Friday, April 24, 2009

Pool Outlook for Buffalo

The Sabres are one of those teams that like to ride the cyclical rails of scouting & drafting to trading & free agency. The lower budget team had a rough annual salary cap hit of $49.6 million last season, likely due to constraints put on by the ownership, but that doesn't mean that they are not competitive. This season, they did finish 2 points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which isn't too bad at all.

When you start talking pool players, you have to first look in goal for the Sabres, where Ryan Miller has owned that team for the past few seasons. Despite an injury this season, Miller still finished the year with 34 wins under his belt and 5 shutouts for 78 pool points. I don't think you can argue with that at all. He ranked 31st in the league for pool points, 10th among goalies. Being down in 31st, may drop him down to a second round pick in a pool draft, but he's still worth the pick.

The Sabres did manage to have a bit of a power outage in 2009 up front, as both Derek Roy and Jason Pominville ranked a little lower than the year before, while Thomas Vanek practically disappeared after he went on that huge goal scoring tear to start the season. All three of these guys finished in the top 75 in pool scoring, which is pretty decent, but both Roy and Pominville finished 2008 in the top 25, which should give you an idea of their outage. Overall, I would pretty well just split the difference between seasons to get a reasonable drafting spot for these guys. That should mean that they would be good for picking in the third round or so.

Also up front is one of the fantasy players greatest question marks in hockey... Tim Connolly. There is no question that Connolly is one of the most talented players on the team, but his injury concerns restrict his numbers horribly. This season, Connolly finished with 47 points in 48 GP, 150th in pool rankings, which isn't too bad. The glaring number is his 48 GP, because if he played more, he could have been a point-per-game player. As a fantasy owner, I would skip the headache of Connolly, unless he's still available for your last pick in the Draft.

Points-wise, the defense was a bit of a concern as well for Buffalo in 2009. Jaroslav Spacek led all blueliners on the team with 45 points in 80 GP. It's hard to believe that Spacek was designed to be relied upon as the lead offensive defenseman, that was what Craig Rivet (24 points in 64 GP) or Toni Lydman (23 points in 80 GP) would have been used for. Unfortunately, the power outage was roster wide and the numbers were fairly disappointing across the board. These three, however, will likely get more looks in 2010 as defensemen to help your team out.

2010 Season Outlook
Since you cannot fault the Sabres competitiveness in 2009, it should be somewhat of a relief that the core of that team should be dressed for the start of the coming season. Already, the Sabres have 14 players under contract for next season, but they have it all at $46.7 million against the cap, approximately. That could mean only $10 million for their remaining 9 players (of a 23-man roster). Fortunately, they're well stocked in the minors.

Derek RoyCraig RivetRyan Miller
Jason PominvilleToni LydmanPatrick Lalime
Thomas VanekHenrik Tallinder
Tim ConnollyNathan Paetsch
Paul Gaustad
Dan Paille
Jochen Hecht
Adam Mair

For what you see here, you can't be too nervous as a Sabres fan, especially since there were some key games missed due to injuries in 2009. If the team can remain healthy and fill some of their open gaps with some talented new players, either through the system or through free agency, then the Sabres could be seeing playoff hockey again.

The Sabres have a few key restricted free agents to deal with this summer, as Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur, Andrej Sekera and Patrick Kaleta will all need new deals. Stafford comes with the most prestige and will likely be the prime target for management to get re-signed. MacArthur figured into 71 games this season, so he may have earned himself a one-way deal as well, which has been a while coming.

Looking at the list of UFA's that Buffalo will have to contend with, you may get the feeling that only a select few will be back. Jaroslav Spacek, Domenic Moore, Max Afinogenov, Mikael Tellqvist, Teppo Numminen, Matt Ellis and Andrew Peters head the list off of a tight budgeted team.

The Sabres have some young talent that will likely get to make the jump next season. Nathan Gerbe played in 10 games in 2009 and will likely get his promotion for 2010 up front. On the blueline, I think we could expect Chris Butler and Mike Weber to join the ranks for the full term. Butler played in 47 games, registering 6 points for the team, while Weber played in only 7 games during the year, not registering a point. Both players do have some good size and that could make them a reasonable five and six pairing, if not better.

I like the Sabres' top players when it comes to picking players for the pool. When the points really start to drop off, it becomes really difficult to take the rest of the team seriously. The Sabres are working their way back to being the same team that had Chris Drury and Daniel Briere leading the way, but the same offensive results may still be a while to come. For now, keep Miller, Roy, Pominville and Vanek on your list at a reasonable level, while addressing their depth on a depth-only basis. Right now, there isn't a great deal of gambles worth taking.

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