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Proteau's Blog: Code breakers

Adam Proteau
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The Hockey News
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Proteau's Blog: Code breakers

Adam Proteau
By:
• The Buffalo Sabres' response to the Edmonton Oilers' pursuit of Thomas Vanek was prudish, petulant, and typical of the gentleman's club mentality that has pervaded the NHL GM Club for decades.

Unfortunately, many of these otherwise intelligent men believe there is an ancient etiquette woven into every collective bargaining agreement, a taboo system only they can comprehend. And though more than a few don't blink twice about employing players strictly to punch the senses out of the opposition, they leap up in protest and practically shake with rage when a colleague takes the win-at-all-costs philosophy from the ice and applies it in the boardroom.

Rank hypocrisy? You betcha. But, given that many of these same men subscribe to the notion there's a need for an on-ice “Code” – other than the one that reads, “NHL Rulebook” – it's not in the least bit surprising.

• Kevin Lowe said he expected the Sabres would match his contract offer, and I believe him. He likely understood Buffalo had to hold on to Vanek for the same reason Lowe had to lunge after him: optics.

Meaning, if Lowe, having failed to make discernable, immediate improvements at the draft and in the early days of free agency, didn't do everything at his disposal to bring in a big name, he'd be that much closer to being the former Oilers GM.

In the same way, when Buffalo GM Darcy Regier lost Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers last week, he had no choice but to retain Vanek's currently overpriced services. Had Regier lost all three, Sabres fans would've been justifiably irate, and that franchise is not financially stable enough to risk a revolt among its customers.

In both cases, fan reaction assuredly played a role in decisions that were made. Clearly, the optics of remaking a team now matter nearly as much as the on-ice effects themselves.


FEEDBACK:
Adam, one thing that has not been mentioned anywhere is the fact that if KLo would not deliver the offer sheet to Vanek purely based on Sabers GM saying he would match any offer, that behavior may be viewed as collusion and Vanek would potentially be able to claim damages, don't you think? I am not a lawyer but can Sabers GM act that way and openly stating that there is no point in making an offer not knowing financial terms? Thanks for reading.
- Petr

I was also surprised by the comments from the Buffalo management group where they admitted that they had openly told Kevin Lowe not to make the offer because they would match. I don't think it's "collusion" because the two sides weren't working together to create an unfair situation. However, it does seem like unfair bargaining or negotiation practices on behalf of the Sabres... On the other hand, it's a dangerous ploy to announce to everyone that you will match any and all offers, as the other teams may offer money beyond what they normally would in order to put you into a bigger financial bind.
- Mike

Don't think for a second that this was just Lowe trying to exercise some power play,he was trying to save face in the Edmonton market.He went after a guy he knew he couldn't get.What's the point?He struck out with Nylander and every other potential UFA out there so he tries to screw Buffalo.He did this so at the end of the day when the Edmonton and Canadian media are asking why didn't you do anything,he can say well I tried to sign Vanek and it just didn't work out.Nice try Lowe,you can't pull the wool over my eyes.
- Jason

I am a Sabres fan. My real issue with it is that this offer skews salary comparisons for future arbitration cases thereby raising the too-high salaries even further. Lowe is playing into the hands of the large markets who can be perfectly viable since they can raise ticket prices through the roof with their huge fan bases to draw from. I don't want to hear Mr.Lowe crying when the Canadian exchange goes sour again and he is seeking a bailout to help with his problems, you'll get no sympathy here and I'd bet most of your fellow GM's will laugh at you
- Taro

I am neither and Edmonton Oiler or Buffalo Sabre fan and I have no issue with this attempt by Kevin Lowe to improve his franchise. Edmonton has had a few different issues since the dynasty that was the 80' and eraly 90's. They have lost numerous free agent players to teams that could pay big dollars, they lost Chris Pronger because of his wife, and now you can add Nylander to that list as well. Myabe Lowe was aggressive with his offer but NHL is a business/professional sport; in order to stay compeitive you have to do whatever you can to compete. It would have been nice to catch Ales Hemsky and Thomas Vanek connect against my team. I welcome it... however, on the other side Vanek could have been a bust in Edmonton. Sometimes players are only as good as their teammates (Vanek is too green to make others better simply by playing with them). Edmonton had a bust in Lupel this year, he performed the year earlier because he had Selanne along side him. The NHL draft, UFA and RFA signngs are all about speculation. Way to go Lowe... I like you put your chips down and went all in for your team! I think Bu ffalo fans and owners are pissy because they lost their chance (with a stacked team) to win the cup two years in a row. Now the Free Agency kicks in and quality players are being wooed by others. Buffalo had had enough and then in stepped Lowe... move on Buffalo fans, Buffaol ownership, an Buffalo management. It is time for you to start building again!
- Nick

"I am neither and Edmonton Oiler or Buffalo Sabre fan and I have no issue with this attempt by Kevin Lowe to improve his franchise." (HA!) I don't think that Buffalo fans are pissy because of the Vanek deal. Losing Co-captains in the same day hurts them more. As far as rebuilding goes I don't believe they are at that stage by a longshot. They are very deep even without their Captains. Edmonton however is still in a downward spiral from last summer. As far as the Vanek deal goes the one good thing that Lowe did for the Sabres is force them to commit to something. I think Darcy Regier should stop taking everyone's word for it and actually sign players on paper. Buffalo players (past and present)and fans deserve better.
- Greg

Nick, you would at least have looked a little smart by just saying you hate Buffalo. The fans in Buffalo are not upset with Lowe, they are upset with their own management. Let's see how Briere does without 4 complete lines, actually without any complete lines in Philly. Drury will be missed but his work ethic is going to frustrate him when he plays along Mr. Softy himself - Jagr. The Sabres had 7 starters out (Drury, Max, Connolly, Gaustad, Tallinder, to name a few) last year and continued to winning at a neck breaking pace. Rebuilding? Sorry. By the way, what happened to the Sabres and their (stacked) team doesn't even come close to what happened to Ottawa last summer and look where they ended up: The Sens lose Chara to Boston, have to trade potential 2007 unrestricted free agent Martin Havlat, plus Bryan Smolinski, to Chicago, let go journeyman center Tyler Arnason and veteran goaltender Dominik Hasek. Ryan Miller is getting better and more experienced in goal, Teppo Numminen was re-signed and joins with a young guard of leaders. Strength up the middle? Without Briere and Drury a lot of pressure is going to be on Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad and likely Clarke MacArthur to pick up the slack like Wade Redden, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips and Andrej Meszaros did on defense in place of Chara in Ottawa last season. Anyway, the Sabres have always been anything but stacked you imbecile. They have always been a complete team of hard working, gritty players. The Rangers are stacked. Next time, just come right out and say you hate Buffalo and the fans. We can take it from an ignoramus like you. Oh, and remember: It's better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think you're an idiot than it is to open it and prove you're an idiot. I hope you find something better to do with your time than hate Buffalo.
- Chuck
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Proteau's Blog: Code breakers