If you listened to the latest podcast Corey and Ryan recorded, you heard them discuss the notion that Buffalo Sabres fans may not be prepared for the new ways in which the franchise will operate. Restrained only by the league-imposed salary cap, General Manager Darcy Regier can now spend as much as he sees fit.
The Sabres may very well be joining the ranks of the Rangers and Flyers, teams that toss around big-money contracts with little regard for the smaller market teams. Those are teams Sabres fans hate.
Why should the Flyers and Rangers be able to drive up the price of free agents? Why do other general managers keep bailing out Glen Sather? Wait, the Flyers are still paying Mike Rathje?
With new ownership that’s opened up its pockets, Buffalo may live just long enough to see themselves become the villain. They’re going from card-carrying members of the Super Friends to full-scale inductees of the Legion of Doom.
Terry Pegula owning the team means the Sabres can afford to sign Andrej Sekera for $11 million over the next four seasons. They can bend the rules, circumvent the cap and pay Christian Ehrhoff $18 million of his $40 million contract in the next two seasons. Buyouts aren’t desperate moves used to get under a self-imposed cap; buyouts can now be used to fix mistakes and get rid of players you don’t want anymore.
It’s like the Sabres have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and are now scrambling to find a way to leave some money behind for their pregnant wife and handicapped son.
Now I’m not saying the Sabres are suddenly going to start cooking meth in an RV off the Scajaquada or shoot drug dealers in the face after running them over with their Pontiac Aztek. I’m not saying that — unless of course, Terry Pegula shaves his head and starts wearing a porkpie hat.
In their attempt to create “Hockey Heaven” the Sabres are going to become very unlikable. You can’t be the lovable underdog when you’re the one throwing a six-year contract at a player like left winger Ville Leino, who played well for all of one season and two playoff runs. And then you’re going to move him to center? Good luck not getting blamed for the next lockout.
Ville Leino. His name is an anagram for El Evil Lion for heaven’s sake.
Yeah, no one around the league is going to pity the Sabres if they struggle on the ice. They are pretty much trying to become the Manchester City of the NHL. Substitute oil money for hydro-fracking. And even the Man City players know they’re hated.
That’s the price to pay, however, if the Sabres are serious about running with the big boys.
As Sabres fans, we’re used to looking for the nickels under our couch cushions. That’s how Regier used to buy free agents. Sometimes he’d even find a way to trade those nickels for dimes. Now he’s been given a debit card. Look out.
Expectations are going to be higher, but money doesn’t buy championships. You’re not entitled to anything as a franchise if you decide to spend more than the other teams. It puts you in the conversation of the other “Haves” of the league but not much else.
It’s still going to take a lot of work to get the right personalities in the dressing room in sync and it’s still going to require a lot of luck to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. It took the Red Sox years of spending neck-and-neck with the Yankees before they finally broke through and ended all of that silly Curse talk. And even then, they traded away a name like Nomahhh for a better fit like Orlando Cabrera.
Let’s be honest. Baseball is a little more fun and interesting when a come-from-nowhere team like the Pirates are leading their division after the All-Star Break. The Sabres can no longer be the “feel-good” story of the league. Leave that to the Panthers or the Jets.
What the Sabres are trying to become is the Big Bad Wolf. They’ll spend to bring the best players in and convince them that the brick house they’ve actually built is where they all want to live. They want to be Darth Vader supervising the construction of the Death Star.
Are Sabres fans ready to be hated by other fans? Are they ready to root for the bad guy?