Forget what you thought you knew. These are Terry Pegula’s Sabres and that’s become quite clear in the last week.
When Pegula and Ted Black rolled into town on February they made some fancy promises, rolled out some new marketing slogans and catchphrases — “Hockey Heaven,” “Winning Is Not A Goal, It Is A Belief,” “The Chains Are Off,” “Jump On The Bandwagon Now Because We’re Going To Be Super Awesome” (OK, I kind of made that last one up, but not really) — and shared their big ideas that just so happened match up pretty well with the big ideas of their team’s fans.
In the small amount of time they controlled the team during the season, they made some nice improvements to the game presentation and made heading down to the arena feel like an event, especially for that Fan Appreciation Night.
We got a glimpse of what they wanted to do with the roster when they took on Brad Boyes at the deadline, a relaitvely expensive player who still had another year left on his contract. New ownership gave Darcy Regier the “OK” to look beyond the rentals when he went shopping. We saw that again this week.
Robyn Regehr had a no movement clause in his contract. If Darcy Regier had been encouraged to go after higher profile players with fancy clauses in their contracts under the old regime, I’m pretty sure we would have heard about it at some point. Suddenly, he’s got new bosses who encourage him to do what he feels is best for the hockey club and suddenly he’s making calls about players who are, by contract, untouchable.
Next thing you know, Lindy Ruff and Pegula are on a plane to convince Regehr that Buffalo is the right place for him. And then Regehr accepted the trade. That’s a big deal for Buffalo fans. We have a major inferiority complex. There’s an effort from the top of the organization on down to improve the hockey club and it’s showing.
Homegrown products Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe are now signed on for the next few seasons at very reasonable prices to show that “Old Darcy” — Smeagol, if you will — still cares about holding onto his own guys. Oh yeah, the Sabres bought the Rochester Americans last week, too, so they control the pipeline. That’s pretty cool.
And “New Darcy” — I guess that would make him Gollum — came kicking down the door with an AK-47 in each hand and took aim at Christian Ehrhoff, who might be the best defensemen about to hit unrestricted free agency. Darcy traded for Ehrhoff’s rights and nailed down a 10-year, $40 million contract less than 24 hours later.
The Sabres defense went from young and iffy to rough and solid (at least on paper) faster than Jaromir Jagr’s plane ride back to the States.
But do you want to know the best part about “New Darcy?” He’s not done yet. So much for #DoSomethingDarcy.
And that brings us to today. The Sabres are already better and the free agent market is still closed. Now trades are still a possibility and Regier has shown with the Regehr deal that he still has the ability to put a pretty good package together for guys he really wants.
So with that, we’re looking at a new era in Sabres history. The team doesn’t operate like we’re used to. They operate now like the teams that Sabres fans used to envy when it came to chasing premier players, even if the pursuit didn’t prove to be successful.
If the Sabres sign Brad Richards, that’s awesome. No matter the price, they’re a better team down the middle with him in the lineup. Of course, there could be salary cap issues in the final few years of the contract, but in the relative near-future (the next three or four years), Richards puts the Sabres closer to their goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
If they don’t sign him, then at least they’ll almost certainly be among the teams that tried. The fact that their name is realistically in the conversation to sign the top free agent out there is a big deal. Until February, it would sound crazy to talk about any free agent more prominent than an Eric Belanger (who’s not a bad player, but he’s certainly not elite).
Things are different now. The check book is open and the only limit is the salary cap.