Raise your hand if you recall the last time the winner of free agency won the Stanley Cup. Nothing comes to mind? That’s because such teams don’t exist. Not in the NHL of 2012.
There’s a long list of teams dating back to before the turn of the century which spent big in July only to kick themselves as their new acquisitions toiled in mediocrity. There’s a short list of teams that did it the right way — you can find their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.
It’s obvious the two feats simply do not coincide, and there are probably a few good reasons for that.
If the Sabres had their way two weeks ago, they might have found that out the hard way.
If you read Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column yesterday, you’d have noticed the little tidbit he included about the Sabres’ interest in both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Friedman reported Regier offered each player “$100 million apiece to dress for the Sabres” before the duo signed with the Minnesota Wild on Independence Day.
That’s an exciting yet scary thought for Sabres fans.
On one hand, it’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Neither player is elite, but, man, wouldn’t it have been cool to be in the Minnesota Wilds’ shoes a few weeks ago?
On the other hand, that’s $200 million for two players. TWO FREAKING PLAYERS.
The jury is still out on whether or not the Wild can contend next year even with the two stars now under wraps. We’ll reserve judgment on the true success of the deals until at least five years from now.
On paper, they’re immediately a better team with both players, but are they a winning team on the ice and in the locker room? A team that will contend for the Cup over the next 13 seasons — the amount of time they’re now tied down to each star? It’s likely they’re still a few pieces away.
A foundation with Parise and Suter is not a bad one to establish while trying to piece together a winner, especially when you have the prospects the Wild have. But tying up 20 percent of a salary cap — an uncertain salary cap, at that — is not a healthy practice in any light, unless you’re getting two (healthy) Sindey Crosbys, or something to that effect.
As Jeremy White mentions in his most recent column, Friedman’s report raises a few eyebrows as to what the hell Regier has going on up inside his head. What is the team’s real blueprint for the future?
While I don’t necessarily agree with everything Jeremy said, one thing has been made crystal clear: The report confirms, if it hadn’t been already, that the Sabres are no longer fooling around when it comes to purchasing the best talent money can buy.
Since Terry Pegula took over as owner, the Sabres have now been in on the three biggest names in free agency — Parise, Suter and Brad Richards last year.
With Pegula and his obvious willingness to operate the Sabres without bounds, it’s easy to get sucked in to free agency and the lure of signing these big names. But the fact of the matter is the NHL is not the NBA or NFL. The way the game is played and the way the league is structured puts teamwork and player chemistry at a premium. Teams which are successful possess both, and that can’t always be purchased after July 1.
Free agency is nothing more than a live auction which breeds terrible contracts (see Leino, Ville). More often than not, the chances those huge contracts handed out after July 1 cripple a team are substantially higher than the expectations they would do otherwise.
Frankly, that’s a practice I’m not yet sure I’m comfortable watching the Sabres delve in to.
We get so worked up over which big name signs with which team that we forget that one or two players do not make an entire team. Given the track record of this practice, you’d think more teams would be more cautious about throwing truck loads of cash at the biggest name on the free agent market. I mean, isn’t it curious to see these teams relying so heavily on a method so unproven? Yet we see it year after year, offseason after offseason.
Right now, the Sabres best stance is to continue building through the draft, which they’ve obviously been successful with as of late, especially now that Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko are locked into deals. I’ve always been in the “Make a trade” camp, too, which by far makes the most sense if Regier’s able to land a young star like Bobby Ryan or another such move which would not only benefit the team now, but more importantly in the long run.
Sure, you give up a few unproven prospects to acquire said talent, but it’s better than taking on a toxic contract that could weigh down a franchise for years to come.
Free agency should be used as a tool to fine-tune a contending team, not establish one. And, given the makeup of the NHL’s most recent champions, it’s paramount to build and establish talent through the draft.
So when it comes to free agency, restraint is a powerful asset.
Which is exactly why the Sabres would be smart to avoid overpaying for Shane Doan…
It’s not about me not wanting Shane Doan wearing blue and gold; it’s about me not wanting Shane Doan wearing blue and gold while getting paid $7.5 million per year to do so. Actually, it’s not even so much about the money as it is the years it would take in an offer to lure Doan away from the other big spenders.
If the report out Phoenix is true, there is at least one Eastern Conference team willing to place its next four seasons squarely on the 36-year-old shoulders of Doan at a $30-million price tag. According to our friend Dave Davis of KuklasKorner.com, the Sabres are indeed one of the teams interested in Doan’s services, leading some to think “why not” when trying to decypher whether or not that Eastern Conference team just so happens to be the Sabres.
I’m not interested. Not at that price.
Let’s face it: Signing Doan would look awfully similar to when the Sabres brought Craig Rivet or Rob Niedermayer to Buffalo, to a slightly lesser extreme (yeah, that worked out well). The only reason we desire Doan is because he’s a gritty, in-your-face player who can captain a team and probably do one hell of a job doing it. At least, that’s what Buffalo sees, because, for whatever reason, we endear ourselves to those types of players.
In reality, though, you need to look at Doan in a different light before you notice his true worth — an aging veteran who will be lucky to eclipse the 20-goal plateau again in his career.
Last time I checked, the going rate for one of those guys is probably not much more than $3 million. It’s just not worth the money, people.
Due to the inflated market, signing Doan brings on more problems than it solves for the Sabres. Because they’re not expected to compete for the Stanley Cup this season, and maybe not even the following season, signing a veteran like Doan to a team largely built around its youth and the makes little sense and only ties Regier’s hands for the future.
Doan is not the game-changer the Sabres need, and because he is 36, the Sabres would be stuck with that nasty cap hit even if he should decide to retire before the deal expires. And the deal would be at least as ridiculous as reported. It would have to be, in order to entice Doan to choose Buffalo over teams like Vancouver, Pittsburgh or Detroit, which are prepared to contend this season.
The point is, you only sign a player like Doan when you’re a team one piece away from winning a Stanley Cup. The Sabres are still two or three of those pieces away, so it makes little sense in the short-term and the long-term, both for the Sabres and for Doan.
All this, of course, is assuming Doan leaves Phoenix in the first place. Something tells me he will, I just hope it’s not for Buffalo.
You almost certainly don’t agree with Brandon’s opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @B_Schlag and express your distaste.