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1. Ryan is hope: The Sabres have the best goalie in the world, which immediately makes them a contender. Ryan Miller has reached the point where he reads plays with the ease of a Dr. Seuss book. He's intent on rewriting the Sabres' record book and wants a championship to be his defining legacy.

2. Loose ends Ty-ed up: Tyler Myers, last season's top rookie, looks even better already. The defenseman has bulked up, is supremely confident at both ends of the ice and seems ready to reach a level that no Buffalo blue-liner has achieved. It's not often a 20-year-old is thrown into Norris Trophy talk, but Myers' name is in it.

3. Another year wiser: Ownership and management handed $141 million to Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad and Miller with the belief the group would grow into a formidable core. They're all maturing into their prime at the same time, giving the Sabres a solid base of talent.

4. Looks that kill: Special teams win games, and the Sabres are favorites to have the NHL's best penalty-kill unit. They were percentage points away from the top spot last year, and the additions of Rob Niedermayer and Shaone Morrisonn should further bolster a unit that mans up during a one-man disadvantage.

> FOUR REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Nightly rewind: The Sabres are bound to get tired at times since more than half of their games will be played on back-to-back nights. They have 22 two-game sets, a taxing number for any squad. Considering they went 11-18-6 the previous two seasons on the second night, they're bound to lose a few points.

2. 'D' may not be passing grade: With the exception of Tyler Myers, the blue line is the Sabres' biggest unknown. Craig Rivet needs to regain his health. Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold need to mesh. Steve Montador needs to be consistent. Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera need to rebound. That's a lot of needs.

3. Depth is shallow: Injuries can hurt any team, but the Sabres may be more susceptible than most. The NHL reserves are unproven. Their minor-league team has gotten younger. Though there was competition for several starting jobs, in some cases it was merely a matter of who would rise above inconsistency.

4. Standing Pat: Not one person can deny that Patrick Lalime is a great teammate and quality mentor to Ryan Miller. Yet despite the glowing praise, he just can't win. Although his teammates often leave him to fend for himself, one simple fact remains: The backup goaltender is just 9-21-5 in Blue and Gold.