Q- Losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury was seen as a huge blow to the Sabres. Who has filled the void and who hasn't? A- I can think of 3 players who have stepped their game up this season. Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht. Jason is an up and coming talent who currently leads the Sabres in points and does a little of everything for the Sabres. He mans the PP, takes his turn SH and is probably the most consistent player right now. He is a bargain for the Sabres. Derek Roy has been a pleasant surprise. He has done more than i thought possible this year. With Briere and Drury leaving he was forced to step his game up and he has responded very well, considering his linemates are ever changing. He'll never be a superstar, but he is a good solid 60 point player than does the little things a team needs, especially from a small player.
The biggest surprise this season has been Hecht. He was asked to step up and be the number one center and even though he is 6th in team scoring, his all around play is what has made him the most indispensable player on this team. He leads the team in shots, plays on the SH unit and is the glue that is keeping the team together. He does the little things that teams need in order to be competitive. He is the Mike Sillinger, Kris Draper player of the Sabres.
Who hasn't filled the void- Tomas Vanek. Recently his play has been better, but he is the one player who misses Briere and Drury the most. He is on the first PP unit, first line and now is being targeted by the opponents checking lines. He is a young superstar in the making, but he is not a complete player at this time. He needs to skate harder, get back on D and become more assertive on the PP. For a player his size he plays smaller. Last year showed what skill he has, but he needs to do that against the first checking line instead of the 3rd line like he faced last year.
Q- What's with Maxim Afinagenov's slow start? Will he live up to expectations by the end of the year? Or is this year a write-off for him? A- Max is his own worst enemy. This is a player who could dominate a game like Kovalchuk, but lets his head get in the way. Teams fear his speed, but at times he's so out of control they sit back and wait for him to lose the puck. If he slowed his game down a stride and played more in control, he could be a point a night player. He has started to pick his game up since being demoted earlier this season, but i still think he could improve and be a dominate force the rest of the season. He will definitely bounce back. I'd take him with a negative +/- because he is the type of player who could manufacture 3 points and win the game for you.
Q- Brian Campbell and Jaroslav Spacek have been solid on the Sabre's defense. Who else should we look out for? A- No one, except maybe Nathan Paetsch. The defense is very suspect after this pairing. They lack size, mobility, make too many mistakes and have little offensive potential. Nathan is young, has good offensive potential, but is under utilized and has learned to play better defense. I feel our teams biggest weakness is the defense. It was exposed in the playoffs by bigger, physical teams and has disappeared against teams like Ottawa and Anaheim this year.
Q- Who has been the biggest (pleasant) surprise for the Sabres this season? A- Spacek has been a pleasant surprise so far. This is a guy who had 2 points the the last 3 months of the season and playoffs. He has the potential to be a 40 point player, but has mental lapses that last months, not games. I hope he keeps it up because after him and Campbell, the offensive potential of the defense is suspect.
Q- Who has been the biggest disappointment? A- Tomas Vanek. He is not worth the salary we are paying him. We could've signed him to an extension this off season, but we waited and when Briere and Drury left, management was forced to sign him to the contract he was offered. He had a great season last year playing on the 3rd line against 3rd line players. Forced to play against the oppositions checking line this year, he has been less productive and hardly seems like he's skating hard. Being a big player he rarely utilizes his size in front of the net only garnering 4 PP goals this season so far. He has the skills to be a power forward in the mold of Shanahan or Leclair, but he needs to work harder to utilize the skills he has.
Q- What Sabres are worth picking up in fantasy hockey leagues? A- I would target Campbell, Spacek, Roy, Pominville, Connolly and Afinogenov if you don't mind his negative plus/minus. Ones to watch are Gaustad and Kotalik who have both seemed to find something the last few weeks.
Q- What Sabres should be dropped in fantasy hockey leagues? A- I would say the most suspect players would be Stafford, who has been a disappointment considering how he played last year and Gaustad, only because he doesn't has a great statistical history. He is on the the way to breaking his season high, but that high is only 24 points, and he currently has 19.
Q- What can we look forward to as far as the Sabres goaltending? A- I'm not really sure. Miller can be great for 58 minutes of a game, then give up the soft goals that make Lindy want to bang his head against the glass. He has only ONE shutout and could easily have 2-3 more, but seems to let his mind wander. I understand he lost a close family member which could be weighing on his mind, but if that's not his problem, i'm not sure what is. He could be a top 5 goalie in this league for years to come, but he needs to stop giving up the soft goals. As far as the team goalie situation, without Miller we would struggle. I feel letting Conklin leave at the end of last season and bringing in Thibault was a mistake. The money wasn't that much of a difference, but i feel we gave up to much skill for player that had a slight awakening last year in Pitt, but never set the league on fire. If Miller gets hurt, the Sabres could be on the wrong end of to many close games. Thibault cannot put teams away like Miller can.
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