Lately, Darcy Regier has become a real hustler with Terry Pegula’s bank roll.
His first test as a GM without financial shackles was to see what he could simply go out and buy.
He flexed some of his classic GM muscle when he stole Robyn Regehr (and a 2nd round pick) from the Calgary Flames. Then the spending began.
He traded for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff, and then signed him to a stay in Hockey Heaven by draining a Swiss bank or two by including a signing bonus of 8 million dollars (and a further “signing” bonus of $5 million for the 2012-13 season).
It's not robbery. It's "cap circumvention." Still, it makes fans look at Regier as one cool outlaw.
Then, he pried Ville Leino out of contention for the Stanley Cup with the Flyers by overpaying the once-center-turned-winger-turned-center-again $4.5 million per year until the 2016-17 season. That’s a nice reward for a NHLer with a career goal scoring history of 5, 4, 2, and 19. (The wager is that the 19 is the real measure, and he’ll only get better from there. Fair enough – he does have 28 points in 37 playoff games.)
Now, the Pegula Bucks are far from spent, but Darcy has hit the wall known as the NHL salary cap (circa 2004).
The fun's over, Darcy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love living in Hockey Heaven, and I know, and have written about, every aspect about it that I hold dear to my hockey heart. But one can’t help but look at these contracts and note that money played a major role in getting two of the aforementioned three here. Perhaps, it was the sole reason.
Pegula and Black are still creating this thing, folks. It is going to take time to convince the NHL world that this Heaven ain’t no hustle – that Heaven is under our feet here in Buffalo (on the ice) as well as over our heads. One look at those silly-rich signing bonuses for Ehrhoff tells us that no one is buying in – yet.
Cashing in? Yes.
With a couple stray RFA’s yet to sign in Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jhonas Enroth, Darcy is already up against the wall. Bank NHL won’t accept any more checks from Hockey Heaven, (so long as the final account is doesn’t go 10% over the cap limit). Fitting these guys in, lawfully and reasonably, is test #2.
From there, it’s all about finishing the job. He has all the tools a GM needs to build a champion, and many would say the Sabres are likely one piece away from that – test #3.
One very, very, elusive piece.
A bona fide #1 center – or at least, a true upgrade or two that make the Sabres a true, dominant contender.
This franchise is not a joke anymore. Time to prove it to the rest of the world.
Pegula did his research, and told us during his first presser that Regier was his man for the job. And boy, what a job it is. Swinging trades and negotiating with agents is one thing, but Regier has to do that with 40 years of broken promises and roster hoaxes on his back. Don’t try and argue that we were close in the 70’s, or the 90’s, or even in that magical 2005-07 run.
This is the first time that the Buffalo Sabres are legitimately a big-market team in a small-market city.
Pegula’s working hard to convince the world that this is where Cups will be won, as is Ted Black. But, in the end, it’s up to Regier to fulfill the promises of Hockey Heaven, and to sign players on the heart-tuggin’, ink-heavy bottom line.
From there, Lindy can enjoy putting the whole shebang together into a Nickel City Championship.
It’s never been done before (apologies, of course, to the AFL, and our beloved Bandits).
If you ever really wanted to know how good a GM Regier really is, well, we’re all about to find out. He’s up against one of the most opportune and yet greatest challenges in Buffalo Sports history.
He’s passed every test, so far.
Now, the real work begins. We’ve been fleeced before. This time, it’s gotta’ be different right? ‘Cuz we’re done with this. Period.
Go get ’em, Darcy.