Buffalo Sabres, 2009-10
Goals For: 235 11th
Goals Against: 207 4th
GVT: 28 6th
Points: 100 10th
VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 233 12th
Goals Against: 221 5th
GVT: 11 7th
Points: 95 7th
Will the Buffalo Sabres ever win a Stanley Cup? Western New York’s team seems destined to put together good but not elite squads, keeping the ultimate prize just out of grasp. They’ve certainly got Ryan Miller’s superstar goaltending as a foundation for the next several seasons. But what’s Tyler Myers ceiling? And can they find other premium pieces to build that championship squad?
Buffalo has a few players who struggle on the Net Penalties front, including surprisingly Thomas Vanek at -0.5 Net Penalties per 60 minutes. And Craig Rivet was really bad in 2009-10, even for a defenseman, at -0.7 Net Penalties per 60 minutes. Overall, the stats among the Sabres young rearguard bode well for the future – Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera placed in the top defensemen by four of the five stats below.
Sabres top forwards, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Drew Stafford 10.6, Jochen Hecht 9.9, Jason Pominville 9.8#
Hits/60: Patrick Kaleta 15.9, Paul Gaustad 6.6, Mike Grier 5.1
Blocked shots/60: Patrick Kaleta 3.9, Mike Grier 2.3, Tim Connolly 2.0
Takeaways/giveaway: Paul Gaustad 1.7, Jason Pominville 1.5#, Patrick Kaleta 1.4
Net penalties/60: Derek Roy +0.6, Mike Grier +0.5, Jason Pominville +0.5#
Faceoffs: Paul Gaustad 57.4%, Rob Niedermayer 50.6%*
Sabres top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Steve Montador 6.0, Andrej Sekera 4.1, Tyler Myers 3.2
Hits/60: Shaone Morrisonn 8.2*, Andrej Sekera 3.0, Tyler Myers 2.8
Blocked shots/60: Shaone Morrisonn 5.2*, Jordan Leopold 4.7*, Tyler Myers 4.2
Takeaways/giveaway: Jordan Leopold 0.55*, Andrej Sekera 0.48, Craig Rivet 0.43
Net penalties/60: Andrej Sekera +0.5, Tyler Myers +0.3, Chris Butler +0.0
#Out with injury
Minimum 40 games played
Sabres goaltenders, 2009-10 stats
Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller had a fantastic season as well as an otherworldly Olympics, nearly stealing the gold medal for Team USA. Surprisingly, backup Patrick Lalime put up a decent looking .907 save percentage—surprising because he had some very ugly moments in the 2009-10 campaign. Prospect Jhonas Enroth can’t be ready soon enough.
Save percentage: .929
Even strength save percentage: .928
Power play save percentage: .919
Shorthanded save percentage: .966
Save percentage: .907
Even strength save percentage: .908
Power play save percentage: .884
Shorthanded save percentage: 1.000
Even when Jason Pominville is in the lineup, you’d ideally like three better choices than Pominville, Drew Stafford and Derek Roy among your top three shooters. Therefore, it would be worth their while for Buffalo to explore some other options. And regardless of their ability in the game proper, Tim Connolly (19.0%) and Thomas Vanek (23.5%) have proven to be poor choices in the shootout—don’t go there, Lindy! In goal, Ryan Miller gives the Sabres a good chance to winning any shootout.
Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts
Jason Pominville# 40.9% (9 for 22)
Drew Stafford 34.6% (9 for 26)
Derek Roy 31.8% (7 for 22)
Best options, shooters with a limited track record
Jochen Hecht 50.0% (3 for 6)
Tyler Myers, 33.3% (1 for 3)
Jordan Leopold, 100.0% (1 for 1)
Ryan Miller: .713 career (119 for 167), .645 in 2009-10
Patrick Lalime: .600 career (27 for 45), .615 in 2009-10
THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE SABRES
Big Question #1: Has this offensive group plateaued? Who should stay and who should go?
VUKOTA says: Thomas Vanek 69 GP, 28 G, 28 A, 56 P, 7.7 OGVT, 1.6 DGVT, 9.3 GVT. Paul Gaustad 61 GP, 12 G, 14 A, 25 P, 1.5 OGVT, 2.3 DGVT, 3.7 GVT. Tim Connolly 68 GP, 20 G, 39 A, 59 P, 7.3 OGVT, 3.0 DGVT, 10.2 GVT. Drew Stafford 68 GP, 18 G, 23 A, 41 P, 4.2 OGVT, 1.8 DGVT, 6.0 GVT. Rob Niedermayer 63 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 P, 0.2 OGVT, 2.2 DGVT, 2.4 GVT.
Timo says: Buffalo pays Thomas Vanek like a superstar, but he’s not. The Sabres need to open their pocketbooks for one star quality forward to give them a chance to compete for a championship. If this player can take faceoffs, it’s a bonus, because it makes otherwise useless Paul Gaustad expendable.
Ideally, this player would be an upgrade on the power play as well. But keep in mind that overall the Sabres have a nice mix of forwards—you don’t want to mess up the chemistry by making radical changes.
Answer: Other than the upside provided by Tyler Ennis, yes, the offensive group has plateaued. Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford should be re-signed. Rob Niedermayer unequivocally should not. And they need a star.
Big Question #2: What’s the ceiling for Tyler Myers and the other young defenders?
Head coach Lindy Ruff (on the play on the young defensemen): “[Butler’s] play has improved. He’s steadily gained some confidence here in this stretch. Myers actually has had a tough time. He’s probably on the back end of our young D. He’s had the toughest time this year. Andrej Sekera has maybe been one of our best.”
Ruff (on rookie defenseman Mike Weber’s NHL debut): “He started a little tough, but he worked his way into it. It’s expected…He settled in. He did a nice job for us.”
VUKOTA says: Chris Butler 59 GP 4 G, 14 A, 18 P, 1.5 OGVT, 3.0 DGVT, 4.5 GVT. Tyler Myers 81 GP 10 G, 36 A, 46 P, 6.0 OGVT, 5.4 DGVT, 11.4 GVT. Andrej Sekera 55 GP 4 G, 12 A, 16 P, 0.8 OGVT, 1.7 DGVT, 2.5 GVT.
Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: Buffalo’s 2010 first rounder Mark Pysyk is another young defenseman coming up through the ranks. Corey Pronman rates him as Hockey Prospectus’ #31 overall prospect.
Timo says: It’s nice to see Chris Butler having turned his game around from last season, when he was a constant liability on the ice; Butler looks like a completely different player now. Getting quality play from youngsters like Butler, Sekera and Weber should lower the overall price tag of the defensive unit in the short run at least, allowing Buffalo to spend more on some offensive upgrades. And yes, the Sabres should bid farewell to aging and rickety captain Craig Rivet by next offseason.
Answer: Tyler Myers should provide the anchor for the Sabres defense for the next ten years, maybe more. Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera may well pan out to be Buffalo’s second pairing.
Big Question #3: Are the Sabres young, energetic and tough enough to not get outworked and bullied in the playoffs again?
Rookie Tyler Ennis: “When we’re going well, we’re getting pucks in deep and we’re using our speed and getting to good spots. When it’s not going so well, we’re being a little too individual with the puck. We get a lot of our offense when we just put the pucks in good spots and work hard and use our work ethic to get it back and put pucks in the net.”
Timo says: Buffalo has plenty of youth and energy in the likes of Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Cody McCormick and their young defensemen. Looking toward 2011-12, intriguing forward Zack Kassian fits the mold of a quintessential energy player as well. The re-signing of Mike Grier made some sense, in the fact that he was one of the few Sabres that didn’t wilt midway through the games of the Bruins series. While the Niedermayer signing didn’t to bring anything of worth to the club—he’s no tough guy—the Morrisonn signing was at least defensible for adding toughness to a squad that was bullied by Zdeno Chara and company.
Answer: When the Sabres are going well, energy isn’t a problem, and an injection of youth always helps in that regard. But we’ll see if Shaone Morrisonn, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick will be enough to fend off the bad guys this time around. If not, there’s Zack Kassian.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics and is co-editor of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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