This isn’t mean to be a Hockeynomics number study, just an “I’ve got a feeling” post on the eve of Buffalo’s 2013 season…
This Friday, as I filed a report on the Sabres electing to keep big first-rounder center Mikhail Grigorenko on the 23-man roster, an unusual thought occurred to me. In years past, I would’ve broken down the league’s season by the season opener, giving an elaborate list of predictions and analyses that betrayed my biases. But something funny’s been creeping into my thought process, something that’s occurred exactly thrice in my life as a Sabres fan. Those times:
1) Brad May beats Ray Bourque, Andy Moog and the hated Bruins to seal a sweep of Boston in 1993
2) Sabres lead Leafs, 5-0, early enough in Game Four en route to taking a 3-1 series lead over Toronto in the 1999 East Finals.
3) Anton Volchenkov loses the puck in wet ice and Grier/Drury capitalize to give Buffalo a 7-6 OT Game One win over Ottawa in one of the best hockey games ever played.
Those were three times in my life I thought the Sabres were capable of winning the Stanley Cup, and they all came in the playoffs. Now there were division-winning seasons where I thought the team capable of making a run at the whole thing, but only thrice have I felt that gutty feeling where you start to think about where you want to be and with whom you want to share that moment when Buffalo finally lifts Lord Stanley’s chalice.
Today, with reporters/columnists lighting the Sabres on fire for extending their general manager… with the team coming off a playoff-less previous season… with myself as far removed from my love for the NHL as I’ve ever been and as disinterested in the sport as imaginably possible, yes today is the first time I’ve felt that pit-of-stomach-championship-adrenaline about the Buffalo Sabres since I was a young kid too silly to know the difference between when your star/goalie combo is Turgeon/Puppa and theirs is Naslund/Roy.
They can win the Cup this year. Here are reasons why:
1) DEPTH: This is a team that can legitimately roll four lines and has players on the roster and in the farm system that can fill-in adequately if there’s a run of injuries. Depth also comes in mighty handy at the trade deadline.
2) POWER PLAY: Lost in the shuffle of Buffalo’s struggles last season was what a team with two bonafide blue line quarterbacks can mean to a team. Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers are both high-end guys in this department.
3) GOAL: His interviews and sometimes even his personality are the antithesis of what Buffalo sports fans want their star player to sound like, but Ryan Miller remains a legit No. 1 goaltender capable of stealing the big game. Even if Lindy Ruff is crazy enough to allow Miller to play nearly every game in net, Buffalo now has a proven back-up goaltender in Jhonas Enroth.
4) SCORING: While there are questions down the middle, it seems patently absurd that all three of Buffalo’s young centers will be garbage monsters. In fact, it seems relatively silly to think at least one cannot emerge as a bonafide star. Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Grigorenko all could be “it.”
5) ATTITUDE: You know who’s left from the core crew that had their heart questioned after every loss by Sabres fans? Not as many as you’d think. The only holdovers from the Presidents Trophy Playoff Effort Debacle are Vanek, Miller, Pominville, Hecht and Stafford. The only one I question (effort-wise) out of the group? Stafford. In the rest of the entire room? None. Accountability has arrived and I think Stafford will be along for the ride. If not: gone.
Are there teams that scare me? Sure. Pittsburgh will be quite fine. The Rangers and Bruins should be solid. The Flyers have a terrific core and the Caps always have ammo. But there isn’t a team in the East that I think will blow Buffalo out of the water, and there are conceivable remedies for nearly anything that can befall this team (Due to be UFAs in 2013 and some destined to be on sellers: Semin, Iginla, Elias, Perry, Getzlaf, Alfredsson, Selanne, Morrow, Zidlicky, Clowe, Gonchar, Timonen).
Plus, as I mentioned, I’m as bummed about hockey as I’ve ever been. Surely Buffalo’s first major league championship since the mid-20th century will come in a league about as popular as the fourth-most popular Real Housewives of Boogerville series. We’ll have a parade covered by approximately four outside-WNY American journalists. That’s probably how it’s destined to go down for Buffalo sports fans.
And we’d love it.