This CBA was supposed to bring parity and reassure fans in small markets that any team could compete. Many small market teams (Columbus, Florida) have gone out and made significant moves to upgrade their hockey clubs. But the Sabres are not on this list. Darcy Regier has managed to cut Buffalo's best forward -- Miroslav Satan -- and best defenseman -- Alexei Zhitnik -- in the first two days of free agency. Everyone goes to the Island, or so I've heard. So this is what we waited 310 days for?
1. Why would a free agent want to come to Buffalo?
How is Regier selling this team to possible players? "Ummmm... we have ahm... solid goaltending and a core of young talent which includes Brian Campbell, err, Chris Drury." And what happens when the player/agent asks about the recent departures? Does Darcy just say they weren't at the right price? Or that the Sabres have this "surplus" of talent? Okay, so the team is a crapshoot. You can't sell them on the weather like the Panthers.
2. Sabres fans are outraged
After bankruptcy and three years of missing the playoffs, all Sabres fans asked for was hope -- something that was supposed to be part of a new, cost-certainty NHL. I didn't know whether to cry or scream when I found out Zhitnik was signed by the Islanders. I felt betrayed by a franchise which has -- at least under Lindy Ruff -- prided itself on solid defense. Now the Sabres have Dmitri Kalinin and not much else: injury-scarred Jay McKee, shaky Henrik Tallinder, dependable Rory Fitzpatrick, smart-but-old James Patrick, horrid Brian Campbell and even scarier Jeff Jillson. Was $3.5 million too much for a defenseman who logs almost 30 minutes a night and is, for lack of a better cliche, like a rock? He's one of the smoothest skaters in the league and does the job without breaking a sweat. He's a steady veteran that's been with your club for nine and a half years. Doesn't any of this mean anything to Regier? Because it sure means a lot to most Sabres fans, even the ones who yelled at Z when he missed the net consistently. It was a love-hate relationship, but I think the outrage yesterday and today is proof that Sabres fans not only knew the franchise needed Zhitnik, but also that they wanted him to stay.
3. The face of the franchise
Who is the marketing team supposed to sell to the community? Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, two of the team's best players, have played in Buffalo less than two years. Another slew of the forwards -- Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Ales Kotalik -- have young, promising NHL careers, but nothing to sell Sabres fans except faith. And how are you supposed to do that when Zhitnik and Satan are gone? Bring back Brad May? Tell Jim Schoenfield to lace up the skates?
I don't feel like it's too greedy to ask for hope. Philadelphia gets hope in the form of Peter Forsberg, who returns to the franchise that drafted him in 1991. Panthers fans get Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. Islanders fans get Satan, Zhitnik and Mike York. And Edmonton -- known for losing players -- picked up Chris Pronger and Michael Peca. But this is what Sabres fans are told, courtesy of The Buffalo News:
' "We made (Zhitnik) an offer based on an evaluation of what we thought his value is," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said. "It was a very good offer, but based on what his agent told me, he could do better.
"The judgments we're making are based on what we think the value of a player should be. We're not interested in chasing or getting into a bidding war." '
Chasing? Bidding war? I haven't heard any Sabres rumors. While this is typical with Regier, I have the feeling we're going to have to be patient for days, even weeks, before we might see additions to this club. And beyond adding a few warm bodies on defense, I'm doubtful that Regier will do much. I'm praying every day he'll prove me wrong.
Okay, so if you're a Sabres fan I've further enraged you or made you more depressed. Don't worry -- other fans, including that dreaded blue-and-white clan to the north are fed up too. The message boards at Sabresfans.com are bursting with Sabres talk, including a comforting message from long-time poster Goatlord:
"We were screwed when Rigas was arrested after putting the team $150 million bucks in debt. We're less screwed now because Golly [owner Tom Golisano] is rumored to have spent in excess of $100 million of his dollars to bail the team out. I was born the same year as this team, seen a lot of players, coaches, GM's and even owners come and go. Some are bad, some are good, very few have been great. Imo these past 4 years or so have been the lowest point in the history of the franchise. Imo Darcy and Quinn [Larry], under very reasonable and understanding budget constraints, have spent the money unwisely and did not anticipate the difficulties or the speed of this offseason. Quinn screwed the franchise up once already, he's well on his way to a 2nd time. Darcy... well we all know he should have been fired a couple years ago.
All I can, like 75 [another poster] who said he's been through rough time in the past as well, is the bad times always end and when they do the good times are that much sweeter. Any Sabres fan who endured the 80's knows how sweeeeeeeeeet MayDay was that season. And the playoff runs of the late 90's.... I haven't enjoyed a team so much in my life.
So if I may dare to repeat what others have said. Just hang in there my friends. Maybe we'll sign some players, maybe we won't. Maybe we'll suck this year, maybe we won't. I know I was here cheering for the Sabres long before Darcy, Lindy, Larry and Golly. I know I'll be here cheering for the Sabres long after they are gone. I know you all will be too. Things will get better. Let your voices be heard, keep the faith and put on the foil. But whatever happens, just don't turn your backs on the team. It may be full of a bunch of screwed up misfits but hey, so is Buffalo We'll have our day. If I was Golly I'd take note of the frustration and anger. It will hurt his bottom line but imo it also shows that after... whate 5 years of constant bullshit the fanbase is passionate and still loves the team. If they didn't, they sure as hell wouldn't be so upset."
That really did make me feel better. I'm always going to be a diehard fan. I got over the Michael Peca trade a few years back. I lived through the dark years of the franchise. I'm still here. And I'm not going anywhere.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
- Chicago still suffering from the past: After Adrian Aucoin signed with the Blackhawks, GM Dave Tallon pursued Peter Forsberg and Mike Modano -- offering them both more than what they eventually signed for. Is Tallon up to the challenge of completely reversing the Blackhawks' negative image?
-Avalanche lose out on Foote, Forsberg: I feel a little sorry for Avs fans, but can they really complain that much? They still have Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay. Does GM Pierre Lacroix still have the golden touch in the new NHL?
-For deprived, out-of-town Sabres fans: Still sulking from the loss of EMPIRE and WNSA like me? WGR has added an audio vault to their website, updated daily with clips from favorites like Howard Simon and Mike Schopp.