by Ryan and Chris
Chris: Free agent defenseman Jay McKee signed a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins for $800,000. The Sabres signed Steve Montador to a two-year deal worth $3 million. I find it hard to believe that the Montador at age 29 is 3.75 times better than Jay McKee, who at 31, may have the body of a player a few years older.
Ryan: I find that hard to believe as well, but let me defend a GMDR no-signing for once. McKee is hardly a sure thing, which explains his low price tag and the buyout in the first place. Someone thought they would be better off paying him money for doing absolutely nothing, so there were a few issues there. I also don’t know if he would sign with Buffalo at that rate. This is Pittsburgh we’re talking about, and they have proof that they can win and win right now. They are in a position to offer contracts like that because of their newfound reputation.
Chris: The one-year contract really is a thing of beauty in this case. Having lost Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill in free agency, the Penguins are looking for a gritty shot-blocker to eat up some minutes. McKee is leaving the door open for a bigger contract next year (not nearly what he signed for in 2006) if he has a quality season in Pittsburgh. And if he tanks, then it’s a small salary hit and he can try again with another one-year contract. Yes he probably signed with Pittsburgh because of their reputation now, but shouldn’t Buffalo have at least been more interested?
Ryan: I hate being a Darcy apologist, but maybe he wasn’t available at that rate. McKee might not think too highly of management after being set free, and if Jay is playing the one-and-done game in order to get one last contract, he needs a place to play that is the right fit. I mean, try not notching 20 points playing behind guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Staal. There is very little pressure to do anything other than play his game in Pittsburgh, and perhaps coming back to Buffalo the expectations would be too high. Like we’ve said before, this isn’t the Jay McKee of old.
Chris: I think the big question is what do the Sabres expect their defense to look like in three years? With Montador around this year and next year, it might not allow guys like Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, and even T.J. Brennan room to grow in the NHL. Signing a guy like McKee to a one-year deal worth half as much as Montador’s allows the Sabres to keep a veteran presence on the team and won’t have much of an impact financially on the future of the franchise.
Ryan: That’s a great question, and it might lead to some insight on just what Darcy is doing here. I think Myers will be with the big club this year along with Weber, but Brennan isn’t far off. You’re right, McKee could absolutely fill the role of Papa Bear and help the rookies along, but perhaps Montador provides that sort of leadership on a more long-term basis. I’ll be honest, I look at this as less of a “Montador vs. McKee” thing and more about who fills out the top six on this hockey team. It might be Darcy overvaluing his rookies again, but perhaps McKee just didn’t land in the top three pairs. Not with his skill set, anyway.
Chris: For McKee, signing in Pittsburgh was the best move for him. But for the Sabres, I’m not sure I see too much of a difference between Montador and McKee. McKee was always a grinder and I think he would have meshed well in the locker room with grittier guys like Craig Rivet. And a strong veteran presence can’t hurt this team. McKee’s no slouch in the leadership department either. Remember, he wore the “A” for the 2005-06 season. It seems, again, like Regier has misjudged the marketplace a bit. He saw a guy in Montador that he really liked, went out and got him. That’s fine and unexpected (I truly was caught off-guard with that signing. I was resigned to the fact that he was going to sit on his hands for a few days and look at other options). But when you look at McKee getting $800,000, it sure seems like the Sabres overpaid for Montador, who put up strong numbers on two very defensive-minded teams last year.
Ryan: It’s very possible that the Sabres overpaid for Montador, but I still like the signing. The Penguins are a good fit for McKee and he will probably do well there, but that still doesn’t mean things would have worked out in Buffalo. There are a lot of rookies on this roster, and whether his cap hit is low or not the pressure would be on to perform like retro, fuzzy-haired Jay McKee. On the Penguins he can be an afterthought and pleasant surprise at best, a forgetful fringe signing at worst. I don’t think the same could be said here, despite the reality of his health and proper expectations.
Plus he makes a terrible Marilyn Monroe…