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By Pierre LeBrunLast year's preseason write-ups for the Buffalo Sabres played out, strangely enough, exactly as predicted. The young team found it difficult to recover from the offseason losses of co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency. A well-built team that went to back-to-back conference finals fell down the standings and out of the playoffs, a dramatic drop that had as much to do with the on-ice defections as the locker room void left by the two leaders. "Thinking realistically, it's a sport that's a business and now has an environment with a salary cap where you can't predict what's going to happen year to year," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller told ESPN.com. "The landscape changes so much that you just have to expect that you put your team together and you move forward as best you can as a whole. I think last year we weren't mature enough to handle it right off the start." The Sabres muddled through the first half of the season, trying to adjust to the losses of Briere and Drury, not to mention not having veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen in the lineup while he battled a heart problem. Buffalo turned it around in the second half, going 20-12-9, but it was too little, too late. "When we finally played well, it was the middle of the season, and toward the end when we needed to push through, I think we were a little burned out," Miller said. "And there may have been a little bit of a panic. But we've been through tough situations before, and I think this coming year, with the additions of some veteran guys and another year under our belt, we should be hungry to get back at the top of the division and the top of the conference."
By Jay FeasterThe Sabres will once again benefit from the stability created by rewarding GM Darcy Regier with a contract extension and keeping the league's longest-running GM/coaching tandem intact. Regier and Lindy Ruff are in total synch with one another, enabling them to make decisions for the right reasons and the long-term success of the franchise. Buffalo's psyche will also see improvement this season. The high-profile free-agent defections in the summer of 2007, along with the massive offer sheet tendered to youngster Tomas Vanek are in the past; everyone can now focus on what lies ahead. Look for Vanek to have a bounce-back season, while talented Derek Roy and clutch Drew Stafford will build on their 2007-08 performances. Mighty-might prospect Nathan Gerbe is one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the sport and will electrify the Sabres faithful if he makes the team.
With a talented and mobile blue line and a rising star in net in Ryan Miller, look for the Sabres to challenge for the division title and qualify for the playoffs. Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2001-02 season before resigning last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.