Written by Domenic Caruso and can be found on twitter at @D_Caruso
On February 23, 2011 the Buffalo Sabres were purchased by local owner Terry Pegula. He promised a change in Buffalo and claimed the days of not spending money were over. The change in ownership brought extreme optimism and hope for the future. Finding themselves out of a playoff spot, the Sabres stormed back with a 16-4-4 record and qualified as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs they were 1 goal away from eliminating the 2nd seated Philadelphia Flyers in game 6; only to have future Sabre Ville Leino score the overtime winner.
That summer the Buffalo Sabres lead by GM Darcy Regier made a huge splash in free agency by signing Ville Leino (6yrs/$27 million) and Christian Ehrhoff (10yrs/$40 million). They then traded for Robyn Regehr and re-signed two young core players in Tyler Myers (7yrs/$38.5 million) and Drew Stafford (4yrs/$16 million). They entered the 2011/2012 NHL season having the 2nd highest payroll among all teams
Fast forward to Feb 23rd 2012; with 22 games left in the regular season, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves 12th in the Eastern Conference, 6 points out of a playoff spot and their next two games are against eastern conference leaders the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers; not exactly where they envisioned themselves when they spent over $120 million dollars in a summer filled with promise and hope.
With most of their summer additions being disappointments the Sabres have also had some unfortunate luck; Vanek, Ehrhoff, Miller, Ennis, Boyes, Hecht, Gerbe, Leino and Myers have all missed significant time due to injuries.
With the NHL Trade Deadline quickly approaching; the Sabres must decide if they have given up on this under-achieving, injury riddled season or if they have the horses for one last push. In a season where some Sabre fans have called for the firing of coach Lindy Ruff and/or GM Darcy Regier; the Sabres have been extremely quiet on the trade front. The Sabres are right up against the salary cap so therefore it will be quite difficult to make a deal unless the other team takes on some salary. If Jochen Hecht (who is out for the rest of the regular season) is put on long term injury reserve it would free up an additional $3.5 million in long-term injury relief if they decide in becoming buyers at the deadline
Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Brad Boyes, Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad are names that continue to hit the rumour mill as the Sabres continue their search for a 1st line centre and physical power forwards.
Goal scoring is an unusual problem for the Sabres this year. They are ranked 25th out of the 30 teams in the NHL and if they are poised in making the playoffs they would need to add some much needed firepower.
Andy Strickland of Truehockey.com is suggesting a Patrick Kane and Ryan Miller swap is something both organizations should consider. As much as Buffalo Sabres fans would love to see beloved hometown hero and Stanley Cup winner Patrick Kane in a Sabres jersey it remains highly unlikely that the Blackhawks will move him.
All in all it has been an extremely disappointing season for Sabres fans, but they have received points in 9 of their last 12 games and by the Sabres not dumping any salary so late into the season seems to be an indication that this team is still poised for a playoff run.
The question remains, which Sabres will see to end this season? The Sabres that have pummelled the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins in recent weeks or the Sabres that were embarrassed by the Flyers last week