Previewing the East: Buffalo Sabres
NOTE: Over the next several weeks, BlueJackets.com will take an extensive, in-depth look at the Jackets' new opponents in the Eastern Conference. Be on the lookout for photo galleries, analysis, video highlights and more!
Head coach: Ron Rolston
LAST YEAR: 21-21-6 (48 points); missed the playoffs
VS. CBJ ('13-14): 10/10, 1/18, 1/25
OUTLOOK: Not much changed for Buffalo once former head coach Lindy Ruff was dismissed in the middle of the season, but general manager Darcy Regier saw enough from interim Ron Rolston (who was promoted from AHL Rochester) to give him the full-time job shortly after the season ended. Rolston, regarded as a superb teacher, has his hands full with a Sabres team that has underachieved in recent years and will begin 2013-14 largely unchanged from a year ago. Whether it's Jhonas Enroth or Ryan Miller between the pipes, the Sabres simply need more from their top players if they're to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs. In a new-look Atlantic Division that now features the Detroit Red Wings and the Florida teams, perhaps the best thing for Buffalo is a fresh start under realignment. Thomas Vanek is needed to score goals like everyone knows he can, Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers need to be top-pairing defensemen and Buffalo's power play has to be a weapon - but it will be challenging with the departure of former captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota. At the end of the day, the pressure is still on in Buffalo but it's safe to assume this will be an improved team from last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Vanek is the engine that makes the Sabres go, and as one of the NHL's elite goal-scorers, he will be counted on to lead the way in terms of scoring in 2013-14. He's got terrific vision and a quick release, and as you can see in the video below, he possesses a surgical touch around the net. Don't be surprised if this guy scores 35-plus for Buffalo this year.
There was much discussion in Buffalo and around the NHL last season about Grigorenko, a projected top-five pick in the 2012 draft that fell to the Sabres much later in the first round. Should he return to junior hockey in Quebec City or play full-time in the NHL? The decision was made and Grigorenko spent the season in Buffalo, and though he didn't play much, he showed enough that the Sabres want to keep him around to begin the 2013-14 season. The 19-year-old could very well have a terrific sophomore season in Buffalo.