“It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.” – The Joker (The Dark Knight).
How fitting it is. Terry Pegula’s pockets are deep, and he’s made no qualms about spending what needs to be spent to turn Buffalo into a hockey destination. But he’s brought in a man with the know-how in Ted Black, and he’s got a GM with the experience and vision of Darcy Regier (without a self-imposed cap), and together they’ve made their intention clear. They’ll spend what needs to be spent. The important issue is the message.
The message is that the Buffalo Sabres are a top notch contender in the NHL. They’re no longer happy with making the playoffs, breaking even financially, or being relevant. This Sabres organization is not going to sit idly by while the big market teams like Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal pick up big name free agents. The message is very clear this off-season: the Buffalo Sabres came to play.
Landing Robyn Regehr was step number one. Since losing Toni Lydman last off-season, the Sabres haven’t had a top notch shut-down D man. It showed this year when Ryan Miller’s numbers dropped significantly, when the Sabres let in more goals than usual, and when the defense seemed to be weak in their own zone. Sure, the Sabres had some great offense generated by the D, but there were times when they were absolutely dominated behind their own blue line.
Darcy Regier set up a trade for a mean, nasty, shut-down defender that will be able to slide into the Top 4 and play as many minutes as they can throw at him. Regehr is a man that Sidney Crosby has said is “hard to play against,” and I think that can say it all. As soon as Regehr waived his no trade clause, Terry Pegula got in a plane with his wife and a ton of class to personally welcome Buffalo’s newest, most expensive D-man on the roster (CapGeek).
Then they set the bar higher.
Trading for Regehr landed the Sabres a 2nd round draft pick. So trading their 4th round pick to the Islanders for negotiating rights to Christian Ehrhoff was a perfect mix of being aggressive and smart spending. The organization said right then and there that it wasn’t enough just to improve their defense, they want to create the best defense in the NHL.
Ehrhoff is an offensive monster. He scored 50 points and was a +19 last season, and he’s gone deep into the playoffs with the Sharks and Canucks the last six years straight. He reportedly rejected a deal similar to Bieksa’s five year, $23M contract. After his negotiation rights were traded to the New York Islanders, he reportedly rejected their “significant offer.” Old Sabres management would take note and say that this kid isn’t worth the risk. Hell, my expectations of this Sabres management were that they’d wait for free agency.
No. The Pegula Era mentality is extremely aggressive and smart. They traded a 4th round pick for exclusive negotiating rights to the hottest current defenseman heading toward free agency. Today they are going to try to negotiate with him and see if they can lock up a guy that was intent on heading to the market, to cities that are ready to spend like Chicago and New York. The Buffalo Sabres made a statement that says, “We are not an afterthought. We are not going to sit back.”
Here’s the trick. Even if Christian Ehrhoff refuses to sign with the Sabres, they still win. That deal with Calgary was so good, even the possibility of throwing away their 4th round pick leaves them in a better position next year. They looked around and realized they had two second rounders, did Garth Snow a favor by returning his spent 4th round pick (also known as scratching his back and building trust), and made a big move toward a big upcoming free agent. Message: sent.
The other big free agent is going to be Brad Richards, and many Sabres fans are excited to see if Buffalo is going to make a move for him. Richards’ agent spoke to WGR and told them to “Tell Darcy to be aggressive.” Well, here you go. Richards wants to sign with a Cup contender, and he wants to sign with a group that is hungry to win. The Sabres have not only been aggressive in pursuit of contracts with those they are negotiating with, they have been extremely aggressive in an effort to show the NHL they mean business. Last off-season Darcy was unable to land Saku Koivu or Matt Cullen, probably because both players knew that was it…that was the move. Right now Brad Richards could be looking at Buffalo and saying, “This really is different. They aren’t content with one or two moves…they want it all.”
On top of that, Steve Montador’s negotiation rights were traded to Chicago for a 7th round pick (which is actually Florida’s 7th rounder). I’ve said before that I would’ve liked Monty as a 7th defender, and I loved his work ethic. He was a Buffalo kind of guy; underrated, hard working, and ready to do what was necessary. As much as I’m sorry to see him go, trading his rights was absolute genius. It shows two things: 1.) This team doesn’t want players that are good enough. They want the best. 2.) They got something for an outgoing free agent.
The first point is the obvious one. In years past Regier and management would try to upgrade the roster, and sometimes it’s been successful. Montador might’ve been one of the hardest working Sabres, and he is absolutely dedicated to his team, but he’s just not a Top 4 defender.
The second point has been a bone of contention of mine for a long time. How many free agents have walked out the door for absolutely nothing? Limitations have handcuffed Regier in the past and he’s been forced to trade away people like Brian Campbell, and even people like Nathan Paetsch have been traded at the deadline. But at the end of the season, it’s generally been sign or walk. The fact that Regier was able to find a deal like this one for Montador, a UFA tomorrow, and pull the trigger means a lot to me. Yes it’s just a 7th round pick, but it’s an asset that the Sabres now have when they were going to have nothing.
So, we’ll see what happens with Ehrhoff. Then we’ll see what happens with the rest of the defense. Qualifying offers have already been sent to Weber, Gragnani, and Sekera…maybe one was rejected. Maybe they’re intent on having a lot of depth at defense. Maybe someone is being traded. Finally, we’ll see what happens with Brad Richards in free agency, or if the Sabres are indeed going to try to trade for a different number 1 center. We as fans can only sit back and watch.
The message, though, is that Darcy Regier and the Buffalo Sabres are not going to sit back and watch anymore.
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Tags: Andrej Sekera Brad Richards Brian Campbell Buffalo Sabres Chicago Blackhawks Christian Ehrhoff Darcy Regier Detroit Red Wings Eastern Conference Fansided Free Agency Hockey Kevin Bieksa Lindy Ruff Marc-andre Gragnani Mike Weber Montreal Canadiens Nathan Paetsch New York Islanders New York Rangers NHL Northeast Division Philadelphia Flyers Portland Pirates Robyn Regehr Ryan Miller Sabres Stanley Cup Stanley Cup Playoffs Steve Montador Ted Black Terry Pegula Trade Trade Deadline Wgr