Breaking Down the Sabres' Forwards
The Sabres boast a very deep and balanced corps of forwards. The one thing they lack is a true star player. Many of the forwards (Leino, Gerbe, Roy and Vanek in particular) are highly skilled, but not (yet, at least) star players. This is not necessarily a problem, however, as history has shown that if a team has three lines that can score they can be a threat to win it all. The Boston Bruins have a good top line, but don't have a true star forward. The Penguins showed this when their big guns missed the second half of last year as well.
The Sabres made a splash on July 1st by inking former Flyer Ville Leino to a six-year deal. Many people around the league believe Leino is overpaid, but when Brooks Laich, Erik Cole and Thomas Fleischmann got similar deals, Leino's contract suddenly doesn't look so bad. It will look good if Leino lives up to the money he's set to receive. He has shown excellent puck control, adept passing, an ability to finish when he choose to shoot, strong defensive ability and skill in the faceoff circle. His weaknesses are injury concerns, a tendency to turn the puck over, and hesitation to take the open shot. He will be a welcome addition to the team. He will likely be moved to center, a position he played in his native Finland. Ideal linemates for Leino would be a scorer and a net presence.
Line combinations depend a lot on chemistry, but also having the right balance of players. For example a line with three playmakers or three shooters likely wouldn't work out. The two top lines on a team should have a shooter / scorer, a playmaker who can control the puck and a guy who isn't afraid to get to the dirty areas. Third and fourth lines should ideally provide good defense and grit. Let's take a look at how the Sabres' lines can come together to fill these roles.
Line 1: Vanek-Roy-Pominville: Assuming Derek Roy can come back healthy from his quad injury there is no reason to break him up from his linemates. Before Roy's injury, this was one of the best and most consistent lines in the NHL.
Line 2: Stafford-Leino-Ennis: Much will be expected from Drew Stafford this year, it is reasonable to expect him to put up 25-35 goals if he plays on a line with Leino and Ennis. If the top two lines stay healthy and can gel quickly, the Sabres will be a very tough team to play against.
Line 3: Hecht-Gaustad-Gerbe: Hecht and Gaustad will provide plenty of jam, while Nathan Gerbe will use his speed to put defenders on spin cycle. This line will be particularly strong when matched up against opponents' third d-pairing, giving the Sabres three lines that can score.
Line 4: Kaleta-McCormick-Kotalik: A solid fourth line. If healthy, Ales Kotalik may be able to surprise some teams if they take this fourth line lightly from a defensive stand point.
These lines are only preliminary, so take this with a grain of salt. After all training camp is still a month away and with top prospects like Zack Kassian, Joel Armia and Marcus Foligno and the fact that Buffalo currently stands nearly $3.6 over the salary cap ($4.1 if you include the Gragnani signing) it should be expected that a player or two is waived or traded.