Is 2010 The Year The Sabres Ice A Goon Squad Again?
Coming in to the 2010/2011 season, the Sabres have Paul Gaustad signed to an immovable contract and both Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta inked to brand-new extensions. Is this the year the Sabres put a competent fourth line, goon squad on the ice again?
The short answer is, yes, I think they do. The long answer follows.
My projected fourth line for the Sabres this season is Cody McCormick at left wing, Paul Gaustad at center, and Patrick Kaleta at right wing. Goose is in the third year of his four year contract that overpays the above-average 4th line center, while Kaleta will be entering the first year of his new two-year deal and McCormick will being his one-year deal with the Sabres. All the players’ deals are one-way deals, which means that they get paid the same amount in the AHL if they get demoted as they are in the NHL. Typically, one-way deals mean AHL time isn’t likely.
All three skaters had career years statistically as well. While Goose’s overall scoring dropped, he maintained his high of 12 goals per season while becoming a clutch faceoff man. Kaleta lit the lamp 10 times, twice shorthanded, while becoming a mainstay on the Sabres sterling penalty kill. McCormick experienced his highest scoring (17g, 29p) and penalty minute (168) totals of his career in 09/10, albeit with the Portland Pirates, but showed Sabres fans a scoring touch coupled with his temper during his short call-up during the first round loss to the Bruins.
I think the three players compliment each other well. Gaustad is a top-five faceoff in the NHL who has an excellent chance to win any draw you send him out for, while McCormick and Kaleta are both fast wingers who can pester and grind with the best of them. Kaleta is an interesting case especially, as his scoring touch came seemingly out of left field until you realized he spent all summer practicing his actual hockey skills. With all three players willing to sacrifice the body to make plays, go to the dirty spots on the ice, and battle to open up spots, this line could be one of the most effective goon squads in the league.
And that’s what they’d be, too – a goon squad. Three players, two of them big, with the fists and fury to respond to a line brawl or roughed-up goaltender with aplomb. In fact, recent memory would have Sabres fans recalling that Goose and McCormick were two-thirds of the hit squad that jumped Chara during game five in Buffalo. Add in Kaleta, who is becoming a formidable middle-weight instead of the turtle his reputation suggests he is, and the Sabres have a line to fear once again. Especially since their last goon squad line couldn’t even beat up the Pizza Line during the infamous Drury game.
The crux here is injuries. Kaleta’s penchant for missing time due to drawn cheap shots is eclipsing his old reputation for turtling, and his style of play isn’t helping at all. Goose hasn’t been quite the monster he used to be, and some of it could be attributed to possible injury issues as well (some folks theorize one of his shoulders is pretty shot).
If these guys can’t stay healthy, the as-of-yet unnamed line may not even come to fruition. But if they can stay on the ice, watch the eff out.