Sabres: Turning the corner?
With their money problems behind them, the Sabres can focus on the ice.
The 2002-03 season was memorable for the Sabres for all the wrong reasons.
Chris Drury and talent up front have the Sabres believing they have emerged from the ashes and face a much brighter future. Playing an extra game against their division foes won't hurt either. No team will benefit more from rekindling old rivalries than the Sabres.
Connolly, probably most of all, will be helped by Drury's arrival. To this point, beginning with the hype that accompanied being taken by the Islanders with the No. 5 overall pick in the 1999 draft, Connolly has not exactly thrived under the pressure. It didn't help that he arrived in Buffalo with Taylor Pyatt as part of the deal that sent former captain Michael Peca packing. Some Buffalo fans still haven't forgiven the front office for allowing Peca to stage a year-long holdout in 2000-01 before trading him away. Connolly has to produce this year, no doubt about it.
Don't count out top prospect Derek Roy, who was the Sabres' second choice (No. 32 overall) in the 2001 draft, from making his presence known. Though small at 5-foot-9, the 20-year-old racked up 78 points -- 28 of them goals -- last season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario League.
Nevertheless, if Maxim Afinogenov can recover from his past concussion problems, he'll add a great deal. They also have Miroslav Satan -- last year's leading scorer with 75 points; Ales Kotalik, who scored 21 goals as a rookie; J.P. Dumont, who simply has to improve on his 14 goals from last season lest he be left out in the cold, and Jochen Hecht, who had 26 points in 49 games. They are not the most well-known team in the league by any means, but Ruff has a strong work ethic and tries to impart that to his players.
The last line of defense is once again expected to be Martin Biron, who some have said will have the top job by default. If Biron doesn't step up as the front office wants and expects, you might see more of Mika Noronen. This season, at least, they'll have a whole lot more to work with.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe is a requent contributor to ESPN.com.