52-24-6, fourth in East; lost in conference finals to Carolina
KEY ADDITIONS D Jaroslav Spacek
KEY LOSSES RW J.P. Dumont, RW Mike Grier, D Jay McKee
Success came at a
price for the Sabres, who for the first time in decades enter the season as
Stanley Cup contenders. After watching his team come within one period of
advancing to the Cup finals last June, general manager Darcy Regier had only
four players under contract for 2006--07, and that proved costly in the
off-season. Over the summer a league-high 12 players filed for arbitration, and
the team's payroll soared from $29 million in '05--06 to more than $41 million.
The good news for owner Tom Golisano? Season-ticket sales have kept pace.
"Expectations are going to be heightened," says goalie Ryan Miller, who
was a big reason for Buffalo's run deep into the postseason last year.
One casualty of
the arbitration process was popular winger J.P. Dumont, whom the Sabres cut
loose instead of paying the $2.9 million an arbitrator deemed he was worth.
Buffalo also lost some of its muscle when power forward Mike Grier and
shot-blocking defenseman Jay McKee departed as free agents. But the core of the
team, led by co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury (box, opposite page) and
right wing Maxim Afinogenov, remains largely intact. In addition, the Sabres'
defense, among the most mobile and skilled in the league, was bolstered by the
signing of free-agent Jaroslav Spacek.
Fast, skilled and
hardworking, these are no longer the Sabres of the late 1990s, who depended
heavily on goalie Dominik Hasek to get them a win. "We had a reputation as
a goaltender team stuck on defensive hockey," says coach Lindy Ruff.
"[Now] all areas of our game [are] very good."
52-21-9, first in East; lost in second round to Buffalo
KEY ADDITIONS G Martin Gerber
KEY LOSSES D Zdeno Chara, G Dominik Hasek, RW Martin Havlat
Same old, same
old for the Senators, who finished atop the conference last year only to
founder in the postseason. If you're counting, Ottawa has advanced past the
first round only four times in the last nine seasons. This year's team has less
skill but more grit, a development that coach Bryan Murray hopes could finally
yield the sort of grinding team that can make it deep into the playoffs.
Ottawa filled the
defensive hole left by Zdeno Chara's free-agent departure with mobile,
offensive-minded Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing. And in search of some consistency
in goal ( Dominik Hasek missed 26 games last year with a groin injury), the
Senators signed free agent Martin Gerber, who had 38 wins for Carolina but lost
his starting job to Cam Ward after bombing in the playoffs. "[ Gerber's] a
strong goalie," says Murray. "The guys can have confidence that he's
going to be there every night."
Ottawa will still
rely on the league's top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason
Spezza (112 goals combined in 2005--06) for the bulk of its scoring and is
expecting continued improvement from second-year forward Patrick Eaves (20
goals in 58 games last season). Spezza underwent back surgery for a herniated
disk in late May but should start the season at full strength. On this team,
however, it's all about how strong the players are at the end of the