Fantasy sports have become a huge element of every professional league including the NHL. The popularity is huge, men, women, young and old are testing their knowledge against each other every week for bragging rights and possibly cash. No matter the team, there is always value with certain players on the roster. While projections for the Buffalo Sabres might not be very high, there are still some players to keep an eye on.
The closest thing to a sure thing with the Buffalo Sabres is Thomas Vanek. Last season, Vanek had 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points in just 38 games. In addition, despite playing for the Sabres, who finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and had a goal differential of minus 32, Vanek himself, was just a minus one, so he does not hurt his fantasy owners who have +/- as a stat category. Vanek also contributed to the team’s power play, even though it ranked 29th in the league. The Sabres scored 23 power-play goals. Nine of those were from Vanek, and he assisted on five others. Vanek also makes sure to get pucks on the net. He had 119 shots on goal in last year’s abbreviated season. That is an average of just over three per game. So if you have to have a Sabre on your fantasy team, it should be Vanek.
Ryan Miller continues to fall into this category, but his position depends on a number of things. First, how will Jhonas Enroth be used? His performance at the IIHF World Championships, where he back-stopped Sweden to a gold medal could see an increase from his workload of last season. He did play in 12 games factoring in 10 decisions.
What could affect Miller’s value even more is if he does get traded. If so his value severely depends on where he goes. Still, even last year, in a down team year, Miller still won 50 per cent of his games, finishing with a record of 17-17-5. For those paying attention to goalie stats, he had a .915 save percentage, which was fourth best in his career. Miller also had a goals against average of 2.81, a very respectable number for a 12th place team. The only number that is of concern was his lack of shutouts (zero). While the GAA was down, fantasy owners would like to have seen a few more donuts to boost their numbers. Either way, Miller gets the starts, which turn into points.
Two players that could turn out to be great fantasy pick-ups are Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis. Beginning with Hodgson, when Vanek scores, many times a pass is coming from Hodgson. The Sabres will use him as their number one centre. Last season, he scored 14 goals and added 19 assists. He was a minus player at minus four but, much like Vanek, for the team, it is not that bad. He also added four power play points (three goals, one assist). The knock on Hodgson is his faceoff per cent (46.8 last season). If your league counts that, you may want to be careful when selecting Hodgson. Still, as a depth player on your team, Hodgson can often be looked over.
Tyler Ennis fits into this category because, much like Hodgson, he gets time with Vanek. Last season, Ennis found chemistry after Jason Pomminville was traded to Minnesota and got top line minutes. He finished the year with 31 points (10 goals and 21 assists) and could continue to feed the other two if he gets time on the line.
Take A Chance
If you are the gambling type, two players on the Sabres could be high risk, high reward for your fantasy team. Drew Stafford and Ville Leino both had disappointing years. For Leino it was because he only appeared in eight games, due to injury. He still had two goals and four assists. Leino didn’t get bought out this summer so you have to think he will be motivated to prove that was a good decision. He could finally put up the numbers that the Sabres thought he would provide, provided he stays healthy.
As for Drew Stafford, last season it seemed like there was a counter somewhere timing how long it had been since he scored. Stafford only had 18 points last season, which was a career low for him. His six goals was the lowest total of his career, even considering the shortened season. At 27-years-old it would be tough to imagine that Stafford is on the decline and could be in store for a bounce back year.
With so much young talent on the Sabres you could make a case for many players but a pair of names that could end up being stars are Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons. In the case of Foligno, the Sabres have been waiting for him to break through for the last couple of seasons and this might be the year. Last season, he had five goals and 13 assists while averaging just 13:37 in ice time. If he gets more time, he could become a solid top-six option for the team and valuable for fantasy owners.
This one might be a deep sleeper, but not too many fans and people associated with the Sabres. Girgensons seems to be behind Mikhail Grigorenko in terms of top prospects, but those who have seen Girgensons play, know his potential. If Girgensons makes the regular roster, he could be a contender for the Calder Trophy. He is also not a bad option for those in keeper leagues that have space to stash prospects.
Now that these players have been identified, remember that despite all the analysis that goes in to fantasy hockey, so many factors play in and anything can happen. But if you have to include some Sabres, you now know who and what to look for.
An avid sports enthusiast, Darren presently is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Golf Association of Ontario. He has served as a Sports Editor with Etcetera Publications and colour commentator on TV Cogeco’s junior hockey coverage. He has covered a wide range of junior and professional sports including: hockey, golf, baseball and football to name a few.