Trial by Ice

by Ryan

As Chris said yesterday, it’s been a really long time since we’ve talked about hockey at length.

Some of the reasons are obvious: absolutely nothing has been happening over the past few months. In fact, the summer of atrophy we’ve had has been downright demoralizing. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the press box this summer, but I can’t help but being a bit down on the team as camp opened over the weekend.

Excitement will come as the season grows closer, but right now we’re left with the facts: this is a 10th place team coming to camp as a 10th place team. Not much has changed, and until yesterday afternoon the Sabres were missing yet another big piece. Stafford signing with the team is good news, but only because of the terms. Considering the phrase “Nathan Horton money” was being tossed around at the end of last week, 2years/$3.8 million is indeed a good ratio for the bottom line.

cameragunIn fact, the Stafford signing is by far the most important moment in this off season; certainly not intentionally but true nonetheless. The truth is this: Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are in a tough position as they start the 2009-10 season, and they clearly know it. The trade market was not what they hoped, yet another miscalculation by GMDR, and misplaying the Stafford situation would be a crippling way to head into the new season.

It wasn’t “Darcy’s Last Stand”, but metaphorically I think it was something close to it. Put it this way: Darcy had to win this fight. Drew Stafford had zero leverage as a UFA and one with stagnant numbers at that. The team’s lack of cap space and unwillingness to spend to that cap was common knowledge, and Darcy wasn’t going to break the bank for the sake of some twenty-something punk thrasher who whines at least once a practice.

And so Darcy held on because he had to. His team just happened to have a surplus of forwards, and to be frank he doesn’t need Stafford at “Nathan Horton money.”

Put it this way: Darcy’s track record has never been more scrutinized than right now. His deal with Hecht looks like a misfire, Pominville migt be iffy, Connolly will always be a question mark, and everyone knows he picked Kotalik over J.P. Dumont. Vanek’s deal was never his to begin with, and again he had his hand forced by the “market.” Factor in concerns about Miller’s durability in the face of a heavy workload this season (Both NHL and international) and even the franchise goaltender’s new deal could be “trouble.”

Darcy Regier needed a slam dunk this summer, whether with free agency, on the trading block, or with the RFAs. Adding “grit” and Mike Grier isn’t going to set the town ablaze, but getting Drew Stafford at a 50% pay raise looks like a fantastic deal with dreams of potential and 30-goal seasons dancing through our heads. Even if he falls flat on his face, the Sabres are spending money in worse ways.

88512257RM062_NHL_Charity_SDarcy’s clearly not out of the woods yet, and to be honest I’d still characterize his off season as a fantastic failure. However, the immediacy of the Stafford deal will earn him praise at just the right time, and it just might buy him until the trade deadline he covets so much if the team doesn’t fall flat on its face.

As Sabres fans we have to face the reality of this season: the dynamic, inseparable duo of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are fighting for their jobs. They will live and die with the team they put out on the ice, whether justified or not. The clock is ticking, and the sooner they hit the ice for real the sooner we get our verdict.