2014-15 Buffalo Sabres Preview

(SportsNetwork.com) - There were few positives to take away from Buffalo's dismal 2013-14 season, and there is little hope 2014-15 will be any better.

After finishing dead last in the NHL last season the good news is the Sabres can't do any worse.

Buffalo gained 48 points in as many games during the lockout-shortened season of 2013 and only managed four more points (52) over an 82-game schedule last season. The campaign marked one of the lowest points in Sabres history, as the club finished dead last in the league for the first time and set an NHL post- expansion record for fewest goals in a season with 150.

General manager Tim Murray took over for the fired Darcy Regier in November of last season. Murray is tasked with leading Buffalo's rebuilding project, which could take a while judging by the team's disastrous showing in 2013-14.

Buffalo heads into 2014-15 as the favorites to finish last in the NHL and land the top pick in next summer's draft. The Sabres didn't get the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 because Florida won the draft lottery, but Buffalo did grab centerman Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick. Hopefully, Reinhart, and whomever Buffalo takes with another high pick in 2015 can help lead the Sabres out of the doldrums, but for now it appears the cloudy days are here to stay.

Murray did bring in some veteran help this summer via trades and free-agent signings, but it's unlikely forwards Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta or defensemen Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros are capable of turning the Sabres' fortunes around in 2014-15.

The Sabres were easily the worst team in the league season and that was with former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in net for most of the campaign before he was dealt to St. Louis.

It's going to be another long season in Buffalo, as the franchise tries to get back on its feet. Perhaps there will be small victories along the way for head coach Ted Nolan's young club, but finishing anywhere other than last in the Atlantic Division seems like a pipe dream.

FORWARDS - The Sabres are not expected to be a high-scoring team in 2014-15, but they should be able to improve upon their historically awful showing from last season.

Moulson expects to play left wing on the top line after rejoining Buffalo this summer on a five-year, $25 million deal. The 30-year-old originally came to the Sabres as part of the trade which sent former Buffalo star Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders last October. Moulson recorded 11 goals and 29 points in a 44-game run with the Sabres before he was dealt to Minnesota at the trade deadline.

All told, Moulson notched 23 goals and 28 assists in 75 contests with Buffalo, the Wild and Islanders in 2013-14 and he's a good bet to lead the Sabres in goals this season.

Tyler Ennis is Buffalo's top centerman, albeit an undersized one at 5-foot-9. Ennis finished second on Buffalo with 43 points on 21 goals and 22 assists last season while leading the club in games played (80).

Drew Stafford, who is entering a contract year, has joined Moulson and Ennis on the top line during the preseason. Stafford notched 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 70 games last season.

There's a possibility the Sabres' remaining three centermen all could be 20 years old or younger at the start of the season. Reinhart could stick with the NHL club months after being drafted, while Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko also could get playing time in Buffalo.

Reinhart, who will turn 19 years old on Nov. 6, has been billed as the total package and Buffalo is going to find out if he's NHL-ready. The British Columbia native doesn't have anything left to prove at the junior level after recording 128 points (49G, 86A) in 73 games -- regular season and playoffs combined -- for the Kootenay Ice in 2013-14.

If Reinhart sticks with the NHL club, he's likely to play on Buffalo's second or third line. Girgensons, who had eight goals and 14 assists in 70 games as an NHL rookie last season, is aiming to play on one of those lines as well.

Gionta, Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson and Chris Stewart expect to battle for the wing spots on the second and third lines.

Gionta, a 35-year-old native of Rochester, New York, was signed to a three- year, $12.75 million contract in the offseason. The former Montreal Canadiens captain recorded 40 points (18G, 22A) for the Habs last season. Gionta also added one goal and six assists in the playoffs to help the team reach the Eastern Conference finals .

Hodgson, meanwhile, was Buffalo's leading scorer in 2013-14, registering 44 points on 20 goals and 24 assists. The 24-year-old ended the season strong after being moved from center to left wing.

Foligno had 19 points (7G, 12A) in 74 games last season, while Stewart went without a point in five games with Buffalo following a trade from St. Louis. Stewart had 15 goals and 11 assists in 58 games with the Blues.

Since he's not suited for a fourth-line role, Grigorenko's best chance at getting NHL minutes this season probably would involve Reinhart being demoted or an injury of some kind. Otherwise, veteran centerman Torrey Mitchell may fill the last centerman spot with Cody McCormick, who signed a three-year, $4.5 million over the summer, playing one of the wings.

The final forward position is up for grabs, as Zac Dalpe, Brian Flynn, Matt Ellis and Nicolas Deslauriers all have a chance to play with the NHL club.

DEFENSE - Buffalo's defense wasn't nearly as bad as the club's dreadful offense, but the Sabres did finish 25th in the league with an average of 2.96 goals allowed per game.

The biggest addition to Buffalo's blue line came July 1 when Murray dealt a second-round pick in the 2016 draft to land Gorges.

The longtime Canadiens defenseman was expected to be in the running for Montreal's captaincy after Gionta left, but wound up in Buffalo instead. The 30-year-old has four seasons remaining on a six-year, $23.4 million deal and is coming off a 14-point season (1G, 13A) over 66 games.

With Buffalo buying Christian Ehrhoff out of his contract, that left Tyler Myers as the likely No. 1 defenseman in terms of minutes. The 6-foot-8 Myers has struggled to live up to his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season of 2009-10. The 24-year-old had 22 points on nine goals and 13 assists in 62 games last season.

After the first pairing of Gorges and Myers, the Sabres will slide Meszaros and either young blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen or veteran Andre Benoit into their top-four.

Meszaros, 28, is an offensive-minded defenseman prone to lapses in his own end. He had 22 points (7G, 15A) in 52 games with Boston and Philadelphia last season.

Ristolainen, the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft, had two goals and two assists in 34 games as an NHL rookie in 2013-14, while Benoit recorded 28 points (7G, 21A) in 79 tilts with Colorado.

Veteran Mike Weber could battle for minutes on the third pairing with young guys like Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk and Chad Ruhwedel.

GOALTENDING - With Miller gone as part of last season's purge, Jhonas Enroth is left as the likely No. 1 goaltender in Buffalo.

Enroth, 26, has proven to be a capable backup over the last several years, but it's unclear how he'll respond to being the top goaltending option for the first time in his career. He went 4-17-5 with a 2.82 goals against average in 28 appearances last season, but his save percentage (.911) was respectable.

The Swedish backstop has registered a 2.75 GAA and .913 save percentage over 81 career games.

There is a chance Enroth could lose the No. 1 job to Michal Neuvirth, who was acquired from Washington at last season's trade deadline. The 26-year-old Czech backstop has a career 59-43-13 record and a lifetime 2.67 GAA and .911 save percentage.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Making the playoffs isn't a goal on Buffalo's radar in 2014-15, and truthfully, it could be a few seasons before the club has a legitimate chance at returning to the postseason. The main goal this season is for some of the Sabres' young players to show a significant step forward in their development. With the bar set so low in Western New York, even challenging Florida for seventh place in the eight-team Atlantic Division would be a positive sign for the lowly Sabres.