Originally published July 26, 2011
As mentioned yesterday, for the next couple of posts I’ll be comparing and contrasting the Leafs to their divisional rivals. Today I look at the free spending, capped out Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres finished with the seventh best record (43-29-10 = 96pts) in the Eastern Conference for the 2010-2011 regular season. They were defeated in seven games by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Sabres, mostly because they blew both a 3-1 and 4-3 lead on home ice with the chance to eliminate the Flyers. That game was eventually lost in OT thanks to a Ville Leino winner, more on him later.
Off Season Moves
I don’t really care about the Sabres, so I’m not going to explain their owneship situation. The bottom line is they have a new owner who apparently has money. This offseason the Sabres decided to spend some of that money. Evidently I disagree with other bloggers because I think they had a horrible off-season. Is it just me or did the Sabres not get that much better? Especially when you consider they have the highest payroll in the NHL and will be financially limited for the foreseeable future.
GM Darcy Regier acquired 31 year old Robyn Regehr (4.02 cap hit for the next 2 years). Regehr is a 31 year old stay at home defenseman, he is slow and has had his mistakes erased by Mikka Kipprusoff since the lockout. Regehr was a very good player in the old NHL. In fact, he was part of the Canadian World Cup team in 2004, but when the league began to restrict obstruction he began to be exposed as a big, slow d-man.
Following the Regehr acquisition Regier signed 29 year old Christian Ehroff (4.0 cap hit for ten years). Ehroff is a solid defenseman. He’s mobile and capable of providing strong defensive play, but he does not deserve that money or that long a term of contract. In my opinion he was the third best defenseman on the Vancouver Canucks (behind Edler and Bieska) a unit that was exposed by both the Blackhawks and Bruins in the playoffs.
Remember that guy who scored the big overtime goal in the playoffs. Yeah him, lets sign him to a super stupid contract. The Sabres finished their ridiculous off-season by signing 28 year old Ville Leino (4.5 cap hit for six years!) who was coming off a whopping career high of 53 points. Anyways, this is the worst deal of the off-season, and maybe the worst signing a team has ever made. At the moment I can’t remember one as bad. Leino may break out with the Sabres, but he’s 28. If he was going to be an offensive force in the NHL he would’ve emerged by now. A side note regarding Leino, is it common for the Red Wings to give away an offensively capable player for nothing? Both the Wings and the Flyers (two organizations pretty good at judging talent) walked away from this guy.
Leafs Forwards Vs. Sabres Forwards
The Sabres top six forwards consist of: Vanek, Roy, Leino, Stafford, Pominville and Gerbe. Their Bottom six would be Ennis, Boyes, Hecht, Gaustad, Kaleta and Kotalik.
Comparing them to the Leafs top six of: Kessel, Connolly (what’s up?), Lupul, Kulemin, Grabovski, MaCarthur. Bottom six of: Armstrong, Lombardi, Kadri, Brown, Bozak, Boyce.
I’m sorry but I think the Leafs forwards are better. The Leafs have a more defined structure. With this group they are capable of playing against both physical and finesse teams. The Sabres forward group is one which is on the smaller side, and they do not possess the physical edge required to push back. Keep in mind Vanek, Stafford and Pominville benefitted from the now departed playmaking abilities of Tim Connolly. It’s likely they regress this season. Kessel and Vanek wash each other out. As do Lupul and Stafford. Roy is coming off of a serious injury, and he was never able to unseat Connolly as the number one centre in Buffalo, thus the edge goes to Connolly. Pominville is trending down whereas MaCarthur is on the upswing. Grabovski is at the worst equal to Leino. Which leaves Kulemin and Gerbe. Kulemin is quickly developing into one of the best two way wingers in hockey. He scored thirty goals last year and is 6’1″ 225 lbs and can skate with anyone in the league. Gerbe is 5’5″ 173 lbs and had 31 points last year, enough said. The Leafs’ bottom six is a better balance of speed, skill and physicality. For all you readers Brad Boyes and Ales Kotalik are not the players they once were, and are, in my opinion, players searching for their identity in the NHL.
Leafs Defense Vs. Sabres Defense
The Sabres back line consists of: Myers, Regehr, Ehroff, Leopold, Sekera, Morrisson and Weber (Mike not Shea).
The Leafs: Phaneuf, Schenn, Aulie, Liles, Franson and Gunnarsson.
Am I biased? (please tell me) I think the Leafs have the edge. The Sabres defense is big and slow. Teams like the Leafs and Habs who have speed will give them nightmares. Myers is coming off of a horrible second season. He is in desperate need of a good start. Phaneuf is a proven defender in this league (a former Norris finalist let’s not forget) who found his game late last year. Luke Schenn is head and shoulders above Robyn Regehr. Ehroff may be better than Liles but I’m going to wait and see. I’ll give the edge to Ehroff. The bottom three of both teams are a bit of a wash though the Leafs have more upside.
Leafs goaltending Vs. Sabres Goaltending
Ryan Miller is a Vezina finalist, an American Olympian and one of the best goalies in the world.
James Reimer is on the rise and will provide the Leafs with their stablest goaltending in recent memory.
Miller obviously has the edge.
I think that looking back the Sabres have made some horrible decisions and this season will be a step back for them. Buffalo is a Ryan Miller injury away from disaster. The Leafs (spoiler alert) will finish above the Sabres in the standings, and I think finish second in the division to the Bruins.
Tomorrow I compare and contrast the Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.
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