It was about this time last week I was bored stiff by the lack of activity down at the HSBC Arena war room. Tonight I feel a bit different about the way Darcy has been handling the offseason.
I am admittedly hard on the front office, and as a fan you always want to see action, fireworks, anything to get you excited about the “direction” of the team. Seeing big name after big name sign elsewhere is nothing new, but watching guys you know are within reason go off the market is downright annoying.
So what is it that has made this summer seem suddenly bright?
The Steve Bernier Saga.
When the initial word broke that Bernier had been traded, you had to be a bit baffled by the decision. Sure you expected another move, but why give up so soon on a former first rounder that showed a bit of promise? At the going RFA rate, he wasn’t going to fetch a huge cap figure, so why not move out a larger number (Timmy, Max, Ales) and make a splash with a defenseman?
Then came the Rivet trade.
I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty high on Craig Rivet. I like his game, I like his contract, and I like what he can mean to a hockey team. In between the Bernier trade and bringing in Rivet, Chris sent me a text asking “If you were Miller, do you re-sign based on this offseason?” I said absolutely not. Now, I’d take a look at this and reconsider:
Still, it wasn’t until today that you really appreciated the series of trades the Sabres have made. With the news of Steve Bernier’s offer sheet from St. Louis, suddenly Darcy looks a whole lot smarter.
Now that isn’t to say Darcy knew an offer sheet was coming. Rumors support the theory, and word is that Vancouver had given notice of an impending offer sheet in the Backes deal, but that doesn’t mean anything really. Darcy could have been looking to dump Bernier, and because he was suddenly a Canuck the Blues went after him in retaliation.
No one will ever really know the circumstances of the trade and subsequent offer sheet, but I do know I wouldn’t want Steve Bernier at $2.5 mil per. The moves made on July 4th seem reasonable, but combined with Bernier’s increased price tag and Darcy comes off looking very… smart. In July, that’s about as good as you can ask your GM to be.
This doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with this offseason just yet. In fact, Chris and I agree that Jason Smith was very doable. However, Darcy has already achieved two very important things this summer.
The first of which wasn’t really on the fans’ radar, but certainly something Darcy is satisfied with. By flipping Bernier for Rivet, he has finally gotten a defenseman in return for Brian Campbell. Because of the picks and the players involved, Rivet and Campbell will be inexorably tied, both in the media guide and the general awareness of the fans. That’s a huge deal, and will mean even more as time passes and memories fade.
The second bi product of the move is freeing up a roster spot for forwards. While there is still much to be decided, the fact of the matter is that Paille and Kaleta deserve to be in the top 12 and players need to be moved out. The sad departure of Bernier only shows how important Dan Paille is to the front office, and who knows if Marek Zagrapan makes the leap into the NHL this fall.
I know everyone has an opinion on how things are going this summer, and there seem to be two distinct camps. The first camp is skeptical about every move (or lack thereof), and the second is just excited to have a warm body coming to town. In fact, Bucky Gleason had an excellent article about the problems the Sabres have had with bringing in free agents.
Sadly, he is spot on with regards to how Buffalo is viewed by prospective players. This management has a reputation regarding how it takes care of current players, and it’s not exactly a glowing endorsement. The track record is there, from the Rigas era to last summer’s Briere/Drury situation. Until that reputation is rectified the Sabres will continue to struggle when it comes to luring free agent talent.
Fixing that image will take some time, but it should be the focus the remainder of summer. Getting Ryan Miller under contract before October is the biggest obstacle the Sabres will face; and it will make or break Darcy Regier’s career. Pominville deserves attention as well, but just from the way Darcy talks about Ryan Miller, even to the press, you can practically feel the importance Ryan takes on in his mind.
We’ve seen far too many players walk out the door in this city. It’s about time we nail one down before he gets a look at someone else’s yard. It’s not impossible, and if it gets done, consider me ready for another glass of Kool Aid.