With new owner Terry Pegula throwing huge dollars at new players, the Sabres seemed ready to make their big move this season.
Instead they have fallen to 10th place in overall Eastern Conference standings as the Christmas break nears. You know things are bad when a 4-1 loss at Ottawa is considered a step in the right direction.
So what went wrong? A lot of things, actually:
- Injuries have depleted this team. The Sabres casualties include hulking defenseman Tyler Myers and skilled forwards Ville Leino, Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht. Their youthful replacements have not fared well. “You're asking a lot out of the kids, and they've played hard for us,” coach Lindy Ruff told reporters. “But we need some bodies back.”
- Goaltender Ryan Miller has been awful. His goals-against average (3.12) ranks among the worst of NHL regulars and his save percentage (.904) isn’t great. Pegula called him out after a disastrous 8-3 loss to the depleted Penguins; Miller allowed five goals on just 15 shots in that game. Is it time to consider moving him, perhaps out West to the Ducks?
- Many Sabres forwards are struggling, including Derek Roy (one goal in 16 games), Drew Stafford (three goals in 20 games) and Paul Gaustad (five goals in his last 52 games dating back to last year).
- The management/coaching tandem of Darcy Regier and Ruff has grown stale after 15 years. “It's a culture of contentment, in which people become too comfortable, and it trickles down to the players,” argued Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan.
Ruff is preaching patience as his team tries to regain its health, but that is a tough sell with teams up and down the conference pecking order making drastic changes.
Once the NHL lifts its holiday roster freeze, look for lots of speculation centered on this team.