Buffalo Sabres: Factors That Will Determine Their Fate This Season
The Sabres do not find themselves high on many lists to start the season, but there are questions surrounding this Sabres team nonetheless.
These are the biggest questions surrounding the Sabres entering the 2013-14 season.
1. How the Youth Movement Responds
As was expected at the end of last year, the Sabres have started their youth movement.
As of right now, the Sabres have Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Brian Flynn, Mark Pysyk and Rasmus Ristolainen on their opening night roster. That's not including Joel Armia and Corey Tropp, both of whom likely earned spots before suffering injuries that will likely keep them out for the first month, and Johan Larsson.
Larsson will get his chance much sooner than later, with his absence from the opening night roster likely only due to the Sabres' hesitance to place Kevin Porter and/or Cody McCormick on waivers. Also, Larsson may end up on the opening night roster due to Marcus Foligno's nagging shoulder injury.
But with five green players to start and a possibility of as many as eight on the roster at one time, the Sabres will be handing the keys to the future starting now.
If the kids fall into place and play as well as they can, the Sabres may find themselves in a much better position than many think they'll be.
On the other hand, if there are substantial growing pains, the Sabres could be looking at a high draft pick come June.
2. Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek's Futures
There's been a lull in the Miller-Vanek saga for a few weeks, but expect it to pick up again soon.
Both Miller and Vanek have made it clear they're happy to be back, but both have also stated that their futures in the blue and gold will depend on where this young team is headed.
So, if the Sabres stumble out of the gate again, the rumblings surrounding the team's top players will steadily grow.
Vanek has said that he's not ready to re-sign with the team until he sees that the team isn't going to be a doormat for the next couple of seasons. That likely means that heading into the trade deadline, Vanek will be one of the hot commodities on the market, not unlike Rick Nash a few seasons ago.
Miller is assumed to have one foot out the door already, and rumors—both legitimate and homemade—have him anywhere from Anaheim to Pittsburgh by the end of the season. But at least for the time being, Miller is the Sabres' starting netminder.
Essentially, one can assume that this will be a prominent theme for the Sabres this season.
3. The New Captain
After Jason Pominville was traded at the trade deadline last season, the question of who will be the Sabres' new captain has loomed.
Now, according to Bill Hoppe, the Sabres will name their captain on Tuesday, the night before they open the season against the Detroit Red Wings.
So who will it be?
Oddsmakers probably have their money on either Thomas Vanek or Steve Ott.
Vanek has been here the longest and has been the Sabres' best player since the departures of Danny Briere and Chris Drury. Ott is relatively new, but is beloved in his locker room and by Sabres fans alike.
The only hiccup is that both Ott and Vanek are in the last years of their current contracts and may be on their way out next offseason.
So that opens the door for a number of other players, including Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford.
Hodgson and Myers have the big contracts and the heightened expectations (more on that later), so the "C" may just be a vote of confidence for either of them.
Whoever coach Ron Rolston picks, they'll have their hands full.
4. Tyler Myers' Rebound
Tyler Myers had a rough go at it last season.
At times he looked great. Other times he looked awful. The big issue was that there really wasn't any in-between.
This year, he enters the season as one of the Sabres' top defenseman and not as "the guy."
Christian Ehrhoff's quietly great season last year evened the playing field in that regard, and Ehrhoff's pairing may even get the top pairing minutes to start.
In order for the Sabres to be successful this season, or any season in the future, their investment in Myers needs to pan out. If Myers is able to find the Calder-winning trajectory again, the Sabres instantly become a harder team to play against.
If there are any Stanley Cup aspirations for this team, their key may be wearing No. 57 for the Sabres.
The coaching staff and Myers have all said the right things this offseason, but will it be exhibited where it counts starting Wednesday?
5. Ron Rolston
When the Sabres moved on from Lindy Ruff last season, they didn't do too much to shake it up, bringing in Rolston from the system to replace him on an interim basis.
Rolston has moved up through the ranks pretty quickly, having been the coach of the United States Development Team only three seasons ago. Now, after one and a half seasons with the Rochester Americans, Rolston has his very own NHL team.
Will he be able to cut it?
Early results seem to show that Rolston will be fine. He is seemingly in his element, surrounded by one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Rolston's reputation is a teaching coach, so that seems to fit nicely.
However, he still has veterans to contend with, including Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, who may or may not be a part of the team's future.
Will he be able to get the most out of them?
While that remains to be seen, Rolston will need to prove his coaching chops in order for the Sabres to rebound from two disappointing seasons.