If there is just one thing to take away from the reports that the Buffalo Sabres are the mystery club to offer 35-year-old Shane Doan $30 million dollars over the next 4 years, here it is: Terrence Pegula will NOT be outbid when it comes to an unrestricted free agent he covets for his hockey club. Oh sure, a player (like Doan) may choose to stay with a team because he’s played in a city near his entire career. Perhaps, like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, players decide they want to play for their hometown franchise. What we are continuing to understand in late summer 2012 is that if a player decides not to bring his talents to Woodlawn Beach is that it won’t be because he can get paid more to play hockey somewhere other than Buffalo, New York.
Now, I am quite sure that Darcy Regier looks at Shane Doan and would like to have him on the Sabres’ roster. I’m also reasonably sure that he’d like him to wear blue & gold for through 2016. It’s the part about $7.5 million per year where this story moves from the GM’s office to the owner’s box. If Pegula’s ideas on how he wants his team constructed are similar to Regier’s (and why wouldn’t he – he kept him on after taking over), why not use the full force of his checking account? This is a big part of the idea of Pegula Day was about, right?
So naturally, there have been potshots on the Twitter. The inevitable passing references to Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones, etc. Questions about how this contract offer comes with another lockout looming.
I absolutely understand and find myself questioning whether or not a hockey player is worth north of $7 million when he is on the wrong side of 40. But at the end of the day, it’s not my money. As for comparisons to the likes of Snyder and Jones: Maybe those two have burned through enough cash the last decade to each have a personal navy. You know what else? No one – fans, media, or their players – questions their desire to win (Feel free to question whether they have any idea HOW to win). And the lockout threat certainly has not stopped teams like the Flyers from continuing to hand out contracts which WOULD NOT BE ALLOWED UNDER THE OWNERS’ CBA PROPOSAL. The Flyers – another team that, results aside, is never questioned about their desire to win. And frankly, it’s high time a major league franchise from Erie County, NY were to be thought about along those same lines.
Here’s the rub.
We can think the Sabres want to win. Media, whether they’re ink-stained wretches or cyberspace cowboys, can think the Sabres want to win. Both fans and media can think that the Sabres can win.
What do these players really think?
What does Shane Doan really think when he looks at the Buffalo Sabres? Does he see them as a team but for a devastating run of injuries that would have been right there in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and is just a player or two away from being a real title contender right now? Are they just a Plan B if Phoenix doesn’t work out? Or…and this in my opinion is the worst possibility…are the Sabres simply leverage to get a deal out of team Doan thinks is better and closer to a Cup than Buffalo? ‘Cause how much would it sting to see Doan not re-sign in the desert, but say sign for 2 years, $11 million with Vancouver…because he thinks that’s his best chance to win, leaving all those Pegulabucks on the table?
This is the real trick to me. If money (cap limitations aside) is no longer going to be a hindrance to the Sabres pursuing any player they so desire on the market, that’s great. But as we all know, there are a number of teams that is true for. Something needs to separate Buffalo from the pack. There’s always going to be allure to playing in New York or any Original Six market that cannot be duplicated here. And as mentioned earlier, despite no Cups since I have been alive, the Flyers are always an attractive place for free agents. Then you get cases like Parise when a guy just wants to go home to play. Buffalo’s best weapon is winning hockey games, something they just have not done enough of the last 5 years, as we all know.
Of course in order to win, you gotta have the players. It’s easy to understand why fans would be excited to see Generation Tyler become the new faces of the franchise, after the failure of the partially-departed old core. I hope it’s also easy to understand why a player looking at possibly his last contract could doubt whether kids named Ennis, Hodgson, Foligno, and Myers are the ones to hitch his wagon to in hopes of capturing a championship before midnight strikes. If the Sabres still need to change their perception as a place to win big in the NHL, that’s OK. Changing the current 40 years in the making shouldn’t be expected to occur in just 18 months. The owner seems to be doing his part. Shame he can’t play the games, too.