brilliance with three multi-point games in March. There's a reason he's been considered one of hockey's top prospects since being drafted in 2008, and patient fantasy owners have high hopes. The Sabres' expectations are also high, as they thought enough of Hodgson to send budding power forward Zack Kassian back to Vancouver. Look for Hodgson to approach 50 points playing a top-six role in Buffalo, something he couldn't cement on the west coast.


TWO TO WATCH


Steve Ott (C): Ott will add some sandpaper to the Sabres' lineup after being acquired in an offseason trade with Dallas for Derek Roy. His goal total dipped again in '11-12, but he ranked sixth in the league in PIMs with 156, making him a valuable option in leagues that reward penalty minutes. Ott should contribute 30-40 points and rack up over 150 PIM while playing an important role with his new squad. Those in leagues that do not reward penalty minutes will want to pass on Ott.

Tyler Myers (D): Myers ended an injury-plagued 23-point season with a broken foot that kept him sidelined for the final few games, but should be fully recovered in time for training camp. He hasn't been able to replicate the success of his 11-goal, 48-point rookie season in '09-10, and his power-play production may continue to take a hit due to the presence of Christian Ehrhoff. However, Myers certainly has a full toolbox and should creep closer to the 40-point barrier with a clean bill of health in '12-13. He'll turn 23 in February and those in keeper leagues should bump him up a few spots. Don't be scared off by his last two seasons, but don't forget about his potential either.


DON'T OVERRATE


Marcus Foligno (LW): Foligno became a fan favorite in Buffalo after being recalled from AHL Rochester in March, recording 13 points in 14 games. He found instant chemistry on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, and he'll likely get an opportunity to produce right out of the gate in 2012-13. He'll be a popular option in fantasy leagues, particularly those populated with Sabres fans, but don't get too caught up in the hype; he won't continue to produce at a point-per-game clip. Nevertheless, the hometown hero has established himself as a player of interest, especially in keeper leagues.

Drew Stafford (RW): Like many of his teammates, Stafford waited until it was too late to turn on the jets last season, but his post All-Star break pace (27 points in 32 games) and chemistry with Tyler Ennis provides high expectations for '12-13. Buyer beware, his breakout 31-goal campaign in '10-11 was also the product of a few hot streaks, so he will likely continue to run hot and cold. Another 50-point season is a reasonable expectation for Stafford in '12-13.


HOT (OR NOT) PROSPECTS


Mikhail Grigorenko (C): Grigorenko , the 12th overall selection in June's NHL entry draft, is considered NHL-ready and will fight for a scoring role with the Sabres this fall. A big pivot is exactly what the Sabres need considering the sizes of Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson; Grigorenko's 85 points in 59 games with Quebec of the QMJHL cemented his status as one of hockey's top offensive prospects. However, he is only 18 years of age, so temper your enthusiasm in one-year leagues and make sure he's on your radar in keeper formats.

Zemgus Girgensons (C): Girgensons spurned a college career with the University of Vermont to sign an entry-level deal with the Sabres after being selected 14th overall in June's entry draft. Have a look at him in keeper leagues, but the Latvian pivot will likely benefit from some seasoning with the Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester. Girgensons put up 55 points in 49 with Dubuque of the USHL and the Sabres will have to decide whether it's better to have him on the NHL roster or playing regularly in the AHL.

Joel Armia (RW): Armia, the 16th overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, will remain in his native Finland this season to continue his development. The Sabres have high hopes for the offensively gifted winger, who signed his entry-level contract in June. Keep a close eye on him in keeper leagues, as he may be ready to cross the pond next season. Armia grabbed 38 points in 54 games for Assat Pori of the SM-Liiga.

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