Pegula Era, Cap Crunch Changing Fans’ Perception of Players

It’s nothing personal.

We’re running a business now here in Buffalo, and our business goal is the Stanley Cup. Anything or anyone that gets in the way of that better watch out, because we’re all becoming a little bossy when it comes down to the employees that wear Blue and Gold sweaters.

It wasn’t too long ago when stop-gap players like Shaone Morrisonn were appreciated in this town. Hey, he showed up to work, did his best, and we rooted for him. Heck, even Steve Montador was put up on a pedestal last season, supported with hope and fervor by the fan base despite his glaring inconsistencies that were bad enough to earn him a healthy scratch for Game Seven against Philly (only the most important game of the season).

Still, we rooted for those guys. Now, Montador is out, and Morrisonn’s name is being typed into pink slips on Twitter and message boards across the Web. And it doesn’t stop there.

Jason Pominville, one of our longer tenured and favorite pieces of our Buffalo “population,” and the subject to much of the fan base’s great concern since his tendon was sliced in Game Five of the playoffs last year, is a topic of trade talk among us. No matter that he has a no trade clause – the guy carries a $5.3 million cap hit until the 2013-14 season. He’s not good enough for that. Off with his head.

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I'm not innocent, either.

We are a long suffering fan base who not too long ago would do a spit take upon hearing about the signing of a Ville Leino. Well, we did – but the real spit take happened when we heard how much we paid for him. Plus, he’s not really a center, all the time. And we wanted Brad Richards. Leino, you’re on notice.

How about that Christian Ehrhoff – contract? The best offensive defenseman to join the team since Brian Campbell, and the winner of the Babe Pratt Trophy in Vancouver as the team’s best defenseman in 2010 and 2011, carries a bankroll with him so large that folks were shocked not so much that we signed him, but were shocked more so by the dollar signs. Is he really worth this much money? Ehrhoff, you’re on notice, too.

This is, of course, uncharted ice for Sabres fans. Blame it on adjustment – blame it on this ridiculous heat wave if you want, but aren’t we all a little to eager to lop off some heads?

Andrej Sekera, our best up and coming offensive defenseman* and easy member of a top-4 pairing, was locked up for four years in a clever contract that only pays him $1.75 mil for his last two seasons. That is an incredible bargain on a player who has shown consistent growth, and last year began to wow fans with his rink-long rushes. But a $2.75 million cap hit has fans yelling “Trade him now, while he has value!” Yes, we’re over the cap sports fans, but does this mean we’re giving up on one of our brighter futures, over $500k? Give me a break.

*Marc-Andre Gragnani is our best up and coming defenseman, you say? Let’s argue that point after he plays half a season.

The most obvious candidate for the guillotine has been the returning Ales Kotalik. AlKo carries a $3 million cap hit this year. Instead of giving him a shot with the coach that knows him best, we’re already demanding that he gets the blade before trial on ice. “Bury him in the AHL,” many say. “Trade him for a bag of puck buffer!” say others (even though he does have a no trade clause).

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This could use some blue accents.

No one said that building a champion would be easy. I just never realized it could be this ugly. Here’s some other ideas being bandied about by fans, and even some media, alike:

  • Jhonas Enroth played some good games, so why not get rid of Ryan Miller? He’s got that “trade value” thing going on, and his cap hit is $6.25 mil. Surely there’d be a good return for an all-world, franchise goalie.
  • “Thomas Vanek for Ales Hemsky” is a trade proposal I read online recently. Yea, Vanek emerged as captain material last season and is one of our strongest players with the puck, but then again, his $7.142 million cap hit is just too much. Apparently switching him for the oft-injured Hemsky would be a good idea, because, you know, he’s cheaper.
  • Brad Boyes – it’s been fun. You put up some nice points in the regular season before you were taken out of your natural wing position and forced to play center during the playoffs. AHL or trade, we really don’t care, Buffalonians just want you and your $4 million cap hit out of town.
  • Jordan Leopold? That guy and his $3 million cap hit can stay, but only if Sekera goes.

Curiously, the only veteran name not tossed around has been Derek Roy. Suddenly people are looking past his sometimes selfish style of play and are buying into his bargain $4 million cap hit.

Goodness.

How things have changed.

Again, no one said building a champion would be easy, and fans have always berated certain players throughout the year. But this roster-berating is getting a little out of hand.

Being over the cap is a fun but unsettling place for Sabres fans to be. We all want the right players, at the right price, in the right position, and staying committed once the skates hit the ice. Fair enough.

But until they hit the ice, can’t we give them all a little breather? It’s time to lay the pitchforks and torches down, and let Darcy and Lindy work this roster “mess” out. “Mess” being in quotations, because it’s actually a blessing to have this much veteran and youthful depth to do business with, for once.

I guess that is the key word – “business.” This new kind of business is going to take some real gettin’ used to in our town.

Go Sabres.

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