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Sabres Central

Darcy Regier is patient to a fault
By Rick Anderson
January 23,2000

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. Ask Darcy Regier. He's the King of Patience. He waited out almost the entire season last year before he made a couple of moderate trades right at the trading deadline. It seems like he's content to do the same this year. That is unless the trade that Regier made with the LA Kings Monday to get Vladimir Tsyplakov is even considered a trade.

Patience is running out for many Sabres fans who have been voicing their opinions that the Sabres make a major trade from almost the beginning of the season. The 1999-2000 season for the Buffalo Sabres is turning into a complete disaster. Buffalo is now in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and 6 big games under .500. Since they escaped from Buffalo for their western road trip to a chorus of boos after losing to the lowly Montreal Canadians, things have gotten even worse.

"I thought that we hit rock bottom (before the road trip)," Lindy Ruff said. "But if you look at the road trip and the end of it, we took another layer off of rock bottom."

The Sabres seemed to be talking a lot about rocks after losing their third straight game on the road when the Carolina Hurricanes thrashed them 4-1 on Saturday.

Michael Peca must have had rocks on his mind when he said, "We didn't get any lower than we were before (the road trip). We just have the same rocks falling on our heads. All you can do is hold on the umbrella strong and wait until we battle out of it."

Peca would not be good company if one were caught in a landslide. Umbrellas cannot withstand the size of rocks falling on the Sabres' heads these days.

The Curse of the Eastern Conference Champions is infecting the Sabres even worse than it did the Washington Capitals last season when they failed to make the playoffs after going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sabres are playing so bad right now that even the Canadians are catching up to them. Last place in the Northeast Division is a real possibility for Buffalo this season.

One of the most famous quotes this season in Buffalo has been aired over and over on local radio sports talk shows. The man opened his mouth when he should have kept quiet if he wasn't going to live up to his word. But he made the promise and I must repeat the words of John Rigas once again.

"I will supply the tools to get the job done," Rigas said back in June to 20,000 people attending a Sabres rally.

Over half the season has been played and no tools have been supplied by Rigas or Regier and the job is definitely not getting done. Patience. That's Regier's favorite word. Patience.

Regier feels that the Sabres have to work out of a position of strength. When players are struggling and not producing, those players will be worth a lot less than if they are at the top of their game. However, by waiting too long, Regier is jeopardizing the entire Sabres season. By waiting until the trading deadline, he may cost the Sabres a playoff berth. Is it worth being THAT patient?

On Monday, Regier made a very minor trade today when he sent an 8th round pick packing for Los Angeles for forward Vladimir Tsyplakov. Tsyplakov has 6 goals and 7 assists 26 games so far this season. He does have a good +6 plus/minus rating for the Kings. Around 3 years ago, Tsyplakov did rack up 18 goals in a season. But this kind of a trade will not make a dent in the Sabres. What they need is a Keith Primeau, who was available but Regier did not get into the bidding war. Philadelphia wound up getting Primeau in a trade for Rod Brind'Amour. So once again, the Sabres are sitting on the sidelines when a major deal is done.

By not making the playoffs and their poor play this season, the Sabres management will be costing Rigas tons of money next year. The fans will not spend their hard-earned dollars on season tickets next season if Regier does not even attempt to shake the team up in the middle of their worst season in 4 years. Buffalo has not been 6 games under .500 since the 1995-96 season. Yet Regier refuses to make any trades. He claims that he's been in touch with other general managers concerning possible trades. That just does not cut it with Sabres fans. The time to act was two months ago. Right now it is almost too late. Even so, Darcy preaches patience.

Now let's examine the coaching side of the Sabres dilemma. Lindy Ruff cannot be faulted completely in the terrible season the Sabres are experiencing. He has done all he can think of to shake the team out of its doldrums. Benching players, switching line combos, bringing up players from Rochester, long talks with the players, full fledged confrontations with non-performing Sabres. Nothing has worked. He's not getting any help from the management.

After the embarrassing loss to the Canadians before the Sabres' long road trip, Ruff said that a trade had to be made. He said that was the ultimate wake-up call. A day later, he did an about face. Regier had gotten to him. He must have told him to not make such controversial statements to the press. "Shut up or get out," must have been Regier's words.

The Sabres have a great playoff record under Ruff. The Sabres got to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year as coach. Last year, he took his squad one step further. Is it his coaching style that produces such great results, or is it the players themselves. The opinion here is that the players are able to turn on the switch themselves and play like hell fire when the post season starts. That may be one of the problems with the team this year. They feel that they can waltz through the regular season and then turn it on during the playoffs. Problem is, you have to make the playoffs first. That's not going happen unless there is a complete turnaround in this team immediately.

The problem with the current team is completely mental. Dominik Hasek has been out for most of the year, but even when he was playing, the team came out flat. They had their worst start in years with the Dominator manning the pipes.

The fire in the players eyes has completely died out. It's like they have become zombies. No drive, no intensity, no aggression. The hitting game has completely disappeared this year. Peca, Vaclav Varada, Alexei Zhitnik and Rhett Warrener made up the hitting crew for the Sabres the past few years. Now they seem to be afraid of their own shadows.

The Sabres' demise comes down to leadership. There isn't any on this team. From the coaching right down to the least used Sabres' veteran. No one is taking the bull by the horns and leading the way. Ruff is clueless as how to jump start the team. Veterans like Rob Ray, James Patrick, Dixon Ward, Geoff Sanderson and Peca have not been able to pull the team together.

Ron Francis has been around the league for a long time. He started Carolina's scoring binge and assisted on the second goal. The team's captain provided that spark that the Hurricanes needed, something that the Sabres have been missing all year.

The Sabres are being taught valuable lessons about team attitude and what it takes to get the job done. Unfortunately, the players are not paying attention. There's a lot they could learn about drive and team spirit from the Hurricanes' play Saturday.

"This is one of these games where everybody goes home feeling good about contributing and now we just have to continue this way," said Gary Roberts.

"Our leaders were our best players," Jeff O'Neill talked about Francis and Roberts. "That's why they get paid what they do, and when it comes down to it those are the guys who are going to bring you out of a slump."

"That's the difference between very good players and guys who will be in the Hall of Fame," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice about Ron Francis. "Regardless of how tired they are or how frustrated they are with the situation surrounding them, they come out and play their best when you need them to,"

The so-called leaders of the Sabres better take note! Peca, the Sabres' captain, finally scored a goal and hopefully the monkey will be off his back. Part of his job is to lead by example, and the other part is to help get the players' heads on the same page. None of that has happened this year. Then there's Michal Grosek, Alexei Zhitnik, Rhett Warrener, Dixon Ward and everyone else for that matter. None of the members of the team formerly known as the hardest working team in hockey has any spunk or drive any more. Game after game, they come out with flat performances.

Ruff has done everything in his power to turn the team around besides magically turning into Ted Nolan. The players just aren't listening to him. He has lost both control and respect from his players.

Now it's up to Darcy Regier to finally earn his paycheck and pull the trigger. In this case, patience is not a virtue, it's a disastrous obsession.


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