NHL 2014-15: Buffalo Sabres look to begin building after tumultuous season

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BUFFALO, New York — Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers prefers looking forward than looking back.

There isn't much good to reflect upon after a tumultuous season during which the Sabres changed their coach and general manager, and purged many remaining veterans on their way to a last-place finish.

"It was a year that you don't want to remember too long," Myers said upon arriving for the start of training camp. "Last year was obviously a bit of a mess."

It was a self-made mess, and one the Sabres intend to begin cleaning up this season.

"I think everyone is just very excited for a fresh start," Myers said. "I don't think there's anybody in the room right now that doesn't believe we can be a playoff team."

Though playoff talk might be a little premature in Buffalo, things can't get much worse than last year. The Sabres (21-51-10) set a franchise record for losses and their 150 goals scored were the fewest in the NHL's post-expansion era.

Things were so bad that Buffalo dressed nine goalies, including team employee Ryan Vinz, who was rushed into a backup role an hour after Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis. Then there was Pat LaFontaine's brief stint as team president, which ended with him resigning abruptly about three months after taking over.

The offseason has gone much smoother under general manager Tim Murray, who took over in January, and coach Ted Nolan, who was hired in November on an interim basis, and signed to a three-year contract in March.

Murray has begun rebuilding the Sabres through youth, highlighted by using the No. 2 pick to draft playmaking center Sam Reinhart. Murray also added much-needed veteran depth and leadership to complement a young lineup.

In free agency, the Sabres signed former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta as well as former Sabres forward Matt Moulson. They also acquired veteran defenseman Josh Gorges in a trade with Montreal.

"That was our message to our players: It's a fresh beginning," said Nolan, who hired a new staff that includes former NHL star Bryan Trottier. "What we went through last year, we don't want to go through that again. So we'll try to get better."

Here are some things to watch as Buffalo prepares to open the season hosting Columbus on Oct. 9:

REPLACING MILLER: Former Sabres backup Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, acquired last season in a trade with Washington, are competing for the starting job to replace Miller.

Neuvirth, who lost the starting job in Washington to Braden Holtby, has the better career numbers, with a 59-43-13 record and seven shutouts. Enroth is 25-25-12 with three shutouts but endured an 0-10-4 skid last season.

The two 26-year-olds were both selected in the second round of the 2006 draft, and finished last year with season-ending injuries.

REINHART SETTLING IN: Though he's not yet earned a roster spot, Reinhart is becoming comfortable with Buffalo. The 18-year-old joked he's already being recognized by Sabres fans, including one who offered him a lift home from a grocery store.

The question is where he might fit in the Sabres' lineup, having already skated alongside Gionta and Cody Hodgson, and Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart this preseason.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Including Reinhart, the Sabres could potentially have five players 20 or younger in their lineup.

Defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, both 2013 first-round picks, are competing for spots. Ristolainen is favored to earn regular playing time after a year developing his game with AHL Rochester.

Then there are forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo's first-round picks in the 2012 draft.

FAN FAVORITE: Gorges has quickly won over Sabres fans because of his dislike for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo's cross-border and Atlantic Division rivals.

Gorges rejected being traded to Toronto before agreeing to be dealt to Buffalo. He said he did so because he learned to dislike the Maple Leafs while playing in Montreal.

PEGULA-VILLE: Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula have a big month ahead. On Oct. 8, NFL owners are scheduled to approve the Pegulas' league-record $1.4 billion bid to buy the Buffalo Bills. The Sabres then open the following day. And the Pegula-financed $172 million HarborCenter hockey/entertainment complex being built across from the Sabres' downtown arena, is scheduled to open by the end of the month.

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