It seems only fitting that on the week of Halloween, the GM with more lives than any other in the NHL would make a blockbuster trade. And for many Sabres fans, the news that Darcy Regier was at the helm to make it will be greeted with as much happiness as a zombie apocalypse.
Because the big news Sunday wasn’t so much that the Sabres traded Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders. It was that Regier was the one who engineered the transaction. That can mean only one thing for the Sabres – Regier is the man whom owner Terry Pegula thinks is most suited to usher in the rebuild of the franchise.
So Sabres fans, particularly those who have been chanting, “Fire Darcy!” at every Sabres home game, it would probably be best if you got used to it. It appears now that instead of firing Regier, Pegula has handed the GM the keys to the station wagon after Regier has accidently driven it in a demolition derby.
The Sabres, it appears have made their decision. It will be Regier who trades goalie Ryan Miller. It will be Regier who ultimately fires a coach (Ron Rolston) who appears to be in way, way over his head at the NHL level and looks like he’d be more in his element coaching in the Federal League. It will be Regier who will decide whether or not to auction off the expiring contracts of Steve Ott and Henrik Tallinder at the trade deadline. Heck, if the Sabres are bad enough, maybe he’ll even deal the guy he got from the Islanders, Matt Moulson, to a contending team that needs to rent a scorer.
So the question now is, does Regier have the chops to get the Sabres out of the cataclysmic mess he himself has made? Regier has his critics, legions and legions of them, but his history also suggests he can rebuild a team as well as anyone. After all, Regier was at the helm when the Sabres were truly putrid, missing the playoffs each of the three seasons before the 2004-05 lockout, then retooled the team into one that had back-to-back 100-point seasons and advanced to the Eastern Conference final in successive seasons.
And if Regier has done one thing right in Buffalo, it has been drafting and developing players. This season, the Sabres have four teenagers in their lineup, which is probably a testament to how bad they are as much as it is a credit to the young men who are playing, but Regier and his staff have always been able to identify young talent. The Sabres, both in their days of bankruptcy and riches, have always had a steady stream of NHL talent to push the veterans or provide them with currency.
And this trade was all about the draft picks, given they dealt one expiring contract for another, but picked up a first-round pick in 2014 and a second-rounder in 2015. (Actually it’s a credit to Regier and Garth Snow, his Islanders counterpart, that they got out in front of this one so early.) With at least two first-rounders in 2014, perhaps including the first overall selection, Regier is well positioned to conduct the rebuild.
And now that nobody will want to come to Buffalo for a while, just like the good old days when the Sabres had no money, the prediction from this corner is Regier will now do his best work. When the Sabres were eking out their existence and finishing in last place, Regier went out and got Chris Drury for Rhett Warrener and Daniel Briere for Chris Gratton. Once ‘Moneybags’ Pegula came onto the scene predicting Stanley Cups, Regier signed Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff to ridiculous contracts and gave Tyler Myers an enormous extension instead of a bridge contract.
Of course, Regier also badly miscalculated the Sabres needed an abundance of toughness after Miller got flattened by Milan Lucic, which prompted an assemblage of enforcers that not only goes against Regier’s personal philosophy, but has helped make the Sabres the worst team in the NHL at the moment.
Everything good and bad about this organization for the better part of the past 15 years has Regier’s fingerprints all over it. Does that make him the best man in hockey to rebuild this franchise? Probably not. But if the Sabres were going to fire Regier, you’d have to think they would have done it before signing off on trading Vanek. And it’s not as though he has no experience doing it.
Now that the Sabres have to start actually building a roster rather than throw money around, Regier will be right in his element.
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