Our Odyssey begins in the 2002-03 season.
Back in 2002, Sabres’ owner John Rigas was indicted on fraud charges. The team was seized by the NHL, as it slid into bankruptcy. For Rigas, he would began serving a 15 year sentence in 2007 for concealing $2.3 billion in corporate loans, and using them as his personal “piggy bank.” He’s in “Canes’ Country” now, in a federal corrections facility in Raleigh, NC.
In a single day, Rigas used funds for a $17,000 monthly mortgage payment, $3,000 in beauty treatments, and 100 pairs of slippers. Well, we won't fault him for trying the beauty treatments.
Meanwhile, in Sabreland, no one – not even the players – knew who might buy the team, or where the team would play. From the Buffalo News:
“You couldn’t get away from the speculation about which group was buying the team,” said assistant coach James Patrick, who was a defenseman on the 2002-03 club. “You were reading this owner was going to do this, or this owner was going to come in and clean house. Different names were being thrown about. That was certainly a bit of a soap opera.”
As new owners were sought the Sabres’ struggles in the locker room spilled out onto the ice. They were sitting in last place almost from the start of the season until the end posting a horrible record of 27-37-10-8. As the season wound down, Tom Golisano purchased the team for $92 Million, ending the anxiety amid rumors the Sabres would relocate, or fold up operations entirely.
The 2003-04 season was a season of recovery for the team. The team had a dismal 18-25-5-1 start, but the addition of Chris Drury helped to turn things around. The Sabres had a 37-34-7-4 record in the second half, and would miss the playoffs by 6 points. Things were finally starting to look up.
…then the lockout happened.
Because things can always get worse.
The entire 2004-05 season was cancelled.
There weren’t many fans eager to fill the seats at the HSBC at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, but who could blame them? They had been brained by the jailing of an owner, bankruptcy, possible relocation/folding, a terrible product on the ice, and then no hockey at all for an entire year.
Then, something magical started to happen. The team started to outperform anyone’s wildest predictions, and raced into the Eastern Conference Finals. Most would argue that the Sabres would have won that series, heck, they would argue that team would have won the Cup – if not for a rash of injuries that took almost every starting defenseman off the ice.
2006-07 was another wild ride, as the Sabres went an astounding 53-22-7 to win the President’s Trophy. Fans were a bit besmirched by Golisano’s introduction of the team’s new “slug” logo, but cheered for the team that just had to win that Cup this time. (They had to, because as every fan knew, the man that saved the franchise was not willing to pay to keep it competitive. Fans knew that either Danny Briere or Chris Drury would be lost to free agency after the season was over.)
After the Sabres bowed out of the Eastern Conferece Finals again, this time to the Ottawa Senators, fans held tightly to their Briere and Drury “slug” jerseys that they had bought in good faith and team spirit. We knew we couldn’t afford to keep both Drury and Briere, but at least we might hold onto one of them.
On Sunday, July 1st, 2007, we lost them both.
It felt like all the blue and gold drained from our hockey hearts that day.
So, a quick recap on our nightmarish Odyssey:
- Owner jailed
- Team Bankruptcy
- Relocation/folding rumors abound as NHL sells team
- The Lockout
- A sudden rush to the edge of the Finals, and the Stanley Cup
- Black Sunday
The Golisano Era was now in full stride, as the seasons wound on. Yea, we had a team – a team that nobody wanted to play for. Players like Mike Grier and Brian Campbell bolted in free agency as the team floundered under its miserly savior, missing the playoffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
The Sabres of 2009-10 made the playoffs, but failed to capture much of the fans’ passion, (or whatever was left of it after the ceaseless shell-shocks that started in 2002).
Well, we all know the story from thereon out. The 2010-11 team was one of the worst in the league, but began a slow comeback that became an epic surge when new owner Terry Pegula came virtually out of nowhere (actually, somewhere in Pennsylvania) and improbably made the playoffs.
Since then, it’s been all about Hockey Heaven. Players are actually choosing to come to Buffalo now, as Pegula fulfills on his early promises to build a fantastic experience and a Stanley Cup Champion.
The Cup can’t be guaranteed by anyone, but deliverance from this nightmare is finally at hand. Fans that survived of this horrid stretch of trauma deserve a medal, but they’re happy just to be a part of something real again – no more nightmares, anymore.
A new Odyssey has begun.
This is going to be fun.
Now that the Brad Richards frenzy is over, we can calmly and cooly look back at it. (I hope?)
The Sabres didn’t want to pay (or perhaps overpay depending on your opinion) the money it would’ve taken to sign Richards. They knew roughly what he would command in the market and had their backup plans.
So no Richards.
Do we really want Richards anyway? He already won a Cup so how hungry can he be for another? And he besmirched the Cup with a crustacean. Everyone knows the only food that should go in there is chicken wings.
A simple text and an innocuous one, it turned out. For those unfamiliar with the line, one of the princesses of the Pegula dynasty, Jessie Pegula, tweeted the words “so no richards”. The tweet was quickly deleted and @jlpegula said it was a butt tweet. Ok, sure. No one was buying it, but she did her best to cover for what could potentially have interfered with signing the biggest name free agent in this year’s market.
I for one thought it was cute and wouldn’t have really changed anything. She had inside information yet the deal wasn’t going through at that point.
But was the deal for Richards really ever going to go through at all? After the smoke cleared, another report came out that Pegula and Regier didn’t go up to Mississauga to visit Richards and his agent after all.
“We had plans to go up to Mississauga to meet with him,” Regier said. “As the day progressed and even with the number of clubs that were in line to speak with Newport Sports, we really got into a time pressure situation where we had to make a decision. We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt that it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player like him to slip by us.
It doesn’t sound like the Sabres really wanted Richards that badly after all. Actually sounds like they wanted Ville Leino more and they went for it.
Richards also risked taking the Cup for a ride on a jet ski. Well, actually that's pretty cool. After all, it had a life jacket on.
There are a couple things I take away from this.
One is that Richards is 31 and has concussion history. Richards had success in Tampa Bay, even winning a cup but that was with a stacked team. In the last 4 years with the Dallas Stars, his team has made the playoffs only one time, although they did make it to the 3rd round that year. Richards is called a “point a game” guy, but look at his plus-minus (click to embiggen):
Only during one year, Tampa Bay’s Cup victory, did Richards post better than a +3. Darcy’s mamma didn’t raise no dummy. He knew the Sabres could spend their money much more effectively.
The other takeaway is this: the Sabres aren’t going to be completely honest with the public. Even in this amazing new Pegula era, we can’t expect complete transparency and honesty. They have to play games with other teams. Disinformation, confusion, misdirection… it’s the art of war and every other team is the Sabres enemy. If we can use tactics to get other teams to pay more for free agents, we’ll do it.
So the Sabres probably weren’t really even in the Richards race to begin with. Even if they were, Richards could join the growing line of expensive Rangers free agents that just haven’t panned out. He may even look a bit like (dare I say his name) Timmeh.
So no Richards?
Nope, and that’s just fine.
Things are quiet. Too quiet.
The dust has settled after the UFA storm, and the pace of news out of the HSBC Arena has slowed to a near halt. Aside from the signings of Colin Stuart, Derek Whitmore, and Drew McIntyre for the Rochester Americans, there isn’t much buzz goin’ on right now.
But there are things going on.
- The Sabres still have to squeeze Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jhonas Enroth into contracts and stay at least no more than 10% over the cap.
- Shaone Morrisonn wants out of town, so Regier has to find some NHL team willing to take on his contract and the horse it rode in on.
- Our beloved Mike Grier is still an UFA, still unretired.
- The Associate Coaching void left by the departure of Brian McCutcheon has yet to be filled.
- Joel Armia is not in the Sabres development camp, an unfortunate victim of the Finnish mandate that players have a month off to bask along the shores of their 187,888 lakes and heal up.
Hmm. I wonder if they listen to Jimmy Buffett in Finland.
Fans are bored. They are so bored, that at least one blogger over at “Hockeybuzz,” a website dedicated to rumor mongering and hearsay, has therein said that the signing of McIntyre could – gulp – signal a trade of Jhonas Enroth in a package for a #1 center. Stupid as that is, it at least has given fans something to argue about on message boards.
Oh and trust me, folks, Enroth isn’t going anywhere. When Miller succumbed to injury/fatigue last season, it was Enroth that carried this team into the playoffs. McIntyre is a good goalie, but Enroth is NHL proven, and more importantly, is stalwart in a crisis. If Miller is injured again this season, not having Enroth would likely mean not having a part in the playoffs. He’s too big a piece of the puzzle, folks.
Anyone remember when fans were so taken aback by Enroth’s play, that we stormed the team Twitter account to force the Sabres to honor him in song?
Yea, that was fun.
They “called him Jhonas” at the HSBC. That’s the kind of stuff we miss talking about.
Well, we can always talk about that nagging “we have way too many defensemen and defensive prospects and not enough centers” issue.
Fans are still clamoring for a trade for Paul Stastny, or Evgeni Malkin, to fill that #1 center need. The problem is, our money is already spent. It’s likely that the Sabres are all but done adding names to the 2011-12 roster, unless a serious shake-up trade happens that helps to dump salary.
Roy-Leino-Gerbe/Adam-Gaustad are our likely starting centers for October 7, but there are a couple names that still could be added that would improve the team down the middle, and they’d come on the cheap: Brendan Morrison, and John Madden.
No, not the John Madden that comes with a bus, video games, and a freezer full of turducken. He's retired.
Madden is 38. Morrison is 35. Both centers are 5-11, so they wouldn’t add anything to that glaring need for size down the middle, but both skate very tall on heart. Both would bring a heavy dose of leadership and mojo to the lineup. And perhaps most importantly, they’d come on the cheap. How much gas do they have left in the tank? I can’t tell you that, but I can say it’s worth at least kicking the tires on these guys.
Rob Neidermayer has signed on with some team in Switzerland. Grier is likely done. Adam and Gerbe (and all the other center/wing hybrids) would use more time either developing or staying put on the wing. Heck, even Leino could use some time on the wing, and a Madden/Morrison addition could give Lindy Ruff the leverage to use Leino where he fits best.
This, of course, is all just speculation, “Hockey Buzz” style.
But at least my style makes some sense.
For now, download some Jimmy Buffett and head on over to the beach and enjoy the waves. I’ll let you know when the silence is broken.
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.
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.
Do jersey sales count to lower the cap hit? If so, buy, fans, buy!
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.
Great. As if bloggers didn't have enough work to not get paid to do - now we are expected to do math, too?
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.
Top shelf! I want one of these cookie jars, and I want Boyes back on 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.