(Note: I'm in a pissed off mood. Dog days of summer. Rent going up. Getting killed on a previous piece, when I was totally right :). So my angry emotions may be bleeding into this piece a tad bit.)
Give Darcy Regier credit...
He doesn't buckle under public pressure from the masses. If there's one thing I respect about Darcy, it is how so many fans and media members are always clamoring for his head, yet he doesn't really care. He doesn't go out and say people are stupid or become defiant when it comes to criticism like Bill Polian did during the early 90's. He's even keel.
When players say they don't listen to the radio or read the paper, I normally greet it with a "Yeah, right" comment. I don't think Darcy reads or listens to anything. Maybe he does, but he just doesn't give a crap. He may go down as the best, worst and most unpopular GM in Sabres history. Seriously, find me someone else that matches that?
I'm not sure how much Darcy's job is on the line when it comes to this upcoming season. I'm not talking about the media/public perception, because it seems like we are going on year five of this, but whether Pegula/Black feel that way. I happen to feel that Pegula and Black have given Darcy a clean slate from everything he did previously under Golisano. So if we go by how long a GM normally has power, it is usually 3 years at a minimum. I always thought the 2011/2012 season was do-or-die. If you spend 100-million on the team in new contracts, you need to make the playoffs and then some. Obviously, injuries were a stupid fact of life and they chalked up the season to that. Lame.
I think Darcy and Lindy have probably told their bosses that it was a living hell working under the financial constraints of Golisano, which I can understand and agree with. But it shouldn't be clean slate because of that.
Pegula strikes me as a generous man who would probably take in a homeless person and give him food, shelter and a Mustang to make the guy's day. He always preaches about the Sabres being a family organization. They gave the players a new locker room. They gave the players' wives gifts for being on the road last year. They have awesome discounts at the team store. Frankly, they kind of spoil everyone who touches the blue and gold. I will always remember how defiant he was with TBN writers during their editorial meeting and he did everything in his power to stick up for Tim Connolly. The dude had been there for a day and he came off as if Connolly was his own son. That stuck with me because
A) I think a few people in the organization told him how the big bad Buffalo News had been hammering him.
B) He loves the Sabres.
This all factors into why Ruff/Darcy are still here and how we may be witnessing a really bad horror movie, where rich parents adopt a little kid they know nothing about. Think of the movie Orphan and The Good Son. The creepy kid (Darcy or Lindy) comes in and portrays himself as being a child who had come from a tough up-bringing. They tell their new rich parents how their old parents were abusive fools and the kids at school were total bullies. The parents (or Terry), who have never had kids before (or a Hockey team) are thrilled with having new bundles of joy running around the house, are hooked.
"Awwwww. They came from a bad home and were picked on. Let's give them new toys to play with! Let's spoil them rotten! Ice cream for breakfast! I love being a parent ( or Team owner)!"
This usually happens during the first 25 minutes of the movie.
Slowly but surely, we come to find out that something isn't right with these new kids. They start killing dogs, smoking weed and killing anyone who steps in their way. Predictably, mom usually gets wind of it and starts questioning the motives of this kid and warns everyone to no avail, while dad is in complete denial and thinks mom is going through menopause. Next then you know, Macaulay Culkin is cutting the brakes off of one of his parent's cars and trying to make it look like an accident ( or Injury excuse!). Pegula is starting to remind me of that parent in denial and unfortunately for him, I don't see the other parent around who knows something is up. No matter how much money you have, you can't make a whore into a housewife or a mediocre GM into a great GM. I feel he's being duped into believing in his guys a bit too much.
I think Pegula felt bad for Darcy and Lindy for what they went through before. I think DR/LR have done a great job in selling them how bad it was. That's why they got a clean slate. Not many new owners will keep the exact same GM/coach from the previous regime two years in a row. Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry once he bought the Cowboys. Wayne Huizenga fired Don Shula after just one year as being the team owner. When Rigas officially took over the team, they booted Larry Quinn. You want to bring in your own people.
Do I agree with giving them a clean slate? No. You may be able to convince me because of my hatred towards Golisano/Quinn, but 5 playoff series wins since "No Goal" and missing the playoffs, says the slate just got shit on it.
22 teams have won at least one playoff series since the Sabres lost to the Sens in the 2007 ECF.
It should be do-or-die, but does upper management think that way? I don't know. I kind of think they are still stuck in the first 20 minutes of the Evil Orphan movie or are just in denial about it.
What a difference a year makes
Going into July 1st of 2011, all I wanted the Sabres to do was spend money and prove to me that the nickle and dime approach of the previous regime was gone. No more stupid buyouts for Tim Kennedy or co-captains leaving or the constant BS that made me want to gargle Drano. Just show me that you were in it to win it and they did just that. The spent a ton of money, brought in 3 key players and everything seemed to be on the up-and-up. Of course, we were wrong. Leino was a disaster, Ehrhoff was probably our best d-man in terms of stay-at-home value, but his scoring numbers went down, and Robyn Regehr was inconsistent. It showed me that no matter how much money you spend, it doesn't always equal to a winning product on the ice. You have to have competent people spending the money. I will say that I understand fans being scared about spending money on July 1st because their is a paper trail of disappointments, but it shouldn't mean you have to avoid it. Briere and Richards helped their teams out, right? The Sabres didnt bomb out last year because of 7/1/11. They bombed out because the core of this team that has been here forever, failed. I dont care how much it costs, if the guy helps your team, you can make a splash. Just be smart about it.
For this year, I'd like for some drastic changes to the core of this team. I'm greedy. I want change. I'm sick of the majority of the players on this roster. I think fans who are trying to be the good Samaritan about this team are doing it for the sake of morale or tyring to be cool and different from public perception. Deep down inside, you hate this fricken team and are just staying positive for the kids sake. Frankly, I've lived through this too many times. It is not about proving to me how they need to spend a ton of money anymore, but changing the culture of a losing locker room.
The core has been together for far too long and have failed. Because they have failed, no one, I repeat, no one is untradable. Not the prospects fans and media hype up, not Tyler Myers, not Ryan Miller, not Lindy Ruff, NO ONE. When your franchise missed the playoffs for the 3rd time in five years, no one is off the market. When WGR runs the topic of "Should the Sabres trade player X?", the answer is yes because your organization has failed. Terry Pegula came in and said "From this day forward, the goal is to win the cup." Not just break even or make playoffs. If that's the goal, the team failed. Hence changes should happen.
The top 6 forwards are dead
Vanek, Roy, Stafford, Pommer played the majority of games last year (Missing only 10 games collectively) and besides, Pommer, the rest of the guys failed. Roy had his lowest point total since before the lockout (if you exclude his injury shorten 2010 season). Stafford and Vanek were as inconsistent as you can get. Vanek had 18 goals from October to the end of December and fell off the planet for the last four months of the season, scroing 8 goals. This isn't the first time Vanek has disappeared. We are talking about a guy who went from 119 goals from 2007-2009 to 86 goals from 2010-2012. I know a number of fans want to accentuate any positive Vanek brings to the table because they really want to believe he's a franchise player, but the guy isn't. I'm not saying you have to trade him, but if you think he's this big difference maker, I don't think so. Maybe if they gave him a legit center, but by himself, he's not.
Stafford is just an odd bird. He scores 31 goals and most of them came in hat tricks, then he goes through a stretch where he scores 5 goals in 46 games, and yet, he finishes with 20 goals. Dude is an enigma.
Derek Roy fricken hates it here and Lindy Ruff can't stand him. Move him. It won't be the end of the world. I don't hate Roy, but he's just in a situation where it is just time to break up. Roy has been put in a bad situation for being asked to be a #1 center here. He's not. Period. I'd take him as a #2 guy, but I think he's checked out like Max did towards the end of his career here for getting beat down by Ruff so many times. I know some fans don't want to give him away, but there's always a domino effect with deals. If you give him away and have another deal in place to add a legit #1 center for prospects and others, you make the deal.
All I know is this, the Sabres scored two goals or fewer in 43 of their games last year. They scored the 4th lowest goal total in team history. This came with most of their high priced forwards playing almost every game. Fuck your injury excuse on that one. Someone has to pay for this. There is no reason as to why I should be thrilled about seeing the same high priced forwards from last year. None.
The new core?
Brad Riter wrote a piece on how the Sabres core is dead and we now have a new core. I agree with half of that. The latter is in theory. I haven't seen enough of Cody Hodgson to say he's that guy. I mean, he only scored three goals with us last year and people are saying he's our #1 center. Based off what? Cause he played well in Vancouver when he was their 3rd or 4th center? The Sedins aren't walking through that door anytime soon. We aren't going to know what he brings to the table for at least a year and then some. But hockey fans in Buffalo don't like to put theories into action. Instead, a theory means absolute fact.
I know a number of people want to make this new core to be Foligno, Grigorneko and Ennis to name a few, but it is still too early in their hockey careers. I like Tyler Ennis, but the guy has played 140 regular season games. It is still early to make him out to be our #1 center. I think he has the best shot to do so, but lets see some more games. Foligno was fun last year, but we are talking 14 games here.
Put the anointing oil away for now. Mentioning Mikhail Grigorenko as a part of your new core is ridiculous. We haven't seen the guy play yet and he fell to us for reasons we won't know (Sorry, but if you think because the "lazy" rumors were untrue because Darcy squashed them, you are f'n nuts. What is he suppose to say? "Um, yeah. He may be lazy." He just picked the guy?! Of course he's going to deny the rumors. He's going to make the pick out to be great like he will next year and beyond). I already established why we shouldn't go nuts this year, but the majority of fans are trying too hard to outsmart themselves, so I'm just going to move on.
I will just say this, yes, embracing the future is the trending, uplifting thing to do these days, but I remember 5 years ago, everyone thought young kids like Roy, Stafford and Vanek would carry the torch. Now we want to move 2 of the 3 guys out of here. I heard the same thing about Kotalik, Max and Connolly before the lockout. "Oh, look at how great these kids are! The future!" What happened? The three were vilified by most fans. Not all prospects turn into stars, especially when they have only played a few games. Again, anointing oil should be put away unless you are trying to give a massage to your girlfriend.
What do we need?
Every time a Stanley Cup champion is crowned, a number of fans will try and use what got them the cup as to what the Sabres need to do. After the lockout, it was all about needing awesome centers and you could win with any goaltender out there. Then Boston beat that theory with having a bone crushing defense and an elite goalie. Now LA has the cup, in large part to great goaltending and kick ass forwards.
So how do you build a cup team? Having awesome players.
Yes, you can win by having an elite goaltender/defense or a scoring team. But they have to be awesome at what their identity entails. The Sabres have no fricken identity. Are they a scoring team? Are they defensive team? I don't know, but I do know if they decided to pick one of those identities, they aren't good enough because they don't have the talent. They have a better shot at being a shut down defense, but I think they have too many offensive minded blueliners to do that. As for being offensive minded? Please. They need a influx of offensive players.
Obviously the free agent crop is pretty thin. After Parise and a few other guys, who the hell do we have left? It is not last year. Honestly, as much as I want change, I don't want the Sabres to just sign someone to shut us up. I know if the Sabres sign the 7th best free agent in a thin class, fans will probably have a parade like they did when we traded Kassian for Hodgson. It doesn't take much to move the dial of optimism in this town. I think the trade market is where it is at. Nash and Bobby Ryan are out there. I'd take one or both. Yeah, it is fantasy.
Keep an eye out on Olli Jokinen for free agency. I haven't heard from my Sabres source recently about this, but I know in the past the Sabres have always liked him and have looked to deal for him. He'd be a decent 2nd line guy, but he is kind of a mental case. Even signing a guy like him, they still need theeee guy!
I want that go-to-guy like Briere and Drury used to be. We need that awesome franchise player that you can build around. You need Batman. Not a bunch of Robins and Alfreds.
I think the Sabres have a decent history in developing defensemen and I'm counting on their blueline to get better because of injuries and the growing pains (Youth) they went through last year. As for forwards? EH. Derek Roy is the only center the Sabres have drafted and developed since Darcy has been in town and we are trying to run him off. I just don't think all too highly about their development of scoring forwards. I think #26-21-29 are who they are. Guys who will get 25-30 goals and disappear at times. We just need scoring punch. Again, two goals or fewer in 43 games last year.
I'm not expecting much, which is why I haven't really been reading up on free agents like I did last year. I don't think the gun is to Darcy/Lindy's head as most fans and media members would make it out to be. It matters what Pegula/Black think at the end of the day. If you listen to Black and Pegula recently, they are playing up the injury factor big time. They think they have a good team here. I do not. I think it can make the playoffs, but are one and done as they currently sit. Of course, the standards in this town are so low at times and I think if the Sabres make the playoffs, which they should with this current team, a number of people will calm down. Fair? Of course not. I want to fricken advance.
I've also come to the fruition that time heals wounds for Sabres fans. I remember two years ago when everyone (Even the apologists) were livid when Boston beat us in 6 games. People wanted Roy and the top 6 forwards blown up. Sound familiar? Fans wanted blood. Then, for reasons I didn't get then, fans started getting optimistic about the team when they didn't make any legit moves. "Oh, Vanek got hurt in the playoffs, that's why we lost!" It's odd. Fans forget how crappy they felt two months earlier.
Two months earlier, everyone wanted Roy off this team for nothing. Now I'm hearing the same fans and media members say "WE can get something decent for him" or "Um, he's not bad as a 2nd line guy. Let's just keep him."
I don't know what has changed.
Maybe it has to do with summer being awesome or fans frolicking over draft picks, but it seems weird. I don't get it. I can easily remember how angry I was to see other teams in the playoffs. You can be optimistic, but when the same players, coaches and GMs have failed you for years , what the hell are you getting happy about?
I do think the team can make the playoffs, but as far as making serious noise? I don't buy it. Even with a 20-goal center or some marginal guy.
They will probably make a mid-level signing and re-up #63 and #36. It will be unmoving. But hey, people went bonkers when we exchanged rookies with Vancouver. We will get people bitching about it and then a bunch of others telling them to shut their mouths. Bucky will write a column bashing Darcy and the same old faces who can't stomach him, will say he's just being a dick. Twitter will be at an all out war. Unfollows galore. It will be the same as what it was from 2008-2010. Maybe I'll be wrong. Maybe they will have a big splash. They had a ton of cap room last year with a much deeper free agent crop and made moves. I just think with less cap space, a thin free agent crop and Darcy's love for his own players, not much will change.
But hey, the Sabres will remind us that they we are an injury or two away from making the playoffs. Funny, it never seems to be them saying they are a new player or two away from winning the Cup.