As you might imagine, there were some intense discussions around our office following a free agency feeding frenzy a few weeks ago that lived up to the hype. Our staffers were dissecting the moves that were and weren’t made, the winners and losers, when someone floated the Buffalo Sabres.
On July 1 they splurged, adding Josh Gorges (via trade), Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. That’s nearly $19 million towards their cap this season dedicated to five new players.
But money wasn’t the issue. The Sabres had oodles of cap space. The concern was whether they had done too much and had critically wounded their chances of landing the first overall pick in 2015, most likely Connor McDavid.
It’s possible. The Sabres made some astute pickups that could help elevate them from basement status (though, in The Hockey News Yearbook we still have them in the Atlantic cellar). But it’s also moot. The moves were necessary, on several fronts.
For starters, Buffalo, after buying out Christian Ehrhoff, had to get to the $51-million floor. But equally as important, new GM Tim Murray needed to shock the culture of the dressing room and send a signal to fans that losing is unacceptable.
He accomplished that by infusing veteran leadership, character, grit and some goals. At the same time, he put Buffalo back on the map as a city NHL players don’t mind calling home. Gorges, who had a 15-team no-trade clause built into his contract, even accepted the transaction.
It’s possible Murray will one day look back and regret his aggressive behavior. If the Sabres significantly improve because of his moves and McDavid emerges as a franchise destiny changer, Murray will be second-guessed.
But for every Sidney Crosby worst-to-first scenario (oh wait, there’s just one Crosby), there are examples of clubs who have been perennial bottom-dwellers (Edmonton, Florida) and didn’t reap the benefits or are still waiting to do so. Tanking, or being bad to be good, is not a guarantee of future success.
The Sabres still may not win much in 2014-15, but they need to start sowing those seeds of hope. Whichever players fill out their roster will give the proverbial 110 percent – that’s the way NHL players are programmed – and management needs to show it’s making the same effort.