The Core of the Buffalo Sabres is a reference to the players this team has been (and will continue to be) built around. Vanek, Pominville, Stafford, Roy, Gaustad, and Miller are the team’s core players. It would be hard to reference the core without discussing the architect of the core, Darcy Regier, and the team’s coach, Lindy Ruff.
Regier is the rare general manager in sports that has a personal connection to every single player in the organization. How many general managers in professional sports can say they drafted or traded for every single player in the organization? Darcy Regier can, and while it’s easy (and correct) to be disappointed with the team’s players, the blame should be shared by all parties involved.
Regier’s reluctance to make a trade is mind-boggling. General managers, think Tom Donahoe, Jerry Jones, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, and Brian Burke, are generally predictable, and dare I say, “active.” With Regier, we need not predict the future; it’s our instincts as fans to assume that we should expect the same old Darcy to stand pat in the next two weeks. Sure, Brad Boyes could go out for a draft pick. Marc-Andre Gragnani might get waived. Paul Gaustad could get traded. But here’s what our instincts tell us from the many years of observing and analyzing Darcy Regier: Rick Nash ain’t coming through that door. Nor is Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, or Patrick Kane. And they’re not coming to Buffalo because rival GMs hang up their phones when the proposal starts with “How much do you like Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera?”
The fact is that unlike during the Golisano years, where players were allowed to walk before they became too costly to the bottom line, Regier is married to players because of the disastrous contracts to which he signed them. Scott Gomez and Brian Campbell, two players who possess horrendous contracts, were traded, so while it is fair to assume players like Drew Stafford or Ville Leino could be dealt, why would anyone believe they would be?
These players will be around because Darcy Regier will be around, and we know that as long as Darcy Regier is around, Lindy Ruff will be, too. Regier loved Drew Stafford enough to draft him in the first round. Not to be an armchair quarterback, but was I the only one who was screaming last year to trade Stafford while his value was at an all-time high? Was it impossible to believe that the only thing Stafford “got” last year was that to get paid in the NHL you have to put up big numbers in a contract year?
Maybe I’m giving Stafford too much credit; his agent surely explained that premise to Drew. Ville Leino knocked Regier’s socks off during last year’s playoffs, and he was given a long-term high priced deal to play out of position at center. I was baffled by that deal. After watching the playoffs against Philly last season, I didn’t think “Man, that Leino guy needs to be our number 1 center,” I thought, “I hate Mike Richards, but how much better would we be with him on our team?”
Then again, only one GM in the league thought Leino was a number 1 center, unlike others who assumed he was a decent winger who played with two solid players in Danny Briere and Scott Harnell. Andrej Sekera’s rollercoaster ride as a Sabre resulted in a four year contract extension this offseason. A friend of mine routinely calls Sekera “Tragic,” a moniker created after an accumulation of mind-boggling decisions #44 makes on a routine basis. Tragedy seems a fitting word when discussing Stafford, Leino, and Sekera.
Square peg, meet round hole.
Lest we absolve Lindy Ruff of his sins.
The coach’s message fell on deaf ears this year for far too long. The core players have played for Ruff for their entire NHL careers. The same message has been repeated to certain players for years.
“Derek, would it bother you to play harder.”
“Thomas, don’t be so down on yourself.”
“Drew, do you care about anything aside from strumming your guitar?”
How many blind passes to the other team does Derek Roy have to make before he sits? The only demotion the infamous number 9 received this season was starting a game on the fourth line. Midway through the second period of the same game, Roy was back with Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Does it surprise anyone that Vanek has flourished when separated from Roy for the last year? And yet when a period or two goes by without an onslaught of goals from the Sabres, you’re likely to find Roy right back where he’s always been: centering Vanek and driving fans like me insane.
What sort of message was sent to Luke Adam before he was demoted to Rochester? The guy had double digit goals on a team that cannot score goals. He played on the fourth line for two months with the likes of Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick; Esposito and Rocket Richard they are not. He started the year centering the team’s first line, more than held his own for the first month while other players were disastrous, and was one of a dozen rookies selected to go to Ottawa for all-star weekend. He has size; Ennis, Roy, Gerbe do not. Adam was sent down to “gain confidence.” In his first interview in Rochester, he said he was blindsided by the demotion. Message sent: Lindy told me about it, and twenty minutes later I had my sticks and headed up the 90.
Zack Kassian, a former first round pick known for occasionally loafing, doesn’t seem to get too many chances in the top 6 when he plays. He throws the occasional bodycheck, seems to use his size to his advantage in the offensive zone, and has good hands. Why would Kassian get a chance with better offensive players when the likes of Stafford, Hecht, Leino, and Ennis have “earned” their spots. Although he’s a young player, Kassian has characteristics of the current core members: flashes of talent, maddeningly inconsistent play, and a seeming lack of passion. I’m not stepping out on a limb when I suggest that he could possibly be learning from “leaders” like Stafford and Roy, two guys who have an “A” on their sweaters.
I don’t get it, coach.
The amount of injuries the team sustained was ridiculous, but those injuries masked the bigger problem that this group of players isn’t good enough to achieve the lofty goal of winning multiple Stanley Cups. A healthy Sabres team this season would probably be battling for a 7 or 8 seed. They couldn’t put back-to-back wins together. The pivotal moment of the season came when the team collectively “turtled” when a bully ran over the goalie. That same goalie, the face of the franchise, has been a sieve for most of the year.
No team in history that has finished lower than 8th overall has won the cup. Can you see Roy passing Lord Stanley to Stafford this year, or more importantly, ever? If you can, consult your physician.
The answer? Blow it up – at the deadline and in the offseason, but unfortunately for us Sabre fans, Darcy Regier will still be in charge. If I was the general manager of this team, I’d take “losses” on players that were grossly overvalued. Gaustad, who is looked at around the league as “good on draws” and “tough,” may fetch something decent at the deadline. If he isn’t traded, he’s destined to be overpaid July 1 by another club when he hits free agency. Sorry, Goose, I would have missed you in 2006. I won’t this summer.
Miller has to be shopped in the offseason, but those discussions with opposing teams could start now. The former Vezina winner is a reclamation project that many teams would be interested in acquiring. Miller for Patrick Kane? No thanks. The diminutive winger is talented but would be joining the Chipmunks like Roy, Ennis, and Gerbe. I would say he’d also be even money to drink himself out of the league if he returned home. Roy and Stafford, two losing players, should be dumped for anything.
The core is rotten and it is currently sitting in Pegula’s hands. Will he make his mark as the passionate owner we fell in love with last year, or will he allow Darcy Regier to continue with the “all is well” attitude he cultivated for 15 years? Buffalo fans will speculate about the future, but our instincts tell us the status quo will continue at the First Niagara Center.