Ah, the end of August. Which means September is right around the corner. Which means one very important thing for all of us hockey fans:
The last full month without regular season hockey.
That's right, Pred Heads, the 2010 campaign is just around the corner. If you follow On The Forecheck regularly, you've probably noticed a couple of new series to prep you for the upcoming season. Seth Lake, one of OtF's recently added writers, has been putting together a collection of training camp previews for us, and Chris Burton has been working on a player-by-player preview of the 2010-2011 Predators.
In addition to the above buildup to the start of the new season, we thought we would also take a little bit of time to get to know one of the Eastern Conference teams that we don't see very much here in Music City. It's something that we've done before, so we wanted to do it again this year, and in this case, we landed a team which has a number of similarities with our Preds. They are a small market team with a long-serving duo behind the bench and in the front office. Hit the jump for a Q&A with Zachary Zielonka of Die By The Blade, the SB Nation site for the Buffalo Sabres...
Q: Preds fans pay a decent amount of attention to the Milwaukee Admirals and who could rise through the ranks to show up in Nashville soon. Who are a couple of players on the Portland Pirates that have Buffalo fans really excited, and who could make the jump to the NHL in the next year or two?
A: Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe are two forwards to keep an eye on to make the Sabres rosters this season and possibly make some waves in the NHL. Ennis played 10 regular season games and six playoff games for the Sabres last year scoring 13 points in those 16 games. Nathan Gerbe, at 5'6'', should fit in well on this Sabres roster which is small in size. Gerbe only had 7 points in the 12 games he played last year, 10 regular season and 2 playoff, and will most likely start the season in Portland. He will also be the team's 13th forward and will be the first player called up when an injury occurs.
On defense, there are three players heading into training camp competing for the 6th defensive position. Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, and Chris Butler have all spent time in the NHL and as of late Butler and Sekera have been playing with the Sabres. Mike Weber is a good defenseman though that seemed to be caught in the numbers game on the blue line.
Q: How does competing in a division with three Original Six teams affect the Sabres and the coverage they receive from the general hockey media? Do you feel they continually fall under the radar, or do they receive a level of coverage on par with flagship organizations such as the Leafs or the Bruins?
A: Because of such a rabid fanbase and the lack of competing sports, there is good local coverage of this team from the one newspaper in the city and the area talk radio stations. I would say that the Sabres are like any small market team though when it comes to national coverage. They are mostly overlooked when it comes to news, but the recent play of Ryan Miller in the Olympics has really brought the team back into the national spotlight.
Q: Tyler Myers is an NHL giant, and he's only twenty, so a couple of quick questions on him: (1) Is he expected to get any taller over the next couple of years, and (2) after winning the Calder Trophy, in what area do you feel he still needs to improve this upcoming season?
A: Tyler Myers will not probably get any taller but at 6' 8" I'm not sure that he needs to get any taller. Myers is currently listed at 222 lbs, so he will need to grow into that frame in the next couple of years to be a physically intimidating defenseman. Myers really has the ablilty to be a good offensive defenseman and power play quarterback but needs the time to develop the skill to be an effective power play quarterback.
Q: How confident is the organization in Ryan Miller's available backup? If he were to suffer some sort of extensive injury, are the Sabres confident enough in Patrick Lalime to look to him, or would they look at Portland or free agency?
A: The organization has to be confident in Patrick Lalime because this is his third season with the team after signing a one-year deal in the offseason. The fanbase on the other hand, is less than confident. Most people blame Lalime for not being able to pick up the slack when Miller went down with an ankle injury in 2009. Lalime is 9-21-5 in the two season that he has been with the Sabres. If Lalime implodes this season, the Sabres would look at Portland goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who made his NHL debut last season.
Q: After a couple of seasons missing the playoffs, Buffalo returned once again to the postseason last year, only to lose in the first round. With two division titles and three postseason appearances over the last five years, what's the overall atmosphere around the organization and the fan base regarding head coach Lindy Ruff? We're familiar with stability behind the bench in Nashville, but is there restlessness at all given the team's step back since 2007, or is Ruff pretty secure in his job?
A: Lindy Ruff will have a job in Buffalo as long as Darcy Regier is the general manager of the team. Regier and Ruff are the longest tenured pair of coach and general manager in the league and both of these guys will be hired and fired together. After the Sabres missed the playoffs for the second year in a row in 2009, there were some calls for Lindy to be fired, but making the playoffs this year have all but quieted those critics. Both Regier and Ruff are currently in the final year of their deals so there is a possibility of a lame duck season but the likelihood of that happening is very slim.
The Predators' lone meeting with the Sabres will be on March 20, 2011 in Buffalo.