Farmhand Needed

by Ryan

There has been so much talk regarding what Darcy Regier will do tomorrow that it is hard to write about it any more. The angles have been covered, the team’s best interests discussed, and many of the possibilities have been examined. So have we missed anything in all this trade talk? Well, maybe we have.

Chris Roy of Maine Hockey Journal writes that Darcy should tend to the farm on Wednesday, and he makes an interesting case for it. I’d read the whole thing, but here’s a bit of what he has to say:

The Pirates have skated with five defensemen for a large part of the season and the Sabres have done nary a thing that about it.

To be fair, who could have seen the Pirates go without the services of Mike Card, Mike Funk and now Mike Weber, but that doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo recalled Chris Butler and have had eight healthy defensemen, while the Pirates have to scrap the ECHL barrel for warm bodies.

How does that benefit Mike Kostka or Marc-Andre Gragnani when they are forced to play significantly more minutes, in a schedule that often see the Pirates play four games in five nights or three games in three days?

While the Pirates current role is to develop players for the Sabres, it’s not their sole purpose.

The Pirates are in the entertainment business. They exist to provide entertainment for the residents of the Greater Portland area and Southern Maine and while many in Buffalo land may not like to hear this, developing player’s is secondary in the minds of those who sit in the stands.

As the paying customer, they are the one’s who matter.

I do agree with a lot of what Chris has to say, but the larger question he posed still remains unanswered. Will Darcy do anything to shore up the farm team and, maybe more importantly, what are his obligations to do so?

It seems to me that many of the problems Portland has are out of his control. The numerous injuries the Pirates have suffered on defense and between the pipes have forced their hand a bit, and it doesn’t help that Buffalo has faced similar concerns this season. Butler would not be on the active roster unless he was completely necessary at the time he was called up, and as Roy admits you would be hard pressed to send him down based on play.

However, it’s a tough sell to say a transaction must be made to offset the loss of Butler. Sabres fans are all too familiar with losing defenseman down the stretch run, and while eight healthy defenseman may seem like an unnecessary surplus it may turn out to be a shortage within a matter of a few games. It’s also worth noting that trading Teppo seems extremely unlikely due to his age and contract, and I would be shocked to see management give up on Paetsch for the sake of the farm team.

The need for Enroth is obvious with Miller out, and while it hurts the Pirates to have him sit on the bench in Buffalo behind Lalime you would be hard pressed to say Darcy should have made a move instead. If Regier is known for anything it is not making panic trades, and fans hoping for an overnight move to bring in a goaltender were left wanting.

Still, that doesn’t mean nothing will be done to help the Pirates. Darcy has made moves exclusively with the intent to help Rochester, but it has been a while. The last time I can recall a case was back in 2007 at the trade deadline. The Sabres picked up Mikko Lehtonen from Nashville in exchange for a 4th round pick. The move was obviously designed to help the farm team in light of the callups required on defense, which once again was seriously depleted at the NHL and AHL level. Buffalo also picked up defenseman Timo Helbling from Washington in the Zubrus/Novotny deal, and Helbling also suited up for the Amerks.

Clearly there is a history of Regier making moves to help the farm team when deemed necessary, so I suppose the question is whether or not the need is there. Chris Roy makes a good case that it is, and I happen to agree with him when he says something should be done. At the very least it would be a show of good faith to help out Portland and reinforce the notion that Buffalo will be a good parent club. Both sides are still feeling the relationship out, and it can’t help that Buffalo has taken from an already depleted defense along with Portland’s top scorers all season. Toss in the fact that their only healthy goaltender is sitting in Buffalo right now, and there’s plenty of reason Pirates fans should be upset.

However, I’m just not sure how much Darcy Regier is willing to do given the assets this team has. Is it really worth moving Afinogenov for a few AHL-ready defenseman, or should more long-term goals be in mind tomorrow? When it comes down to it, is the demand for action with the Sabres or Pirates the larger concern at the deadline? Can Darcy manage to buy, sell, and restock the farm team at the same time?

I think we’re more than likely to see him try doing all three, and that may include something similar to the Zubrus deal we saw two years ago. Sabres brass won’t be looking for guys to make a major push, but they will be looking for help up in Maine for sure. It won’t be the priority, but it has to be on the radar, right?