I'm taking the same approach with the Buffalo Sabres that I took with the Buffalo Bills when their season began. My expectations, as far as wins and a playoff berth, are low. The season is all about watching the young players and hoping they give me a reason to believe that franchise success is right around the corner.
There are questions all over the place for the 2013-2014 edition of the Sabres, starting with the coach. The interim tag has been removed from Ron Rolston's office door name plate. I'd say there were slight improvements last season as Rolston guided the Sabres to a 15-11-5 record following the dismissal of Lindy Ruff.
Rolston has gotten to know most of the players on the roster and had the benefit of a training camp and plenty of practice time in an effort to get his philosophy across to the players. But whether or not the Michigan native can be a successful NHL Head Coach obviously remains to be seen.
Rolston will coach a very young team. There are 12 players on the opening night roster between the age of 18 and 25. That doesn't include the four players on injured reserve, all of whom fall into that 18-25 range.
That youth is extremely evident down the middle. The Sabres top three centers are Cody Hodgson who is 23 and has just 139 NHL games under his belt. Tyler Ennis, the veteran of the group, is also 23 but he's played in 187 games. Then you have 19 year old Mikhail Grigorenko who saw limited time in 25 games last season, producing one goal and five points.
The defense group includes 21 year old Mark Pysyk who began last year in Rochester and ended up skating in 19 games with the Sabres, and rookie first round pick Risto Ristolainen who was impressive during the pre-season.
The big question on defense will be whether or not Tyler Myers gets his game back. The signs in the pre-season were encouraging as Myers showed more poise and appeared to be in better shape both physically and mentally. He's supposed to be a franchise defenseman at some point and if he plays that way it has the potential to take the Sabres season in an upward direction.
One of the other many questions involves Henrik Tallinder and just how effective he can be in his second stint wearing the Blue and Gold. Can Tallinder hold up over the course of a full season if he's asked to play top 4 minutes? Tallinder fought injuries the last two years with New Jersey and when healthy he was not always in the lineup. Tallinder played in just 39 games two years ago and averaged just over 21 minutes of ice time. Last season the native of Sweden saw action in only 25 games and his ice time dropped to 17 and a half minutes.
What about scoring? Last season the Sabres were 23rd in goals scored and just 29th on the power play. Drew Stafford needs to bounce back from a six goal output and more will be expected from Marcus Foligno who struggled during a lockout shortened campaign and registered just five goals.
The only legitimate, consistent goal scorer is Thomas Vanek but will he be distracted with his uncertain future? The same question can be asked about Ryan Miller. Both players are in the final year of their contract and could be moved by the trade deadline in March.
On top of all that, the Sabres are in a tougher neighborhood too. NHL re-alignment means the Detroit Red Wings are a division foe. They've been a lock for a 100 point season and have made the playoffs in each of the last 22 years.