Robyn Regehr played all his 876 NHL games with Calgary, but will move on to Buffalo next season. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
I’m having a tough time seeing Jay Feaster’s logic in the trade the Calgary Flames made with the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend.
On one hand, he dealt 31-year-old punishing defenseman Robyn Regehr who is starting to slow down, but is still miserable to play against because of his physical style. In the deal, Feaster also gave Buffalo a second round pick next year.
So are the aging Flames trying to win it now or rebuild? Because you don’t trade a franchise cornerstone if you’re trying to win now and you don’t give up an early draft pick if you’re trying to restock the cupboard.
Now I know Ales Kotalik was part of the package going to Buffalo and the Sabres didn’t really want that $3 million salary. But Regehr at $4.02 million isn’t a salary dump. He’s a useful, valuable commodity at that price.
Make no mistake, the Sabres pushed hard to get Regehr. Buffalo has the lowest paid blueline in the league and the Philadelphia Flyers showed in the playoffs where that team is most vulnerable. Job No. 1 for Sabres GM Darcy Regier was to toughen up the defense corps over the summer. Buffalo so desperately wanted Regehr, team owner Terry Pegula called the Flame to sell him on the virtues of the city and organization.
So that brings me back to the conundrum: why did Feaster think he had to be the one throwing in the second round pick? Shouldn’t Buffalo have been the team sweetening the pot? Was it that important for Feaster to get rid of Kotalik’s deal? Why wouldn’t he farm the winger in Abbotsford next year (like he did part of this season) or make him go away to Europe, the way Chicago GM Stan Bowman made Cristobal Huet and his $5 million go away a year ago?
Since the lockout, Calgary has been one of the worst drafting/developing teams in the league. Its list of prospects in THN’s Future Watch was fourth worst in the NHL this season - and that was before the Flames lost top prospect and blueline stud Tim Erixon, rated 15th overall, because he didn’t want to sign with Calgary.
If the rationale for the Regehr trade was freeing up salary cap space, shouldn’t Feaster have been trying to trade disappointing Jay Bouwmeester and his $6.68 million, or unproductive Matt Stajan and his $3.5 million, or stone cold Niklas Hagman and his $3 million?
Not someone useful like Regehr.
The players Calgary got in return will determine if the deal was a win-win for both teams or a massive lopsided win for the Sabres.
Chris Butler is a No. 5-6 defenseman now. The Flames have a plethora of those in Brett Carson, Adam Pardy, Brendan Mikkelson and T.J Brodie. Those types of players can typically be purchased every July 1 for about $1 million or so. Butler has upside as a No. 3-4 defenseman and that will be absolutely necessary for Feaster to save face here.
Paul Byron is an undersized 22-year-old minor-leaguer who wasn’t ranked among Buffalo’s top 10 prospects in Future Watch. He has terrific offensive skills, but that may or may not translate at the NHL level because of his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame. If he develops into a second-line scoring center or a third-line productive pest like tiny Brad Marchand, then the Flames got decent return in this deal. But if he maxes out as a fourth-line energy player (or premier AHLer, 13th NHL forward), then why didn’t Feaster just buy one of these interchangeable parts on July 1?
A lot of things have to align for Feaster to make this trade look good. And if they don’t, it’ll look even worse when the toughened-up Sabres have a successful playoff run, then pile on by boosting their prospect system with Calgary’s second pick next June.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.