Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Self-proclaimed "online gambling destination," Bovada, released it's annual regular season points over/under for each NHL team yesterday.
The over/under for the Buffalo Sabres is 65 1/2.
It's a total that would represent around 13-14 more points than the their finish last season, or about 6-7 more wins. A point total right around that 65 1/2 number is certainly attainable, in fact, if I were a betting man, the over is looking pretty good. But not too much over as this team looks to be headed for a top-two/three pick in the upcoming draft. Last year's 29th and 28th place teams recorded 66 (FLA) and 67 (CGY) points, respectively.
The Sabres were the surprise of the July 1 opening of free agency in the NHL. Although they didn't land any of the "superstars" of the day, they landed a number of quality players announced in rapid-fire succession that piqued the interest of the entire NHL. Even though a group of eternal optimists busted out their trumpets to start a playoff march, most feel that the moves Buffalo made were foundational more than anything else.
Yes, Matt Moulson is a three-time 30-goal scorer and sniper who will add some desperately needed punch to team that was historically bad at scoring goals. And defenseman Andre Meszaros should help a woefully bad powerplay that was second worst in the league last season (FLA.)
But, of the four players GM Tim Murray was able to bring to Buffalo that day (or in the case of Moulson and Cody McCormick, bring back to Buffalo,) former Montreal Canadien captain Brian Gionta may be one of the most important at this stage of the rebuild.
As the days of his 25+ goal seasons are starting to fade in the rear-view mirror, his contributions to the team will be measured by the intangibles that he brings to the team in the form of work-ethic, professionalism and leadership. During the next three years, the length of his $12.75M contract, Gionta will be part of a leadership group witnessing the influx of two or three youngins per season, according to Murray, and the Sabres brass are looking to instill Gionta's values in each and everyone of them.
"The situation that the Sabres organization is in right now, trying to build that winning attitude" said Don Stevens, long-time voice of the Rochester Americans, "I don't know if you can do much better than Gionta."
Stevens has known Gionta since the Rochester native played youth hockey with his son "years and years ago."
Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle concurs. "[Gionta] is exactly what the team needs," he said in a recent interview. "They needed a guy who was upbeat, all-team and who cares about the community and the team he's playing for.
"This is home for him. He's definitely going to be a big influence."
The Sabres added character veterans July 1 to help influence the wave of youngins that be the foundation of the club moving forward. Moulson is a sniper, but he's a character player as well. Nobody ever questioned McCormick's work ethic in Buffalo. Defenseman Josh Gorges, according to fellow hockeybuzz blogger, Eric Engels, is a "motivator who will hold everyone in the room accountable both on and off the ice."
Said Murray after his big day, July 1st, ""We've got a lot of character now. We have leadership now. That's important to me when you're adding young players every year. There's a short term and a long term. The long-term is that your young players get better. Your young players become pros. They're not just good players, they're good NHL players, and I think that this group of people that we've added today can help in that regard."
Gionta is coming from a legendary franchise that just made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season to the worst team in the league. Montreal is the Canadian equivalent of the NY Yankees. So how could he willingly sign with a losing team, asked Oklobzija? "I don't plan on losing," was the response.
The Montreal Canadiens have had only one other American-born captain, Chris Chelios, who was co-captain with Guy Carboneau in 1989-90. It makes Gionta the only full-fledged American-born team captain in it's 105-year history. It would take a lot for a Francophone team in a French-speaking community to bring in an American-born, English-speaking captain.
Yet they did.
Coach Jacques Martin had no trouble officially naming Gionta as their team leader in September, 2010. Montreal had made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals the season before, the first year of Gionta's five year stint with the club, even though they were without an official captain. "But, according to Martin at the time, "the way he led our group, it became obvious that he was the captain."
Will the Sabres brass be sewing the "C" on Gionta's sweater this season? If I were a betting man, I'd say yes, if they do award a captaincy.
How can you deny a player like Gionta who has been decorated with honors wherever he's played despite his small frame (5' 7" 175 lbs.) and who has his name on the Stanley Cup? Or a player who worked up the nerve to introduce his Montreal teammates in French to their Francophile fanbase on opening night?
Landing Gionta was a coup for the Buffalo Sabres organization and everything he brings to the table both on and off the ice screams character and integrity.
Said Stevens, "He's one of the all-time great individuals in the history of the game."
Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
-Cody Hodgson/-Zemgus Girgensons/-Brian Gionta
RHD, Tyler Myers/LHD, Josh Gorges