When the Buffalo Sabres organization found a new owner back in January of 2011, a new sense of hope permeated the air around the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. When the organization decided to get rid of the Buffa Slug that was considered one of the worst logos in the league, the sun began to shine on the fans. And when the new owner, Terry Pegula, began to spit rhetoric that the Sabres would be Stanley Cup contenders sooner than later, everyone began to prance around the arena like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. But before the Sabres could become a few of the fans favorite things, there needed to be visual evidence that all of these discussions weren’t a heap of false promises.
As we approach the one-year mark in the Pegula era, we’ve seen that all the talk has been backed with terrible player personnel moves and bloated contracts. Early on, the Sabres were quick to throw a bone to the fans by acquiring Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues at the 2011 NHL trading deadline. The move happened to gain the franchise a streak of luck as they found a way into the playoffs, notching a 7th place finish in the Eastern Conference with 96 points. Although they were handed an early exit by the Flyers, the future seemed bright. The small wave of success that Pegula created ignited the flame of confidence in fans. The offseason would be prove to be the first time that the Pegula could really shake things up to bring success for the future – and boy was it an offseason to remember.
Money flowed like water as the Sabres began to bolster their roster with eye opening deals. Their initial move sent Chris Butler and Paul Bryon to Calgary in exchange for veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik, and a 2012 second round draft pick. Following the trade, they sealed one of the smallest forwards in the NHL (Nathan Gerbe) to a 3-year deal for a total of $4.29M. These two deals were small change when you compare it with what came next. The Sabres threw a 10-year $40M deal to German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff after acquiring his negotiating rights in a trade with the New York Islanders. Since the defense was covered, they then signed free agent forward Ville Leino to a 6-year $27M contract. A $71M spending spree marked major changes and the sad part is that it wasn’t over just yet.
In September of 2011, Pegula decided to drop another pile of cash into the organization as it was announced that the Sabres agreed to a contract extension with one of their top defenseman: twenty-one year old Tyler Myers. He was locked down with a 7-year $38.5M contract. If you throw in a few other signings such as Andrej Sekera, you’ll find an owner who spent over $120 million in free agent signings and contract extensions in one offseason. When you consider that Pegula paid $189M for the team, sometimes you tend to question the money management skills of a select few. When the 2011-2012 season finally began in October, we were awarded a front seat to this great spending experiment.
Fast forward to January 20th, 2012. The Sabres currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a deplorable total of 43 points. They’ve seen their fair share of injuries and have almost no cap room to make any changes. The backbone for this team, Ryan Miller, is dealing with confidence issues while posting the worst season of his career. Meanwhile, the new owner has slipped into the shadows after his cheerleading-like escapades were in the spotlight during the first six months. This needs organization could use help and by the looks of it, there is only one solution that makes sense:
Trade Ryan Miller.
If the Sabres can somehow convince Miller to waive his no trade clause, it would make financial sense to move him. Miller’s contract has him making $6.25M for another two seasons once June 2012 passes. The $6.25 million that goes to the net minder could be used in a lot of different ways to bolster the Sabres roster. It would also let some of the air out of the bloated cap weight that haunts this team. The unfortunate thing is that the Sabres team is still three or four years of making a deep playoff run. If they decide to wait it out, Miller will be in decline – even if he does bounce back from this season. Instead of holding on to false hope, dealing him now would benefit the organization in the long run.
Studying the Sabres roster contracts will only support the idea of trading the net minder. Following this season, Boyes ($4M), Hecht ($3.25), and Gaustad ($2.3M) will all come off the books. The $9.55M freed up will be partially given to Tyler Myers as his salary jumps to $5.5M from $1.3M. The organization also has a few restricted free agents in Kaleta, Adam, Brennan, and Gragnani. If they successfully sign at least three out of the four, what is left to replace the notable forwards that came off the books in the first place?
If I’m Darcy Regier, I have no choice to make up for my mistakes by trying to get Miller out of the door. If I can get a 1st round draft pick paired with a strong defensive prospect, I do my best to make it happen. And even though trading Miller will leave a gaping hole in my roster, the longer I let mistakes simmer the longer I deprive the fans of something they can be proud of. There has to come a team where Pegula, Regier, and Miller have to realize that the Sabres won’t win a Stanley Cup in their current set up. And since the past gaffes cannot be fixed by replacing the GM or the coach, a player has to be the recipient of the burden.
The bottom line is that trading Ryan Miller gives the Sabres the best shot at saving their future.