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Sabres Central

Will Pegula keep Regier?

Now that Terry Pegula is officially the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres, Sabres fans can hope for some immediate decisions that will change the direction the team has gone the past few years. One of his biggest decisions will be what to do with General Manager Darcy Regier. Most think that Pegula will have an evaluation period to see just what Regier will do without Larry Quinn pulling his strings.

There are two lines of thinking involving Regierís reign in Buffalo. One has Quinn and former owners John Rigas and Tom Golisano, making all the decisions with Regier only being the "Yes Man." On the other side of the coin, Regier may have had the final say on any decision involving contract negotiations and deciding who stayed and who was sent packing. The belief here is that the latter argument held true for the most part.

Examining Regierís 13-year resume with the Buffalo Sabres, one can see a definite trend in his "Patient to a fault" history. He was often compared to the fictional character of Niles Crane on the TV Sitcom "Frasier." Niles was meek, conservative, was fastidious, snobby and fussy. If anyone were to play the role of Darcy Regier in a movie, it definitely would be actor David Hyde Pierce, who portrayed Niles Crane. Not only did Crane have the same mannerisms of Regier, but he could be his brother, they resemble each other so closely.

Regier had some success stories during his tenure as GM. Probably the greatest feather in his cap was when he acquired Danny Briere from Phoenix in a trade. He also traded for Chris Drury and made some other moves that benefitted the Sabres. However, there were many more strikes against him that have to be considered by Pegula during his evaluation of Regier. Allowing Drury and Briere to slip out of town without as much as a bag of pucks in return is most likely to be deemed his biggest failure. There were so many mistakes that two playoff teams could be made up of players that Regier allowed to leave, either by incompetence or choice.

Letís examine the policies the Sabres implemented during Regierís reign that led to the departure of such quality players.

Tough Contract negotiations

This will forever be the main sticking point in Regierís resume. The club policy was to never negotiate a playerís contract during the season. This policy directly led to the departures of Drury, Briere, Brian Campbell, Jay McKee, Jaroslav Spacek and J.P. Dumont to name but a few of the good talent that slipped through Darcyís grasp.

The ironic part of the Sabres policy of not negotiating contracts during a season was the revelation that the Sabres extended Regierís contract for two more years this last October, during the season! Regier signed for two years at an estimated $2.5 million. That wonít make it easy for Pegula when the season ends and he has to decide whether to terminate Regierís contract or keep him. It would have been a no decision to just go another direction after this disastrous season ends.

Golisano is supposed to be such a brilliant business mind. If so, doesnít it make business sense to sign players a year BEFORE they enter into their last season under contract? Take Briere for example. He wanted to stay badly in Buffalo. His wife was from Buffalo and they had just started a family. Briere would have signed for a lot less than what he eventually got from the Flyers as an unrestricted free agent. Same with Drury, along with Campbell and Dumont.

It doesnít take a rocket scientist or an MBA out of Harvard to know that if you keep your stars on a hockey team, the team will fare much better than without them. Fan satisfaction over winning and making the playoffs translates to bigger profits at the gate and the sale of team merchandise. But no, Regier, Quinn and Golisano couldnít see past the "bottom line" of player salaries. Call this the Sabres "Bottom Line Tunnel Vision." Quinn and Co. set a salary structure and stuck with that throughout the series of bungled player negotiations that led to the demise of one of the top teams in the NHL.

Pegula now takes over a team that has been ransacked of star quality players as a result of the Quinn/Golisano/Regier policy of non-negotiations during a season. It will take several years to build the team back to where it was the last time they were in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Who pulled the strings?

This is the question that Sabres fans and media have been pondering the past few years. Just who made the final decision on player negotiations and which player to keep? Was it Golisano? He revealed during his "Goodbye speech" a few weeks ago, when he said that the most important directive he gave to Quinn and Regier was to"break even." Winning be damned!

Or was it Quinn who pulled Regierís strings? Was Regier so timid, so weak that he dare not speak up to his superiors if he thought that theyíd be better off in offering Briere and Drury a fair contract a year BEFORE they entered into their last season under contract? Was it the Niles Crane in him that prevented him from pointing out to the owner and "Managing Partner" Quinn that it not only made business sense to sign up your star players early on to save money, but it would show the fans who supported the team that management was doing all it could to provide a competitive team on the ice.?

Even if it was true that Quinn was controlling the puppet strings of Darcy, Regier has to have the backbone to stand up and make a case that keeping these players would have benefitted the team for years to come.

Mr. Hardball

Over the long tenure with the Sabres, Regier played hardball during most player contract negotiations and wouldn't give an inch. It all started in his very first act as GM with the Sabres. Ted Nolan had just won the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL Coach of the Year. Most teams would have offered their successful coach a long term contract for the achievement and team success. Instead, Regier offered Nolan a "slap-in-the-face" contract that was so insulting that Nolan quickly turned it down. Not knowing Regier, he considered it the first step in the negotiation process.

Regier may have used that offer as a way to bring in his man Lindy Ruff, as he knew that Nolan would not accept such a humiliating offer. He was right and that hard ball ploy paved the way for a career of tough negotiating by Regier. Because of the reputation he gave the Sabres in dealing with players contracts, the team was seen as a forbidden land by players on the outside. No one in his right mind would want to wind up in the Siberia of hockey. Regier was seen as a Scrooge no one would want as their General Manager. That would not help Regierís chances of making good trades for players as no one wanted to come here...all because of his image.

Regierís many mistakes

Letís examine the list of huge mistakes that have cost the Sabres dearly over the years. The first obviously was the handling of the Ted Nolan contract. Getting rid of the Jack Adams winner in your first contract negotiation certainly raised a few eyebrows in the NHL hierarchy. Then there was the Michael Peca fiasco. Peca was the team captain and an important cog in the Sabres success. Of course, Regier didnít offer Peca a contract extension the year before it was about to expire. Peca had scored 27 and 20 goals the previous two years and it was imperative that the Sabres sign him for continue success. Instead, Peca became a holdout when negotiations came to a standstill with Regier. Regier was as tough in his hard ball tactics as a union negotiator. The holdout became ugly and both sides used the media to express their side of the story. The blood from the confrontations seeped into the Sabres dressing room and the players questioned why they should lay their body out on the line when management wouldnít do the same for them. Frustrations boiled over and one could see it on the ice. Doug Gilmour wanted out of the Sabres organization and he fired many shots at the direction of management and the Sabres telecast hosts that defended Regierís stance. All-Universe goalie Dominik Hasek also wanted out. He demanded a trade out of Buffalo and put a gun to Regierís head saying where he wanted to be traded and what players heíd allow the Sabres to get in return. Hasek nixed one possible trade and only would go to Detroit. So timid Regier obliged Hasekís demands and walked away with practically.

Then there was J.P. Dumont. The Sabres were close to the cap and had to decide who to keep and who to let go. Dumont went to arbitration and Regier rejected the $2.9-million award. Dumont signed a two-year $4.5-million contract with Nashville, where he has led them since. We could go on and on about the number of outstanding players that Regier let go, but why bother. Everyone knows that if half the players were kept that ended up helping other teams, the Sabres would have remained a top tier team, instead of one constantly fighting to make the playoffs.

Regier fell in love with the wrong players

After losing Drury and Briere, in the first week of July, 2007, the Edmonton Oilers tended restricted free agent Thomas Vanek a $50 million contract for 7 years. With egg already splattered all over their faces from losing Drury and Briere just a couple days earlier, Quinn and Regier were forced to match that ridiculous offer. Once again, all this could have been avoided if they had the foresight to sign Vanek to an extension the previous year. Look at the millions Regier could have saved the team if he had signed Drury, Briere, Vanek and Brian Campbell the year before their contracts were to expire. But the narrow minded, short-sighted Regier could not see this...or if he did, he was too meek to get his point across to Golisano and Quinn that the team could save tens of millions by locking down the key players before they even get a sniff of the free agency money.

On the other side of the coin, the Sabres have targeted the wrong players to lavish with big contracts. It may have been the knee-jerk reaction to what happened that first week of July 2007 that put Regier and Quinn in the panic mode. Tim Connolly is a player the Sabres just wonít let go. He was injury prone for so many years, but has been healthy the past two for the most part. However, he is definitely not worth the $4.5 million a year the Sabres have invested into him. Same is true with Jason Pominville, who was extended a couple years ago and is making $5.5 million a year. Ryan Miller was deemed the cornerstone of the franchise and the Sabres made him one of the top paid goalies in the world at $6.25 million a year. Last year, he had his Vezina Trophy season, but this year he has not been anywhere near the goalie he was last season. Teams have proven that they can go far in the playoffs with just an average goalie and the trend these days is not to invest too heavily into a franchise goalie.

Other players that Regier has overpaid are Jochen Hecht and Craig Rivet at $3.5, with captain Rivet spending most of the season in the press box.

There are two players who are coming into their last season under contract. Drew Stafford, who is currently getting $2.3 million, and last years Rookie of the Year, Tyler Myers, at $875,000. It is imperative that Regier break his non-negotiating in-season policy and sign these two players before they enter into their last season. Hasnít Regier learned that this insane policy, which no other NHL team has, is costing the team millions, fans and star players who could be the core of the team for years to come? It is Regierís tunnel vision that has hurt the Sabres the past 13 years. It is Regierís hard ball negotiating policy that has lost players like Hasek, Peca, Drury, Briere, Campbell, Dumont, Spacek and many others. The last 5 could still be on the team if Regier had the foresight to sign these players early.

Pegula must show Regier the door

If Terry Pegula wants to get off on the right foot with Sabres fans and the players, he must cut ties with Regier. Even if Quinn pulled Regierís strings, Darcy had the choice to stand up and do the right thing, which he did not. Quinn wasnít around during the Peca holdout, nor was he here went Hasek made a mockery of Regier when he dictated his trade to the Red Wings.

If Pegula wants the Sabres to make the playoffs again, let alone win a Stanley Cup, he needs to get a general manager who will make the right decisions to get the team back on track. If he keeps Regier, he sends a message that it will be S.O.S. for the Sabres future... the Same Old Sabres. Pegula may want to evaluate Regier until the season is over. He has that right. But when it is all said and done, and Regierís 13-year performance is reviewed, then it should be clear to the new owner that keeping Regier would be a huge mistake.

Now that the puck is in Pegulaís zone, letís hope he doesnít drop the puck.

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