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Sabres Central

IN DEFENSE OF PECA
By By Brian Price
Sept. 11, 2000

Just when it seems like the entire population of Western New York and Southern Ontario christens Mike Peca as the Anti Christ, leave it to me to assume the role of Devil's Advocate.

For those who have been sleeping under a rock, or have been desensitized by a flying can of tuna at Tops, Mike Peca and agent Don Meehan have taken an aggressive approach at the bargaining table in the ongoing negotiation process in efforts to congregate a new contract for the 26 year-old restricted free agent.

The difference between management's inclination of Peca's worth and the $4 million Peca believes he is worth is as wide as an Alexei Zhitnik slapshot.

My opinion of Peca's worth? While he's not worth the $4 million he claims to be, the less-than-$2.5 million that management has offered Peca is a slap in the face for all his contributions. A three-year, $10 million deal where Peca would receive more money in his second and third years after Hasek supposedly retires sounds feasible.

Statistically speaking, Peca is a 25 goal, 50 point player. Nothing spectacular, but Peca brings more to the table than just goals and assists. In essence, Peca's the ideal complete package that any team around the NHL would kill to have bless their roster.

Centering the checking line, it's Peca duty to shut down the top forward lines of the Sabres opponents in the playoffs. He did a number on Yashin, Allison, and even Sundin to a lesser extent in the 99 playoffs. Without Peca's role in shutting down the opposing team's top lines, it's to my belief that the Sabres wouldn't have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals that year. If Peca is no longer with the Sabres due to contract disputes, will Brown, Gratton, Rasmussen, or whoever gets the duty to shut down the opposing team's top line be as effective as Peca?

The hit department would also take a toll with Peca's loss. Rasmussen, McKee, Warrener, Gratton, and Varada can all lay the lumber, but when Peca's at his best he's easily the Sabres number one hit man. Zhitnik's the only Sabre who can make as good of open ice hits but doesn't make them as often as Peca; And despite his smallish 5'11, 180 frame, Peca can also lay the lumber against the boards as good as anyone.

A former Selke winner, Peca's two-way game can only be contested by Curtis Brown on a Sabres team which stresses backchecking, which is testament to how effective Peca is on both ends of the rink.

Basically Peca can do it all. He's the team captain, locker room leader, can chip in for 25 goals and 50 points a season, is a force on both ends of the rink, is a dangerous hitter, shuts down the opposing team's star forwards, and is there when you need him in the crucial final weeks of the season and in the playoffs. What more could you ask of the guy?

Peca did have a sub-par first half to last season, but that alone shouldn't depreciate his worth to such an extent that we forget the value he brings to this hockey club. When he wasn't injured or suspended, Peca in the second half of last season rebounded to the level of play that he showed in the 99 playoffs. While Lindy Ruff was juggling the other three lines, Peca's checking line with Varada and Tsyplakov was the most consistent line the Sabres had to offer.

A bad start to last season by Peca should be overlooked by Peca's impact to the Sabres in the final stages of last season and past playoffs. Fact is, Peca has been there when the Sabres needed him to step up the most. He was there in the 1997, 1998, and 1999 playoffs shutting down the opposing team's top lines and making an impact all over the ice. Last year, despite his disappointing start, Peca rebounded to lead the way in the second half of the season in the Sabres victorious quest in beating out Carolina for the final playoff position when he wasn't injured or suspended.

Now where does Peca fall into the NHL salary structure. I've heard comparisons between Peca and Lehtinen's $2.4 million, but that is an unfair comparison because not only does Peca play at a center position, but also doesn't benefit from having Modano and Hull as linemates to inflate his statistics. A more accurate comparison would be comparing Peca to Bobby Holik, who made $2.5 million last season. Holik's one of the better checking line centers in the NHL, but is one notch below Peca. Holik's linemates in New Jersey of McKay and Brylin is silimar to what Peca has to work with in Varada and Tsyplakov. Both are checking line centermen, and while Holik's numbers are slightly (meaning approximately 5-10 points) higher, Peca's overall game is slightly better than Holik's. Weighing in that Lou Lamoriello conducts business in negotiations even more strictly than Darcy Regier does here in Buffalo, $3 million (if not a tad bit more) for Peca should be within the salary structure that Darcy has intended to work under.

Like everyone else, I wish that Peca and management would settle on terms by opening night. But Peca's in a similar position as the Buffalo public school teachers where he's being offered less money than his services demand, and until John Rigas takes at least $3 - 3.5 million out of his billion dollar savings account at HSBC (I assume that's where he saves his money) and #27 is restored in the Sabres lineup, I don't see the Sabres making any serious pitches for the Stanley Cup in Dominik Hasek's final season.

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