I’m only doing the predictions so you read on, in case you were wondering…
So Buffalo Sabres regular season hockey is back and I’m reasonably excited about the return of my all-time favorite game. Of course, I won’t be seeing that game because the actually-officiated games from 2005-06 were the equivalent of the world’s biggest collective tease. And there was this:
Throw in a remarkably-silly discipline system straight out of Law & Order: SVU and the on-ice failures of the blue and gold and here’s my overall point: Hockey’s awesome. That’s not sarcastic. The National Hockey League has done nearly everything in its power to urinate all over one of the world’s most exciting games and all hockey’s done is respond by saying, “Hey, I’m still hockey. Come watch me.” And we do.
Even in Buffalo, where we’ve somehow decided that lamenting the owner who’s come to help rebuild our downtown, simply because he said he wanted to win the Cup, is a swell idea. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s theater of the absurd that Darcy Regier was allowed to be the guy constructing the rebuild of the rebuild he couldn’t hack, but that certainly doesn’t change my opinion that the super rich owner who’s making it rain on fans’ every-minor-and-major arena whim is good for the club (keeping political concerns aside).
Yet when it comes to a sport most worth putting on your TV, nursing some beverages and watching a game, hockey’s it. It’s only in-person rival for this honor is baseball (Yes, I’m allowing you to live without my forcing soccer into this discussion).
Which brings us to the Sabres who, as long as they have Thomas Vanek on the roster, will be in the hunt for a playoff spot all season long. While this does little for the overall future of the club — they’ll need to be quite good and/or promising for Vanek to consider staying — it guarantees that they’ll have a chance to win nearly every game they play, like 90% of teams do entering a given game (which is, after all, what we start watching tonight). It’s hockey. It’s parity. It’s so difficult to not be within shouting distance of last place that there should be awards for any team that manages to be in a Bottom Five place for the majority of a season.
So, yes, I’m darn glad hockey’s back and I’m pleased that the Sabres, for the most part, are trotting out a boatload of prospects we know very little about and — here’s the thing with super young kids — should get better on a game-by-game basis.
True: I’m really worried about Ron Rolston guiding a team once they’re good. I can’t tell whether his fire is biding its time (perfect!) or absent (booooo!) and that scares me, but I’m confident in his ability to develop players, just as I’m confident any GM can get two or three hits from a bevy of early round draft picks.
But for tonight in Detroit and Friday back home, I’m jazzed to watch some hockey. I’m cool with another year of freaky vision from Thomas Vanek and some near-reckless effort from Steve Ott. I’m excited to watch Marcus Foligno hopefully develop into a power forward, Zemgus Girgensons learn to harness his potential, Johan Larsson turn into the two-way player Buffalo’s been missing since Chris Drury… so many things. Heck, I’m ready for another year of wondering whether Drew Stafford’s going to put 3 goals or 30.
In addition to Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff is one of the most overlooked defensemen in the league. The d-corps on the whole is pretty respectable and both Mark Pysyk and Rasmus Ristolainen have extreme poise for their ages. There are a few boom or bust players like Mikhail Grigorenko and Ville Leino. I’d bet slightly more on the latter than the former, but there’s still intrigue to be found even in the dregs of Sabres past.
As an aside, I’m totally cool with the co-captains thing. Vanek’s an easy C if he’s long-term here and there’s a chance he will be. Ott’s an easy C if he didn’t draw the ire of the refs so often. People are forgetting that the last time the Sabres went with co-captains on a young team, it worked out really well. Relax.
It’s pretty new, even down to Rolston’s first year. The Sabres could be that team that makes a surprising run to a playoff spot or they could be a team that struggles to string wins together, culminating in fans doing mad March math to see what would have to happen to get the 8th spot. I’m sure they could also deal Vanek and Miller early and be close-to-horrendous, but again:
1) That’s hard to do
2) At least we’d know we’re on Lottery/Sam Reinhart watch (until the Oilers get the first pick).
So game on.
2013-14 NHL Predictions
Divison winners: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim
Conf finals: Pittsburgh over Washington; L.A. over Chicago
Stanley Cup: Pittsburgh over Los Angeles
Rookie of the Year: Seth Jones, Nashville
Vezina Trophy: Jimmy Howard, Detroit
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
Sabres leading scorer: Thomas Vanek
Sabres place in East: 9th