Buffalo Sabres

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

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Added: Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain
Subtracted: Nathan Gerbe, Adam Pardy, Andrej Sekera

The Sabres are going to be good

Buffalo has a crew of forwards with the potential to score some goals, headlined by Thomas Vanek who scored 20 times in a mere 38 games last year, exceeding the point-per-game mark with 41. Soon to be re-signed Cody Hodgson could blossom into a premier player (he’s damn near there now), and with a solid support cast in guys like Ville Leino and Drew Stafford, they’re simply need a couple things to happen to push for playoffs: Mikhail Grigorenko needs to become the elite scorer they believe he can, and Marcus Foligno has to take that next step towards dominance. With perhaps the best goalie in the league in net, and steady names like Christian Erhoff and Henrik Tallinder on the backend, they’re a Tyler Myers resurgence away from thinking post-season. And who knows from there?

The Sabres are going to be bad

This is a team with next to no top-end talent offensively. Their roster is a barren wasteland. Vanek is all they have, and he’s coming off a year in which he got off to a torrid start then came back to earth fast in the second half, and being that they’re in rebuild mode and he’s in the final year of his deal they’ll probably trade him by the deadline. Cody Hodgson still hasn’t re-signed, which is becoming an issue. Grigorenko had a bust of a rookie year (and might already be like, 25 years old, who knows), and after that you’ve got a bunch of third liners and John Scott. There’s zero depth on D (let alone elite talent to begin with), Ryan Miller has regressed to league average, and will also likely be dealt by the deadline. The cupboard is bare. Yikes.

Flippant barstool prediction

No but for real, the Sabres are going to be pretty brutal.

The numbers:

Their 2013 numbers are Memphis Bleek: 23rd in goals-per-game with 2.46, 22nd in goals allowed per-night (2.90), they had the second-worst powerplay in the league, converting a mere 14.1% of the time, they owned the 26th place penalty kill (79.2%), and they gave up the most shots in the league at 33.5 a night. On the upside, they were a tenth of a percent from tying Edmonton for the worst faceoff team in the league, winning 46.2% of their draws.

Okay, but seriously:

Move Miller, move Vanek and bottom out. This is not a good team. I actually think they have some quality – as in, fine NHLers – in Stafford, Leino, Hodgson, Erhoff, Miller, maybe Myers, maybe Grigorenko someday, but really: who do they beat consistently? What roster can you look at and be like “Sabres will own them?” Every win will will be a struggle, and this team will be near the league bottom. And for the record, I like the Sabres, so it hurts to share that.

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