The excitement is returning for Buffalo Sabres fans. Training camp opened Sunday – only four months or so late – and the season will start next weekend.
Soon enough, the thoughts will solely turn to the product on the ice.
And, in case memories need to be jogged, there were still numerous questions on the ice after last summer.
This is the same team that – even with a 16-4-4 run to end the season – missed the playoffs in 2011-12. The same team that couldn't get the goal or stop it needed to beat bad teams. The same team that could not have bought a win in December and January with the entirety of Terry Pegula's bank account.
But that hasn't dampened enthusiasm for the abbreviated 2013 season starting Sunday. Coach Lindy Ruff said the players reported early for physicals when training camp opened Sunday and there are no ill effects from the near-miss that was last season:
"Everybody's upbeat and positive and ready to go."
They'd better be if this team is going to return to the playoffs. Most of the roster is the same as last season, which saw slumps from Tyler Myers (who did miss a month with a hand injury), Thomas Vanek (who scored 26 goals, his second-lowest NHL total), Christian Ehrhoff (who tallied only five goals after back-to-back 14-goal seasons) and Robyn Regehr (who registered a -12).
Bounce-back seasons from these four players would solidy Buffalo's status as a contender. So, too, would Steve Ott adding the toughness and tenacity that's been anticipated since he was acquired from Dallas over the summer for Derek Roy, who was as noted for his half-hearted lollygags to the bench during line changes as his occasionally brilliant goals. And getting a full season out of the line of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno is intriguing.
But for now, all we can go on are previous results. And those, as fans may recall, fell flat and left a bitter taste in the mouth of every blue and gold fan.
This is the same squad that entered last season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Those hopes aren't nearly as keyed-up this season, nor should they be.
At least to start, Sabres fans should simply hope the team doesn't make them wish the lockout were still ongoing after the first 10 games. The Sabres should achieve well beyond that level. But we've heard that before.Tags: Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Hockey, NHL