As a part of their 2013 season preview, NHL.com has six questions for each team heading towards the puck drop.
Amongst the six for the Sabres: How will Ryan Miller play? Can Cody Hodgson play a top-six center role effectively? Will the new "tough guys" have an impact? Will rookie Mikhail Grigorenko (and they add in fellow rookie, Zemgus Grirgensons, who is not in camp) make the team?
But John Kreiser also touches upon two other areas that also should be looked at--how the defense will shake out with eight NHL-ready defensemen and Ville Leino.
Yesterday the Sabres waived defenseman Adam Pardy and his $2M salary bringing the number of NHL-calibre defensemen on the roster to a more manageable eight players. Normally the team would carry seven, but the Sabres would need to expose all of their remaining defensemen to waivers, and it would seem that they don't want risk losing any of them.
Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera are locks for the top-six, barring a trade. Alexander Sulzer (acquired from Vancouver last trade deadline) has the inside track on the sixth slot but will be battling it out with Mike Weber and long-time prospect TJ Brennan (Rochester's leading scorer this season.)
The real concern on defense, though, should be directed not at the number of defensemen, but at the production of Myers and Ehrhoff, both of whom are comining off an injury plagued down 2011/12 season.
Head Coach Lindy Ruff loves to have his defensemen join the rush, but the soon to be 23 yr. old Myers' production has dropped every year since his Calder-winning season three years ago going from .59 points/game to .48 to .46 last season. His decision-making has also been suspect, leaving him looking lost on the ice at times.
Ehrhoff, who was brought in for his sniping ability and powerplay prowess, went from consecutive 14-goal seasons (six goals on the powerplay, consecutively) with Vancouver to 5 goals (one on the pp) with Buffalo last season.
The Sabres need better production from those two to help offset the trade of C Derek Roy in the off-season.
Both will need to stay healthy and contribute if the team wants to go anywhere this season.
At forward, Leino is another player whose production left much to be desired in the 2011/12 season.
The winger turned center turned winger has gone through a number of changes throughout his NHL career and being somewhat confused and/or disgruntled is to be expected. But Leino took it to another level last year at times coming off as a primadonna while whining about his position and his line mates.
The Sabres signed him as a consolation prize in July, 2011 after they knew C Brad Richards would not be signing with the team. He had a strong performance with Philadelphia during their seven-game bout with Buffalo in the 2011 playoffs. It caught the Sabres' eye and prompted them to view him as a possible top-six center. A move which ended up being a disaster.
He has the skills and has proven that he can produce, but he needs to dump the desire for the perfect situation he had in Philly skating on a line with Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. And he needs to start carrying his own weight instead of relying on his linemates, if that's even within him.
Leino will not be in the top-six this season, barring injuries to the Sabres top-wingers, so he should look at his third-line role at $4.5M as a blessing.
For that amount and in that capacity, Leino just needs to shut up and play.
Although it's unlikely he'll be a compliance buyout right now, with what looks like a mulligan for last season, another eight goal, 17 assist performance this season will probably punch his ticket out of Buffalo.
Freisen does not make a preditcion as to the Sabres placement in the standings, but he does raise enough questions to show that the Sabres will probably, once again, be a playoff bubble team.