No need to fear, Buffalo sports fans! The Sabres season is just around the corner, sure to be a much-needed break from the lackluster efforts of the Buffalo Bills thus far this season.
It will be refreshing to be able to watch games that will be nationally televised instead of worrying about which games will be blacked out. Don't get me wrong; I always have been and always will be a Bills fan, but drowning my sorrows in countless slices of Mia's pizza can only last so long before my heart stops functioning.
With goaltender Ryan Miller's outstanding play this past season for the Sabres and the United States men's hockey team participating in the Vancouver Olympic Games, Buffalo has received an abnormal amount of media attention coming into the 2010-11 National Hockey League season.
Miller, who in June won the Vezina Trophy - awarded to the league's best goaltender - seems to be approaching superstar status, which in Buffalo is almost as rare as a Bills passing touchdown (I swear I'm a Bills fan). With this increased attention and expectation definitely comes an escalated level of pressure. While Miller has become known for his cool demeanor in the net, rarely displaying any negative emotion, it will be interesting for sure to see how he handles this heightened pressure.
Much of the hype has also centered on last year's NHL Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year being awarded to Buffalo's 20-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. Rumored to have added on 20 pounds of muscle and another inch to his already monstrous 6-foot-8-inch, 220-pound frame over the off-season, Myers will most definitely be an intimidating force on defense this season.
Surprisingly, and probably most terrifyingly for Myers' opponents, the finest part of Myers' game is his skating ability. If the rumors about his height and weight gain are true, one thing to keep an eye on early on will be to see if Myers is able to maintain the incredible fluidity in skating he possessed last season.
But even if Miller and the defense live up to the hype, the star power in the back will mean absolutely nothing if the Sabres are not able to get consistent production from their forwards up top. Veteran forwards Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville will all be expected to consistently produce plays and score. If any one of these scoring options isn't working to his maximum potential, there are a handful of young guns waiting in the wings to pounce on any chance they may be presented with.
Over the off-season, Buffalo signed 35-year-old veteran center Rob Niedermayer to a one-year $1.5 million deal. While Niedermayer may not exactly be the scoring threat he once was, the fact that he did hoist Lord Stanley's Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 holds some value. Even after the Sabres' puzzling and messy divorce with local talent Tim Kennedy, the team has 14 players under the age of 22 on the current preseason roster. With the combination of youth and the increased media attention, a proven veteran winner in the locker room becomes an even greater asset to Buffalo.
After losing both starting defensemen Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder to free agency this summer, Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier attempted to bolster the Sabres' defense by signing seven-year veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold. Leopold's value and talents should be complemented by his pairing with Myers on the defensive first line. The other vacancy left on defense will have to be filled with one of Buffalo's promising minor league prospects.
While I do feel that the majority of this well-deserved attention is beneficial to the city and the team, my years of following Buffalo sports has taught me to guard my "sports heart" and not set the bar too high for any particular season. For the sake of my hairline, mental health and aerodynamic television remote, I just hope this Sabres season doesn't end with another "Wide Right," "Music City Miracle" or "Brett Hull's Skate" moment that Buffalo sports fans have had to endure in the past.
Prediction time -- Ryan Miller will score more goals this season than games the Bills will win.