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.  


George Prax's picture

I like the Sabres forwards. Quite balanced and potentially one of the better third lines in the league. Stafford, Roy, and Leino are going to have to step up big time though and carry the team. They also seem to have some good depth in the prospect pool.

jcamp28's picture

It's a good mix, and with their revamped defense and already strong goaltending the Sabres will be a tough team to play against.

Marco Perruzza's picture

i really liked your article. Unfortunately I think Leino will be a flop for the Sabres. It seems like the Sabres spent money this summer just for the sake of spending money. Both Ehrhoff and Leino were secondary players on their teams and cashed in on a weak free agent summer. My concern with Leino is that if he is as good as the Sabres think both the Flyers and Red Wings would not have let him go. The Wings and Flyers are great teams at identifying talent and if they both thought Leino was expendable then I think he will disappoint fans at the HSBC.

George Prax's picture

Ehrhoff and Leino were two of the most underrated players over the last couple of years, and that seems to be the type of players that fit the Sabres motto. I doubt they'll live up to their contracts but they'll be useful players for the Sabres. Leino was expendable for the Wings and the Flyers because those teams were stacked offensively, but that doesn't mean he's a bad player. Same for the Canucks and Ehrhoff.