(Author's note: I wrote this prior to Christian Ehrhoff being hurt in the game versus the Capitals on December 30th. I know that he'll be out for 'weeks' so it's detriment to everything I probably say in this article. Just another wonderful thing to tack onto this season, right? Ugh.)
I think the most exciting thing I experience this year being a hockey fan was Free Agency day. As a Sabres fan, I’m used to Darcy Regier not doing much besides sitting on his hands when July 1st comes around as he just ‘scopes the market’. This season he actually went out and did something for the team; which was awesome and exciting. I had off this year (I had to work during July 1st last year but nothing really happened regarding this team anyways) so I was pretty pumped about the situation. The Sabres had already acquired Robyn Regehr from a trade with the Flames and that was huge within itself because he waived his no trade clause for us. US! The Buffalo Sabres! No one wants to come to Buffalo because of the drive from the airport, on the 33, with seeing a little bit downtown because that obviously reflects what the entire city is like!
He’s brought some physicality to this Sabres team that desperately needed it and still does in fact. I thought this was an awesome trade when it first went down and still feels this way. In fact, I think Robyn has done the most for this team within the three acquisitions that were made – possibly a bad thing considering two guys are technically supposed to be ‘offensive’.
The Sabres made their biggest splash of the free agency period when they managed to complete a deal with Christian Ehrhoff. The Canucks are my second favorite team so when I heard Christian was having his negotiating rights traded to us, I freaked out. I spent a lot of time during the playoffs watching his performance and he played extremely well. The thing about Christian was he lacked the defensive skills that a defenseman should have but his offense made up for it in that category. He’s a lethal weapon on the power play. I think the Sabres were the lacking stock of the NHL for a few short days because of the contract they had given to Christian at 10-years, $40-million dollars. Yes, that’s still less than the Vanek contract. Bitch and moan, bitch and moan as if this were 2007. Overpaid? You can’t really measure that now considering it’s the first year of the contract but that’s a hell of a lot of money to begin with.
My favorite Christian moment so far this year has been him getting into a fight against the Senators. Miller had been run over (again) and he decided to take it into his own hands. You don’t mess with the Germans. Anyone remember Jochen’s fight against Vincent Lecavalier a few years ago? Awesome. Christian is #1 on this team for defensemen in points but a HORRID -11. Meanwhile, Grags is a +11 and everyone hates him. I don’t hate anyone on this team – except for Derek Roy. I think Christian is going to become better going into this second half of the season, I believe it.
The final huge acquisition that the Sabres had made was signing Ville Leino to a 6-year, $27-million contract. You can imagine my face as I remarked to myself “we signed this asshole?!” due to him scoring the game winning goal in game 6. Oy vey. Actually, the Sabres are the assholes for blowing that lead. The blowing of leads at home started early, look at that!
Ville was known for playing as a winger in Philly, even though he was switched to center for a short time. The Sabres said that wanted to utilize him as a center on this team because when Derek Roy is your ‘number one center’…my face right now. Not impressed. He scored in the first game of the season and then disappeared for a time after that. There have been moments where he was been incredibly frustrating to watch. With his European stature, it also appears he’s afraid to hit people. Now he’s injured. It’s unfortunate because he was really starting to get into the groove with his line.
I do admire one thing about Ville Leino though. I guess it had been discussed on Schopp & the Bulldog one evening as I was driving home that he approached Darcy Regier and told him “don’t trade me, this is starting to work. We’re going to make things happen.” Ville is frustrated with himself as well so that’s a good thing to see. He’s holding himself accountable for mistakes. I think his honesty and commitment to the team and saying that to the GM speaks louder than it appears. I can support this. I cringe at games whenever fans tell him to hit people with his purse. Sometimes I think fans should try and play hockey so I can laugh at them…
What does 2012 have in store for these free agents and this team? We’ll have to wait and find out. The forever optimist in me truly believes that things are going to get better for the Sabres as long as the injury bug goes away. The Sabres have the right pieces (besides that number one center) to play at their best when their goaltenders are on their game but can they work together in order to achieve their goals?
Follow Shelby on Twitter: @shelbygriswold or @ShelbyBufWins.