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Regier shows no heart in suspending Numminen

By Rick Anderson
September 15, 2007

The Sabres made a move on Thursday that raised a few eyebrows and most likely tainted their image even further in the eyes of NHL players. When it was revealed that Teppo Numminen needed to undergo a third heart operation, the Sabres immediately suspended him.

Numminen is now 39 years old and probably should hang up his skates anyway, but this clearly sends a message in the hockey world how the Sabres operate. The Sabres players themselves have to be wondering how the organization will treat them if they are unfortunate enough to suffer an injury or illness that is not hockey related. Will they too be suspended if fate deals them a bitter blow?

The Sabres locker room wonít be as cohesive as it was last season when they were the best team during the regular season and won the Presidents Trophy. With images of how the Sabres management treated Daniel Briere and Chris Drury during contract negotiations, or lack thereof, it will be much harder for the players to put their heart and souls into taking the bullet for a team that will immediately turn its back on them if things go south.

Darcy Regier, the Sabres GM, has gotten the brunt of all criticism for how the Sabres blundered the contract dealings with their two co-captains that eventually convinced them to go to greener pastures. Right or wrong, Regier is the front man in the Sabres operations and he gets the credit and blame for all policies and decisions the team makes. While it is obvious that Larry Quinn has his say in all these matters, Regier will take the fall for every decision that hurts the team. This holds true for the Sabres suspending Numminen right when a team should be giving one of their own the full support of the team.

All this takes place in the climate surrounding Buffalo this week with the catastrophic injury to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett. Everett suffered a spinal injury that could result in permanent paralysis last Sunday and the community rallied around the reserve tight end and special teams player. Prayers and words of support were heard around Western New York and he was on the minds of even non football fans here. The Bills organization did and said all the right things and supported Everett and his family during this very difficult time.

The Sabres, meanwhile, suspend Numminen when he was told by his doctor that he has to have a major heart operation ASAP. Veteran players around the league will look upon this as yet another reason to avoid coming to Buffalo under any circumstances to play for the Sabres. The past few years, polls taken have revealed that Buffalo is the last place NHL hockey players want to go to. Regierís cold, all business policies and decisions is most likely the main reason for the dim view players league-wide have of the organization.

The Sabres have treated their captains very badly under Regierís term. It all started with how they treated the beloved Pat LaFontaine when he suffered a horrific concussion that forced him to miss over a season. LaFontaine wanted to return the next season, but the teams doctor said he didnít pass their physical exam. LaFontaine disputed this and had his own doctors say that he was recovered. This led to a bitter dispute between Regier and LaFontaine that tore the locker room apart. The Sabres eventually traded him to the Rangers and it took years to soothe the bitter feelings LaFontaine had with the organization.

Other captains have been treated poorly and eventually traded by Buffalo under Regier's watch. Michael Pecaís season-long holdout during a contract dispute also showed the Sabres players Regierís cold business side.  Other players on the team became bitter how Regier sacrificed Pecaís needed experience and leadership just to prove that he wouldnít budge in his contract offer. The Sabres missed the playoffs that year and the loss playoff revenue would have more than paid the salary increase that Peca was asking.

Regierís refusal to negotiate contracts during the season with players about to become free agents is downright arrogance and incompetence. Finally, after all these years Regier has said that he may look into revising their policy of non-negotiations a little in light of losing both Briere and Dury, along with having to pay double the amount to Thomas Vanek when they were forced to match the Oilers 7-year, $50 million contract offer to the Sabres top goal scorer. All that could have been avoided if Regier had earned his paycheck and kept at least one of the captains in Buffalo and worked out a deal during the regular season. He could have also signed Vanek for $25 million over 6 years if he had been pro-active.

The Sabres would have had a much better chance of capturing the Stanley Cup this spring had Regier swallowed his pride and done everything in his power to keep the players the team had. Jay McKee was begging Regier to give him a long term contract a couple seasons ago. Regier refused and McKee signed for $16 million with the Blues for 4 years. The Sabres could have had him for half the price. JP Dumont would have signed for much less than the arbitrator awarded him a year ago if the Sabres had negotiated in-season. Regier was forced to walk away from the settlement and Dumont went to Nashville where he helped them greatly during the regular and post seasons. Mike Griere saw the writing on the wall and he wanted out. With McKee, Dumont and Griere on the Sabres last spring, they would have been a more formidable opponent to the Senators who beat them in 5 games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sabres are on the NHLPAís unofficial blacklist because of the image that Regier paints with his Scrooge tactics. He plays hardball like no other GM in any pro sport. Players hate dealing with him when their contracts are running out. Suspending Numminen when he is told that he must have a major heart operation shows that the Sabres organization has no heart.

Regier maintains that it was not personal and was strictly a business decision.

"Thereís a clause explicitly in the contract that states the player must pass the physical and be fit to play," Regier maintained while trying to fight the heartless decision. "Itís the collective bargaining agreement, and in no way is it personal to Teppo."

Regier does everything for the corporation and puts a cold face on the organization. At most companies across the country, the management tries to show that it is not all business and does all it can to make the employees feel at home by making them feel a part of the "family." In times of personal crisis, most companies bend and show a merciful, caring side. Not so with Regier and the Sabres front office.

"I had the conversation with Teppo," Regier went on, trying to show that he was a caring man. "He understands itís business. It has a lot of implications on the salary side, on the cap side."

Meanwhile, at One Bills Drive, the Bills are showing their compassion for the suffering of their downed warrior, Kevin Everett. They are holding prayer sessions for their seriously injured player and visiting him in the hospital. The Bills organization is saying and doing all the right thing. Regier and the Sabres, on the other hand, are kicking Numminen when heís down. This is yet another case of the great touch of class that Regier has shown since he took over as general manager over 10 years ago.

 

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