Four reasons for optimism
1. Strong beliefs: The Sabres acknowledged probably their greatest weakness – toughness – by adding Steve Ott and John Scott. It’s not just fighting. Ott can instill a fiery attitude on a team that showed as much emotion as a loan officer. Scott can allow others to act bigger knowing he’s got their back.
2. Cash in the rebound: Ville Leino is not as bad as he played last year. Nearly everything that could go wrong did, some of it his own doing. He should bounce back. He has returned to the wing, his overwhelmingly preferred spot. He’s more comfortable in his second year here. He’ll make the offense better.
3. Healing power: For two of the last three years, the Sabres have used injuries as the excuse for not making the playoffs. The best way to overcome injuries is to have depth. The Sabres’ player pool is deeper. They can go 10 deep on defense and 17 deep at forward, so it’s time to retire the injury crutch.
4. Defense mechanisms: The ideal mix of skill, physicality and defensive awareness seems in place on the blue line. Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers have top-pair talent. Jordan Leopold is consistent all-around, Alexander Sulzer was a revelation after a late-season trade and Robyn Regehr still scares opponents.
Four reasons for pessimism
1. Middle ages: There’s no denying the talent possessed by centers Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis. Equally as noticeable is their inexperience. They are being thrust into top-line roles with limited resumes. If they’re not ready to handle the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Giroux and the Staal brothers, the Sabres are in trouble.
2. Slow to start, quick to fail: The Sabres have been quiet out of the gate the last two seasons. It cost them a postseason spot last year, and only a historic rally saved them in 2010-11. There’s no time to waste this year. With only 48 games on the schedule, another early season crawl will leave them crying.
3. Drawing a blank: Buffalo relies on puck possession more than most teams in order to create offense. It starts with the faceoff, and the team could have trouble at the dot. Only winger Steve Ott won more than 50 percent of his draws last year. Hodgson and Ennis combined to win 46.2 percent.
4. Low net worth: The Sabres struggled to find the net last season, ranking 17th. There’s little reason to expect that to change. The Sabres gave up Derek Roy’s skill for Steve Ott’s grit, and it’s unreasonable to expect Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford to continue their late-season tear of four points per game.
— John Vogl