A Preview of Stanley Cup Hopeful Ex-Sabres

Chris Stewart plays a gritty style that should help the Wild in the playoffs.

Chris Stewart plays a gritty style that should help the Wild in the playoffs.

The Buffalo Sabres enter a second consecutive postseason at the very bottom of the NHL standings, far from where the players themselves had hopes of ending up. However the outlook is not as bleak for everyone who was a part of the Sabres organization. Apart from those who are excited about getting an earlier tee time, the Sabres also traded away a few players near or at the trade deadline who have found their role on high caliber NHL squads.  

Chris Stewart was one of the better players the Sabres had this season and his gritty style of play caught the eye of the surprising Minnesota Wild. At the trade deadline, Minnesota sat in seventh place in the Western Conference with 73 points, not necessarily comfortable playoff contention. Calgary and the defending Stanley Cup Champion (LA Kings) were biting at their heels as well for the two wild card spots. The Wild knew that they needed to add something rugged to their second line in order to compete in a hard hitting Western Conference playoff push; Chris Stewart was exactly that.  Stewart amassed three goals and eight assists totaling 11 points during his 20 games with Minnesota this season. He fits in perfectly on the fourth line with long time Wild veteran Captain Mikko Koivu and the 23-year-old left wing Jason Zucker. Stewart provides that grinding, puck battling style that allows players like Zucker and Koivu to stay out of hard nosed battles and look toward open ice positions to create more offensive chances. The addition of Stewart also allowed the Wild more freedom to spread their scoring to their third line by moving an up and coming Nino Niederreiter to the right wing with Charlie Coyle and former Buffalo 40 goal scorer Thomas Vanek. Stewart has 6 points in 19 playoff games through his career and is playing his former playoff rental team, the St. Louis Blues, in the first round.

 Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers were both players that most fans were happy to see leave. Buffalo was not going to be the team that caused Stafford's resurgence, and it seems like the Sabres only stunted Myers’ growth in his time here during the rebuild. These two former Sabres first liners found their way onto the Winnipeg Jets roster in a deal made just before the trade deadline that sent Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian to the Sabres, with other picks and prospects involved. Drew Stafford played 50 games for the Sabres this season and was able to record 9 goals and 15 assists, while Tyler Myers tallied just 13 points in his 47 games in Buffalo this season. Stafford added a much needed left wing to the Jets second line after a slew of injuries and bad luck forced Winnipeg to look at other teams for playoff ready options. Stafford seems to have also found new life on this team, having found the back of the net 9 times, and totaling 19 points through just 26 games with the club, while also filling in on the second power play unit.

Both Myers and Stafford have contributed offensively.  (USA Today)

Both Myers and Stafford have contributed offensively.  (USA Today)

 Myers is paired with Tobias Enstrom on the Jets top defensive pair and also fills in on the Jets second power play unit, one step below his role in Buffalo. His point totals may be aggravating to Sabres fans, however. In 24 games with the Jets, Myers has accumulated 15 points, well below 13 points he had in the 47 games he played for Buffalo this season. To say Myers time here was frustrating becomes ever more troublesome seeing the quick success he has had with his new team.  That is to be somewhat expected however since he is playing alongside a much more talented team.  Stafford's playoff numbers are just a bit shy of Myers', with 7 points in 20 playoff appearances and Myers achieving just above a half point per playoff contest.  These two should be a great addition to an already fearsome Jets team taking on the Anaheim Ducks in round one.

 Michal Neuvirth is the second goaltender in the past two seasons that the Buffalo Sabres have traded to the New York Islanders. The Islanders made a huge splash in the offseason signing former Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and former Bruins blue liner Johnny Boychuk, both of whom are experienced Stanley Cup champions. These two defenseman brought exactly what the Islanders needed at the back end after their acquisition of Jaroslav Halak last year.  

The one thing this Islanders team needed was a solid backup goaltender who could take some pressure off of Halak during the playoffs. I'm not so sure Neuvirth is their answer, however. Michal Neuvirth is a good goaltender who seems to find his rhythm and groove after consecutive starts. He is not the best choice for a backup in the Stanley Cup playoffs in my opinion because when he does receive his starts he tends to have some rust and it shows. Neuvirth posted a .918 save percentage and 2.98 goals against average this season with the Sabres through 27 starts, and in his 5 starts with New York tendered an unimpressive .881 save percentage, far below the average throughout his career. I personally believe the talents of  Neuvirth are best suited for a starting position. For whatever reason, Neuvirth struggles when given a backup role and I would have to it has something to do with a lack of real time game exposure. When trusted as a starter his numbers are almost always significantly better. That isn't to take anything away from the net minder, he is very capable of fulfilling his role on The Island. However, I believe he is not going to bring anything spectacular with him into the playoffs and we will see the .881 come back to haunt the Islanders in a must-win game.

Brian Flynn celebrates after a win with Carey Price. (Christian Pederson/Getty Images)

Brian Flynn celebrates after a win with Carey Price. (Christian Pederson/Getty Images)

Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell have the best shot out of any recent ex-Sabre at winning the Stanley Cup.The Montreal Canadiens are a powerhouse team who will have their quiet stud Max Pacioretty back hopefully by game two of the first round. Pacioretty's +38 leads the league in plus minus totals. The Canadiens are second in the entire league in points and a lot of that can be attributed to their goaltending.  

Carey Price leads all goaltenders in the three major categories with a career high save percentage of .933, a career high 44 wins and a 1.96 goals against average. Price also has a career high 9 shutouts on the season and is just one shy of the league-leader Marc-Andre Fluery. Price has dominated the goaltending spotlight and seems like an easy pick for the Vezina Trophy this season.  

As for Mitchell and Flynn, they have found an inconsistent role Montreal’s fourth line and haven't produced much of anything in the way of offense.  It is clear Montreal had desired player traits that they were looking for when seeking out Flynn and Mitchell. They wanted two players who could bring a very hard working and determined style of play to the ice every single game. Flynn and Mitchell both spent the bulk of the season on a team where the only way to win games was to work harder than the other team and for Montreal's fourth line these two are perfect. I don’t expect a ton of production out of either player in the playoffs, but Mitchell brings in 60 games worth of postseason experience and Flynn has enough drive to make sure his game is solid each night. Truthfully however, I do not expect any Sabres traded away this season to win the Stanley Cup.