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Sabres Central

How did Sabres crash & burn so quickly?


By Rick Anderson
March 29, 2008

With the regular season quickly coming to a close, there are a lot of questions that must be answered in the off season.

How can a hockey team fall from grace so quickly? The Sabres were the Presidents Trophy winner last season and this year most likely wonít make the playoffs at all. Just how could a team be dismantled so quickly?

One can look at the youthful mix of players that are trying to fill in the gapping holes left by the departures of Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and lately Brian Campbell. The Sabres are a much younger team this year because of the loss of those three, and they also loss a lot of leadership in the locker room because of this. However, while the players must shoulder a lot of the blame for this season that has gone south in a hurry, they arenít the main reason for the team crashing and burning.

All one has to do is to look at the top, and that old proverb applies here..."A fish rots from the head." The Sabres front office is the reason for the team crashing and burning in just one season. The three decayed heads of state obviously are GM Darcy Regier, Managing Partner Larry Quinn and owner Thomas B. Golisano. All three share equally in the sudden demise of a team that led the entire NHL just one season ago.

Regier obviously has been the one getting most of the blame for the loss of so many players the past 3 years. Heís the front man and the fans have been cussing him out for years. However, itís time to look behind the curtain and see who is actually operating the controls. Quinn has definitely had a major input on who goes and who stays.

The biggest blame for the current dismantling of the Sabres falls mainly on the shoulders of Quinn and Golisano. Quinn is the cretin who stirred the pot in the Hasek-Muckler-Nolan war and when all 3 departed.. At that time, Quinn was also let go.

Suddenly, Quinn re-appeared when he helped Golisano acquire the franchise and he was awarded by being put in charge of the team. Golisano, who didnít know much about hockey when he first bought the team, has put all his trust in Quinn. Thatís like putting your trust in the devil, as Quinn has personal motives that mostly benefit himself.

Until recently, Golisano was not held accountable, for the most part, in the Sabres demise. Now, after revealing on radio and also on a Hockey Night in Canada interview, Golisano h as revealed that he is in constant touch with both Quinn and Regier. He said that he calls them 4 times a day to go over Sabres business. If Golisano is supposed to be such a astute business man, why has he allowed the heart and soul to be ripped out of the team?

The losses of Drury, Briere and Campbell could have been avoided if the Sabres had been pro-active in their contract negotiations. While other teams negotiate their players contracts as soon as possible to ink long term deals with their stars, the Sabres always drag it out to the bitter end. That always results in the playerís worth soaring and the price of signing that player going beyond the Sabres price range.

Everyone knows about how the loss of captains Briere and Drury ripped a huge hole in the Sabres this season, on the ice and in the locker room. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been trying hard, without too much success, to replace the loss in scoring and leadership. Now that there are only 7 games remaining, it appears as if the battle could be over and the Sabres will start playing their golf much sooner than last year.

With the huge fan support growing like wild fire the past 3 years, one would think that management would not shoot itself in the foot and try to keep the stars that helped pack the house. Not this front office! This organization is blind to what actually generates the revenue...the fans. Itís like a hot Broadway hit or a Hollywood movie that sold out all performances, only to have the producers cut the stars out for the sequel, expecting the sellouts to continue. It just doesnít happen that way, especially in todayís financially troubled times. People work hard for their money and expect to be treated to a hard working team on the ice. They are not going to continue to dole out huge chunks of their budget on a hockey team that is losing all its stars and going backwards in the standings.

Had they operated like any other management team with foresight, the Sabres would have never left Briere or Drury go. They would have been signed over a year ago as they were important cogs in the Sabres machinery. The Ottawa Senators have signed all their stars even before they get close to free agency. So does every other NHL team that is worth its salt.

One would think that the Sabres front office would have learned its lesson after hearing all the uproar by fans and media over the Drury-Briere fiasco. Nope. The monster continued to bungle the contract negotiations with 2-time All-Star Brian Campbell and were eventually forced to trade him away at the trading deadline as it became a situation where they wouldnít be able to sign him after the season.

The remarkable thing is that last summer, Campbellís agent offered the Sabres a 5-year, $25 million package. The monster, in its self-delusional omnipotence, turned down the deal. Campbell, meanwhile saw his stock soar this season and now reports are that he could sign a deal after this season for $8 million a year, or more! What's more, his new team the Sharks, haven't lost a regulation game since the trade. This organization definitely needs to get new glasses as its shortsightedness is becoming a laughing matter around the league.

While Regier should not get the bulk of the blame for the loss of players like Drury, Briere, Campbell, Mike Griere, J.P. Dumont, Jay McKee and others, he still has to shoulder a lot of the fault.

Regier has always been a bottom line man. He feels that all the players should feel overly privileged to wear a Sabres uniform, and gives the impression that players should offer "hometown discounts" just to stay with the team. Not so in todayís professional sports. Like every other enterprise, an organization has to spend money to make money.

Teams like the Senators and Red Wings lock up their stars, while the Sabres front office plays games with the players that are the central core of the team. This season they started to negotiate early in-season to get some of their players signed long term, like Derek Roy and Jochen Heicht.. It could be too little too late.

There have been contract disputes ever since Regier came to Buffalo to replace John Muckler. He started off by offering Ted Nolan a slap-in-the-face 1-year laughable deal after the Sabres coach won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. Regier was responsible for driving captain Michael Peca out of town when he hard-balled him with his bottom line scenario.

There have been so many Sabres who have been shown the door when most other teams would have awarded them for a job well done that there's a huge anti-Regier club of disgruntled ex-Sabres.

It could be argued that the Sabres are the only team that is trying to stay fiscally responsible, toting the line, so to speak, in this age of soaring player salaries. What was the lockout all about? The team owners cried broke, got their salary cap, and now the salary cap has been going up every year. Whatís more, big market teams like the Rangers and Flyers, who have more TV revenue than most NHL teams, are driving the salaries up. With the signings of Drury, Briere and Scott Gomez, the salaries are going through the roof. Add to that the recent signings of Alex Ovechkin by the Capitals to a 13-year $124 million contract and the Flyers signing Mike Richards for the tune of 12 years and $69 million.

Just how can NHL teams, that donít have the huge NFL-type TV revenue, keep pace with the NFL in offering these huge contracts? The small market teams will not be able to keep up and it could result in a lot of teams folding.

With this said, it does not excuse the Sabres from losing so many players the past few years from mismanaging contract negotiations. They had their chance to sign these players to much smaller contracts than what they eventually received.

With the Sabres on the outside looking in this year during the playoffs, maybe it will give the front office time to think. They are a bottom line organization after all, and maybe the loss of millions in playoff revenue along with the possibility of much smaller crowds next season finally knock some sense into the budget-conscious men at the top. To them, the bottom line is everything and when the bottom line is a huge loss of revenue, they just might wake up and take notice.

The fans are doing their part in selling out each and every game. The 3 at the top have dropped the ball so many times that they are lucky there arenít crowds of under 10,000 per game. That could be coming next year as the fans have had it with this bungling management team.

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