Although Sabres GM Darcy Regier hasn't been active in the free agent market, he did sign all but one — Jay McKee — of Buffalo's free agents before yesterday's qualifying offer deadline. This includes a $6 million, three-year deal with Jochen Hecht, who has proven to be a solid, two-way forward on the Sabres top line since being acquired from Edmonton in 2002. Hecht had a career year in 2003-04, accumulating 52 points (15G, 37A) in 64 games. He also finished a +17 on the season, best on the team.
What I like most about Hecht is that he leads by example. He's willing to battle along the boards, dish the puck to other players and find the net when needed. He doesn't complain or demand attention; he just gets the job done. Another stat of note: Hecht logged an average of 18:59 minutes per game, second most among Buffalo forwards in 2003-04. He was picked up for a song — two second-round draft picks — from the Oilers. I call that a bargain, Darcy. If he can stay injury-free and play the entire season, I have confidence that he'll battle linemate Daniel Briere for the team lead in scoring.
Regier has built an energetic, feisty group of forwards that is much more entertaining than the group from recent playoff years. But that's just it — this was a non-playoff team last season, and Regier has subtracted forward Miroslav Satan. The current forwards (plus Satan) combined for 220 goals in 2003-04, sixth best in the conference. But the team also allowed 221 goals, sixth-worst in the conference. Offense isn't the problem on this team; defense and goaltending is. If Lindy Ruff can sort out the goaltending situation (Marty Biron, Mika Noronen, Ryan Miller) early in the season and Regier adds another defenseman or two, Buffalo should be the same or better than last season. So while it will probably be another nail-biter finish on whether the team makes the playoffs, it will no doubt be exciting. Just imagine it: Daniel Briere, JP Dumont and Hecht combining for the team's first goal of the season, with Islanders' Satan and Alexei Zhitnik on the ice. Sweet.
Regier locked up eleven other players before the deadline: forwards Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, JP Dumont, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik and Milan Bartovic, defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Jeff Jillson, and prospects Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad and Michael Ryan. All signed one-year deals.
McKee, the longest-tenured Sabre, was the lone player not to accept his qualifying offer. Could it be resentment from the club not picking up his option last month? With the rollback, the option would have paid McKee $1.748 million. By not exercising the option, McKee is priced at an automatic $1.596, saving the club over $150,000. But is it worth penny-pinching a player who is set to lace up for his tenth season with the Sabres? Last month, McKee told The Buffalo News that not picking up the option made a "big statement."
' "If that's the route they choose to go, I'll just sign my (qualifying offer) for one year and be into my unrestricted free agency. But it's called a club option for a reason. So if that's what they want to do, that's their choice." '
Later in the article (7/26/05), he made it clear that no matter what, he wanted to stay in Buffalo:
"This will be my 10th year right now, and if I could pick a place to play -- if all 30 teams made the same offer -- I would stay in Buffalo," Buffalo said. "I owe these fans a lot, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be."
I think it would be wise for Darcy to negotiate a multi-year deal with McKee. That would reward McKee for the mishap by the team and show McKee that he is valued by the franchise.
The Sabres also announced the result of their “Rank and Win” contest, which determined variable ticket prices for the upcoming season. No surprise here — you’ll have to fork up the bucks to see the Maple Leafs at HSBC.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Hamrlik signs with Flames: The last star defensemen, Roman Hamrlik, left the market on Sunday, signing a two-year, $7 million deal with the Calgary Flames. Not sure why Islanders GM Mike Milbury opted to let go of Hamrlik, who signed a two-year deal, and pick up Alexei Zhitnik for four-years at $14 million. Same average salary, but most teams seem to be favoring short-term contracts due to the uncertainty with future year cap figures. Any insight from Islander fans?
NHL stars in Turin Olympics still up in air: The Czechs and Russians refused to sign a proposed player-transfer agreement before Monday's deadline, according to the Associated Press. Both nations want better player compensation for Europeans choosing to play in the NHL. Might the NHL and IIHF go to the Olympics without the Czechs and Russians? Doubtful.
Wolverines on the move: Captain Jeff Tambellini followed in Al Montoya's footsteps yesterday, forgoing his senior year at the University of Michigan to sign with the L.A. Kings. While many of last year's seniors — Eric Nystrom, Jason Ryznar, David Moss and Michael Woodford — signed pro deals in the last week, Montoya and Tambellini were a few of Michigan's best players left from the team that made it to the regional finals in 2004-05. The team suddenly has transformed from a veteran squad — 10 seniors plus Montoya and Tambellini — into a team full of youngsters. The Wolverines will look much different this fall when I head down to Yost with my season tickets. Check out the Michigan College Hockey blog for great news and analysis on the team.
Blogging around: First, I forget to mention a big thank-you to On the Wings' Matt Saler and Brian List for including In The Crease in their NHL blog Carnival. If you haven't checked out their blog, do it now. It's one of the best NHL/Red Wings blogs I've seen.
Also, with the Penguins' recent signing of John LeClair, head on over to Jason Mirtle's blog for a breakdown of the new Pittsburgh line-up. It's a shocking comparison and a hint of the damage Crosby and Co. could do this season.