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Sabres Central

Sabres may cut costs & lose players!

By Rick Anderson
May 27, 2007

Sabres fans better have enjoyed last season, because times are going to change.

It appears that the idea that it was "all or nothing" last season for the Sabres was true. Buffalo spent up to the cap because it was a last ditch effort to win the Cup before they implemented their own salary cap to become more financially responsible.

Darcy Regier was to blame for the 12 unrestricted free agents who were due arbitration review last summer.. When Daniel Briere's contract award went through the roof, Regier had to either allow all the players to get twice their salary, or quickly come to terms with them at a salary which they would prefer to be much smaller.

Regier thought he was cunning, coy and cute in offering the vast majority of the team 1-year qualifying deals after the lockout was settled with a new CBA a couple years ago. Instead, he dug his own grave and it cost the Sabres big time when they had to come up with money they actually couldn't afford.

So last year it was a one-time deal again. Win the Cup with the players they had because a lot of the "stars" would be elsewhere next season.

The Sabres have once again instituted their own team salary cap and it isn't going to go up with the cap of $48 million. In fact, after possibly trimming such players such as Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, the Sabres may be going back to their frugal ways. According to managing partner Larry Quinn, the Sabres may be cutting way back on expenditures, even though they sold out every game and their merchandise sales when through the roof last year.

An article in Sundayís Buffalo News foretold of changes in the salary structure that may not please Sabres fans.

"We will have our own budget," Quinn told the Buffalo News, "and it will be a responsible one."

Quinn went on to say "For us, the cap isnít the real issue; itís keeping the team intact and having positive cash flow. Tom (Golisano) saved the team, and thatís great. But Tom isnít always going to be here, and if the team canít operate on its own, it canít be viable long-term. Itís up to us to make sure this team can pay its own freight."

This definitely means that the Sabres wonít be able to keep both Drury and Briere, if either. A team that offers Thomas Vanek a hefty contract may be able to steal him away if the Sabres donít match that number. If enough players leave the Sabres because of salary issues, the fans may see a much different team that won the Presidentsí Trophy last season. In fact, if the worst case scenario comes true with the Sabres losing their top three of Briere, Drury and Vanek, the team could have a hard time just making the playoffs next season.

"If they move the salary cap up and we go with it, thereís a good possibility we would lose money unless we reached the second round of the playoffs," said Sabres owner Golisano. "Thatís an unhealthy situation."

"You still have the haves and the have-nots," continued Golisano. "The revenue sharing is a partial cure. If you take a team like Toronto, with ticket revenues 2 times ours, they love it when the salary cap goes up. But the Sabres and the competition for the players? It gets more difficult."

Buffalo has 13 players who have a contract for next year and 11 players will be restricted or unrestricted free agents. Drury and Briere lead the list of UFAs, along with veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen, second string goalie Ty Conklin, Dainius Zubrus and Adam Mair.

Vanek will be the most sought after restricted free agent and his 43 goals along with a league-leading plus 47 +/- rating will attract may suitors. How much Vanek signs for will determine the compensation the Sabres would get. A $6 million contract offered Vanek by another team would give the Sabres 4 first round draft choices. If the Sabres refused to match a contract offered Vanek between the $4 million to $5 million range, they would get two first round picks, a second, and a third. $3 million to $4 million would equate to a first-round, second-round, third-round. $2 Million to $3 Million would equal a first-round and third-round choice. Unless the Sabres are willing to match a big offer Vanek is certainly going to get, he could join Drury and Briere in shuffling out of Buffalo.

Three other notable RFAs are Derek Roy, Nathan Paetsch and Daniel Paille. All three could receive attractive offers by rival NHL teams. 

In all, considering that the Sabres want to cut back on expenditures and the high cost of keeping even some of the free agents, it appears that the team that takes the ice next October will be quite different from the one that lost to the Senators in 5 games. Will the Sabres fans take this in stride, or will they realize that this push to win the Stanley Cup was a one-year deal and it will be back to mediocrity for the Sabres?

Tom Golisano strikes me as a knowledgeable business man. But if what he is hinting at goes through, it could be like going back to the dark ages for the Sabres. We all remember those ages well...it was only a couple years ago. The Sabres were playing the Senators and it was in January a few years ago. I went to the game with a family member and there were around 5,000 fans in the stands, even though the announced attendance was around 8,000.

Those were the days in which the Sabres were holding down salaries, and were one of the lowest in the NHL in salaries. Now it appears as if Golisano, fresh off the most successful season in Sabres history in revenue (that includes ticket sales, concessions and the whopping demand for Sabres merchandise), will cut down to the bottom line. He seems to feel that if he cuts salaries, the fans will still flock to the gates and buy all the merchandise. Also, the short-sighted front office (Regier is the most shortsighted of them all) doesn't realize that if you cut the stars and their salaries, the chances of making the playoffs and going deep are nill.

But Golisano, Larry Quinn and Regier only can see the bottom line and the salaries have to be paired down, according to them. Then watch the fans once again disguise themselves as empty seats. The Sabres should use the film and entertainment industry as an example. If you have a No. 1 hit, you donít suddenly slash the stars from the next movie, replacing them with much cheaper actors.

The Sabres will have to be careful not to alienate the very fan base that supported them so much last season. A balance will have to be struck so not to turn off the fans who pay their bills. Be too cheap and turn a first place team into a loser and the fans will turn on them and turn to the Bills to support.

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