Ryan Miller wondered aloud this month whether veterans such as himself, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek were still the Buffalo Sabres’ core. Given the team’s struggles, the goaltender didn’t know whether management viewed a rebuild as its ideal course of action.
General Manager Darcy Regier indicated Saturday night he is contemplating a franchise overhaul.
“Where our hockey club is right now we have to be open to listening to just about anything and everything, and I am listening,” Regier said between trading Jordan Leopold to St. Louis and watching the Sabres lose, 4-3, in a shootout to Washington. “We have to be open to everything, and I think the players recognize that as well.
“You’re looking to get a group of top players that are going to play together, not on a one-year basis but going forward on a multiyear basis. That’s our focus, and it could involve any players, and I think the players are aware of that.”
The aforementioned players and notables such as Robyn Regehr and Jochen Hecht have contracts that expire either this year or next. Based on Regier’s statement of going forward on a multiyear basis, the GM sounds like he’s planning to build around youngsters such as Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers.
Miller, upon hearing and reading Regier’s remarks, did not view the comments as evidence of an immediate rebuild.
“It’s another one of the mysteries of Darcy,” Miller told The Buffalo News. “I think that’s his way of saying we obviously know we have to do something. From his end, he’s going to do whatever he feels he needs to do, but it doesn’t tell you much. It doesn’t tell me much.
“Starting this summer he can extend us, so his plan doesn’t have to kick in right now. Media and everybody hypes up the trade deadline. A lot of things go undone. You still have the draft, you still have free agency and you still have training camp to build a team. Even then you can make adjustments early into next year.
“We’re all curious to see what Darcy’s going to do, but we have to be patient and just kind of do our job.”
Miller has a modified no-trade clause in which he can submit a list of eight teams to which he will not accept a trade. He told The News that a report about him giving the Sabres a list prior to the season is false.
Regier’s task is improving a team that coughed up a pair of two-goal leads to extend its winless skid to three games while falling to 13-16-6.
“I’ll continue to try and figure out ways that we can be better, not just for the rest of this year but more importantly for the future,” said Regier, who acknowledged it would be difficult to re-sign all the veterans. “There’s only so many of those players you can have on your roster with the cap the way it is. You need top-quality young players to fill out because they’re both good and they’re inexpensive.”
Regier moved out his first veteran Saturday afternoon when he shipped Leopold to St. Louis for a second-round pick and conditional fifth-round selection in this year’s draft. The conditional pick becomes a fourth-rounder if the Blues win a playoff series.
“Where we are as an organization, it’s an opportunity to get something that’s more focused on the future,” Regier said.
Leopold was in the final season of a three-year, $9 million contract. The defenseman totaled 23 goals and 59 points in his first two seasons and had two goals and eight points in 24 games this year. The 32-year-old was second on the team with 21:08 of ice time per game.
“He’s touched every aspect of Buffalo’s game,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said on a conference call. “He’s a guy that’s going to come in here and just give us a good, steady influence on our back end.”
Regier has no plans to make the Leopold deal his final one before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
“We’re going to try and do some things,” Regier said. “The trade deadline, you can feel at times that you’re going to get a lot done and you don’t get anything done, and vice versa. You can feel like you’re not making much headway and you end up doing more things. It’s still too early, really, but we’ll find out.”
Despite letting another victory slip away, the Sabres gained a point and sit three behind the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins, and the Sabres have the second fewest in the NHL (nine) with 13 games remaining. They host Boston tonight.
“It’s obviously upsetting if you’re hearing those words rebuilding,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “We play this game to win, and we play to make the playoffs and obviously get to our goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Rebuilding is a tough word to hear, but again it’s part of the business. We haven’t performed up to par.
“We can’t worry about it. We have to play two more hockey games here before the trade deadline’s done. We just need to focus on that.”