The Buffalo Sabres are dead last in the league in goals scored. With only 86 goals scored in 47 games played, the Sabres are averaging 1.83 goals scored per game. There is no level of organized hockey where 1.83 goals scored per game is going to win a team a lot of games. In the NHL, the problem is magnified when the Sabres have to regularly play teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs with its 141 goals scored in 50 games for a 2.82 goals scored per game average.
The fans in Buffalo address this problem with the blanket statement of “the team needs more scorers.” While that is fundamentally true, it doesn’t really address the problem. Former Sabres winger Thomas Vanek is a goalscorer, and trading him was the wrong move because Vanek is the kind of opportunistic scorer that the team needs. He is most efficient when he is receiving passes from his center and finding the perfect spot to shoot the puck.
The problem wasn’t Vanek, it was the centers who played for Buffalo.
A good example of a player who is doing the team no good is center Tyler Ennis. He spins around on the ice with the puck on his stick as he looks for the perfect pass. The kid has great hands and tremendous speed, but he has absolutely no offensive creativity. The center is supposed to be the playmaker on his line, with his wingers being the snipers who put the puck in the net.
Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks is an example of the kind of player Buffalo needs. Sedin has nine goals in 50 games played, but he also has 31 assists. He is a playmaker with a strong sense of offensive creativity.
The closest the Sabres have to a real playmaker is center Cody Hodgson. He has 14 assists in 37 games played and has a tremendous sense of what is going on at any given moment on the ice. Hodgson is the exact kind of center that interim head coach Ted Nolan likes to have, and Hodgson should have a long and productive career in Buffalo.
The problem is that Buffalo has no other centers on its roster like Hodgson. Ennis has played 47 games this season and he only has 11 assists. He is not a playmaker, and he is not the kind of player the Sabres need going forward.
Nolan is a very old-fashioned kind of hockey guy. He believes that his centers should be playmakers, his wingers should be grinders and snipers, his defensemen should be tough and intimidating and his goalie should be the best in the league. At this point, the only element the Sabres have that fits any of those criteria is the best goalie in the league. Beyond that, the Sabres lack all of the fundamental elements of a winning hockey team.
When Nolan and GM Tim Murray start building the new Sabres in the offseason, look for the team to start by picking up centers that can make plays. The fans will probably not recognize the names of those centers, but those centers will become very important building blocks for the future of the franchise.