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).
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).
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.
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.
What is this salary cap thing, again?
This isn’t a problem that Sabres have had to deal with before. We were all a little giddy when Darcy Regier blew his first official wad of Pegula Bucks when he traded for Brad Boyes at the trade deadline this year, and eagerly awaited July 1st like a new hockey X-mas.
July 1st has come and gone, and goodness, those Pegula Bucks must have really been burning a hole in Regier’s wallet. Suddenly, we’re at the top of the league in salary.
Count me as not one of those in town that are labeling Boyes as a bust – yet. He did have 14 points in 21 games as the new kid, though his 1 goal on 14 shots in the playoffs really left him wanting, say, about 13 more goals there.
Remember, folks, that Boyes also plays his best when on the wing. He kept finding himself forced into the center position by Lindy Ruff, whose bench was already overflowing with wingers. Boyes is simply not effective pivoting around the offensive zone, and racing back to cover the slot in front of Miller. He’s a sniper, and his best shots come off the wing.
But then again, we now have to do math problems, and Brad Boyes salary hit stinks like long division. Boyes accounts for a cool $4mil of the monstrous $63,945,357. That is roughly 6.25%, according to my accounts payable research study. It’s a big hit, but if he blossoms with the new offense, he might be worth it.
Unfortunately, my accounts payable research also shows that our Buffalo Sabres are going to be very much in the red after they eventually sign RFA’s Andrej Sekera, Jhonas Enroth, and Marc-Andre Gragnani. There is simply no way to fit all these guys in.
We’ve got the money – finally we’ve got the money – but the miserly NHL won’t let us spend it.
The good news: if the last 10+ years have taught Darcy Regier anything, it has taught him how to dump players. Whether through trade, through AHL ceremonial burial, or through a “strange accident in the fancy new weight room,” he’ll find a way to put an audit-worthy squad of NHLers on the ice come October 7th.
"Ales ran into a cabinet."
The vast majority of Sabres fans on the Twitter are still not convinced that we have enough guys in Blue and Gold yet – primarily, we need to add a bona fide or at least better #1 center. That could work out nicely. Unless the trade partner wants prospects and picks, we could ship out some larger salaried and quality NHLers for a nice return.
As for Boyes, well, we’ll see what fate brings him, and the other Cap offenders – Pominville (5.3), Shaone Morrisonn (2.075), and Ales Kotalik (3). And dare we include Vanek (7.142) or Miller (6.25)? Nope. Those guys are safe. For now.
Well, good luck Darcy. Oh, and if you need an alibi, hit the “contact us” button at the top of the screen here.
Show me a Sabres fan who’s not thrilled with the moves the Sabres have made defensively and I’ll show you the most negative grumpy bastard in the world. You have to love what the Sabres have done to bolster the D. The offense, however, is a bit more of a question mark.
Yes, we got Ville Leino, the Finnish Finisher (ok, so he needs a better nickname, shoot me), and well, that’s it so far. Please don’t say we also got Kotalik. Many fans are rightfully a bit sad the Sabres didn’t land Brad Richards, a clear cut #1 center rather then the question mark of a center that Leino is.
While I would have loved it if the Sabres signed Richards, I believe in Regier, Ruff and Pegula. If they think Leino can play center on the 2nd line, I believe ’em. But the overall perception seems to be that the Sabres need to make another move to bolster the offense. I’m going to say they don’t need to.
Let’s look at last year: the Sabres were 9th in the league in scoring with 245 goals, just 17 goals behind league-leading Vancouver. Those 245 goals were also good enough for 4th in the Eastern Conference. What assets did we lose that would have contributed many goals? Why should we worry that we’ll slip very much?
Sure, we lost Connolly who has never had more than 18 goals. Last year he pitched in with 13 goals and 29 assists, a mark that Leino should be able to surpass.
We “lost” Niedermayer who we could have absolutely counted on to not score a goal most of the year and then score 5 at the very end of the season. Let’s say we might have gotten 5 goals and 14 assists (his 2010-2011 totals) out of him again next year.
Then there’s Mike Grier, who has never been a real goal scorer and has been slowing down with age. Of course, it’s possible the Sabres re-sign him, but assuming they don’t, he had 5 goals and 11 assists last year. Sure, he’s a great grinder and a guy you want on your team during the clutch, but he ain’t getting any younger.
Defensively there are still a couple of question marks. I love Sekera’s potential but it looks like he may be the odd man out. But that’s really ok, because for all his offensive flashiness (at times) he only had 3 goals last year. In fact he’s never had more than 4 in a year for the Sabres.
I’m hoping the Sabres sign Gragnani because it looked like he really matured down the stretch and in the playoffs but we don’t have enough sample size to go on. But scoring-wise we don’t lose much even if we do lose Gragnani – the defense is just so vastly improved. Ehrhoff’s production alone should cover for losing MAG AND Sekera.
So really, that’s about 26 goals worth of production we could potentially lose from last year. Not a whole lot, and not much that can’t be made up elsewhere.
Granted, every single team in the league gets better every year, so it’s not enough just to tread water. The Sabres need to keep up with the Joneses and improve offensively just to stay at #9 overall.
But then again the Sabres don’t NEED to improve or even stay at 9th overall in scoring. Their much-improved defense should be enough to get them into the playoffs and make a run. Slipping a little bit in the the scoring department wouldn’t hurt that much.
On offense, the Sabres (like the Goonies) are good enough. Pegula realizes that not only do you need a good team to win an NHL championship, you also need a good bit of luck, whether that’s staying healthy or getting some breaks and pucks bouncing your way in crucial moments. It’s sort of like my theory of playing in a dynasty fantasy football league: EVERY year is a year to go for it all. There should never be a rebuilding year. Assemble the best team possible, get in the playoffs and you never know what can happen.
Now, Pegula & Co. probably aren’t done working their mojo, and they’ll likely pull off a trade. But even if they stay pat from this point forward, they’ll be just fine.
That said … please go out and get us another center. Pretty please?
I’m a fan of Mike Weber.
Anyone familiar with my old blog, “buffalo74,” may remember a picture of his smiling mug on the sidebar. Under said mug, I started posting his stats after a game. Keeping track. Taking notice. At the time, it seemed no one else was.
My public service is now officially at an end, as Weber has signed onto a two year deal. The Buffalo News was wise to point out that those team-leading 158 hits were chalked up in only 58 games. That’s a pretty scary stat. Speaking of scary, here is how the defense is now shaping up:
Yes, I spelled Morrisonn wrong there, but why bother correcting it? He wants out of town, and he’ll be moved. Also, don’t take these pairings as predictions – Lindy Ruff will work that out, and likely change it up 12 times a week/game. Meanwhile, holy hell, look at that defense!
I very rarely use expletives, and I even more rarely use exclamation points, but this lineup looks very, very good.
Think of Ehrhoff as a younger version of Brian Campbell who scores and hits more, Regehr as a younger version of Toni Lydman and hits more, Myers as a vastly better Hank Tallinder, and Leopold a steady and smooth Kalinin. Add the dynamo that is Gragnani, and the sometimes-Bobby Orrish rushing ability of Andre Sekera, and this unit is something to behold, especially if you are on the opposing team.
Did you want Brad Richards? Not sold yet on Ville Leino? Take a breather.
Lindy Ruff said the #1 priority this offseason was putting together a “lockdown pair.” Our own study here revealed how our goal scoring prowess was already near the top in the East (4th overall) before the addition of Leino, and frankly, a true Cup run was dependent on upgrading and veteranizing the defense.
(Quick disclosure: readers of my previous blog, “buffalo74,” will be already familiar with most of this content – but it bears repeating.)
Tim Connolly’s days as a Sabre are done.
It’s finally time to analyze the trade that first brought Tim to Buffalo – and you’ll be surprised who the “winner” of this old trade turned out to be.
In 1999, Mike Peca captained the Sabres all the way to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. Soon after, he would sit out the 2000-01 season in a contract dispute, and was finally traded to the New York Islanders for Connolly and Taylor Pyatt.
In 2000-01, Peca, indeed, was in a pickle. It was a jarring dispute. The whole situation filled fans with piss and vinegar. Ok, I'm done.
Connolly would score 94 goals and 226 assists (320 points) in 464 games with the Sabres. Injuries would define his career in Buffalo, as the only full season that he ever played with the team was his 1st.
As a bonus, Pyatt would spend 4 years in Buffalo, netting 38 goals and 42 assists (80 points) in 230 games. Pyatt currently plays for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Peca went on to score 49 goals and 93 assists (142 points) over 3 seasons on the Island before moving on to Toronto and Columbus. While his leadership was never in question, he also failed to ever break the double digit mark in goals after the NHL emerged from the lockout in 2005.
Perhaps the most important parallel between Connolly and Peca was their unrelenting injuries – neither player ever had a chance to truly impact their teams.
Peca was able to be a part of the Cinderella run to the Cup Finals with the Oilers in ’06, but he only managed 6 goals and 5 assists, and his Oilers succumbed to the Hurricanes in 7 games.
Meanwhile, Connolly was an integral part of that same 2005-06 playoff run for the Sabres, netting 11 points in 8 games – including a goal with 11 seconds left in Game One of the 2nd Round against Ottawa (Drury netted the winner). Tim was then lost to injury.
Peca would never regain the form that saw him win the Selke trophy with Buffalo, as the NHL’s best defensive forward. He had a nice run in ’06, but as in ’99, it was all for naught.
Connolly emerged as a bull-force in the 2006 playoffs, before being crushed with injury. His woeful injury record would draw a monumental amount of derision from Sabres fans, who never gave up in their strident quest to run him out of town on his crutches.
Darcy Regier was in position after the ’99 Finals to make another solid run at the Stanley Cup, but the loss of Peca to the contract dispute was devastating, as the team floundered and barely made the playoffs the next season. Most condemning of the dispute and the subsequent trade was the effect it had on all-time franchise netminder Dominik Hasek, who was then convinced that the Sabres would never do what it took to put a team on the ice built to win. Hasek demanded a trade, and got his wish. Regier has carried the stigma as a stubborn sprend-thrift all the way to today, where he has finally had a chance to show what he can do with the largesse of Terry Pegula’s unlimited spending money.
Mike Milbury brought Peca to the Island to infuse the team with grit and leadership – and was rewarded with a playoff berth in the three years Peca was with the team – and three straight 4-1 first round exits. Peca would net only one goal and one assist in those three playoff years. Mike Milbury has gone on into the broadcasting field, after a series of questionable management decisions.
If anything, this drawn-out drama brought nothing but suffering for the players, management, and teams involved.
So now, as the trade and the subsequent elongated “Peca Era” comes to a close in Buffalo, who exactly was the winner of this mess of a trade?
The “Pecadebacle” might have driven Hasek out of town as a maddened, frustrated maniac, but he would go on to win the Stanley Cup with Detroit – in fashion:
During his first season with Detroit, Hasek posted a career high 41 wins with just 15 losses, helping the Wings earn the President’s Trophy with the league’s best record. During the conference finals against Colorado, he became the first goalie to be awarded an assist on an overtime game-winning goal in the post-season. Hasek also set a record for most shutouts in a post-season with six, broken the year after by Martin Brodeur with seven. His name was finally emblazoned on the Stanley Cup.
There’s always next year.