Darcy Regier didn’t want to use the R-word while announcing that Jason Pominville had been traded to Minnesota for two prospects and two draft picks Wednesday. The coy general manager didn’t need to get specific. Anyone listening understood he was talking about some derivative of rebuilding.
Reloading, retooling, reworking, reconstructing, take your pick.
If the Sabres were smart, they would reach into their bowl of alphabet soup for a few more R-words. Here are two in particular that carry a nice ring: Replace Regier.
They’re infinitely cleaner and far more sensible than the choice words fans are using – words that begin with other letters. The Sabres have had too few W’s and way too many L’s, which is why so many fans are getting increasingly PO’d. By the sounds of things, it’s going to get worse.
Regier deserves no criticism for the trade itself. He picked up a first-round pick, a second-round pick plus prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett from the Wild. Overall, it’s a pretty good haul for a guy who had one full season remaining on his contract with a team going nowhere.
Larsson is a 20-year-old forward whom the Wild hoped would be a dependable third-line player in the NHL, perhaps a second-liner. They had concerns about Hackett’s mental toughness, but the goaltender showed flashes of brilliance last season.
Draft picks always come with a degree of uncertainty, but Regier figured he would increase his odds for hitting on a few players if he had more opportunities. He’s playing the percentages. By itself, it makes sense.
The real issue is the reason Regier was forced to trade his captain in the first place. He needs a new foundation because the one he built has crumbled under a mountain of his mistakes. The plan now calls for beginning at the bottom. Check the standings, and you’ll see that the Sabres aren’t far from their starting point.
“It’s no fun being where we are,” Regier said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan or you’re in my position. There’s no enjoyment out of it. There’s an opportunity. What we’re going to do is seize on the opportunity.”
The difference between him and the fans, of course, is that he’s getting paid for not doing his job while fans are paying him to not do his job. Their loyalty, which hasn’t wavered no matter how many times he botched decisions, will be tested.
Regier called it “rolling back,” which was his way of convincing you that the Sabres need to pull their truck in reverse in order to plow forward. They want to draft and develop players with the idea they can supplement their roster through trades and free agency when the right opportunity comes along.
The timeline? No timeline.
The so-called core? No core.
Regier for years sold fans on the notion that Pominville was part of a collection of players who would lead them to greatness. It included Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Let’s not forget Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy, who have since been traded. Wait, I almost forgot Jochen Hecht. He’s still here, for some unknown reason.
“We tried to add to that,” Regier said, “and it didn’t work.”
He’s right. It didn’t work. In fact, it failed miserably because Regier put his money on the wrong players or failed to acquire the right players around them or, more accurately, a combination of both. The Sabres have missed the postseason three times in five years, soon to be four in six.
Obviously, it didn’t work.
Lindy Ruff was sent packing this season and rightfully so. He should have been fired last year, when it became evident his players muted his message. Regier should have been kicked to the curb with him but instead received a contract extension. He sounded like a man Wednesday who would be in charge of the rebuilding project.
Just so we’re straight, the same man who made the mess is now in charge of cleaning up the mess and, if he sticks around, will have an opportunity to make another mess. Seriously, that’s messed up.
Remember, when Terry Pegula purchased the team just more than two years ago, he expected to win the Stanley Cup in three. Now, they’re worse than when he arrived. Yes, they have regressed.
The R&R Railroad continues chugging along to destinations unknown with Ruff being replaced by Ron Rolston and getting basically the same results. Now that the Sabres can’t get much worse, it’s only a matter of time before the slightest improvement is sold as monumental progress. It’s ridiculous.
Certainly, someone would suggest that it’s all good because at least the franchise survived the worst R-word in the dictionary: relocation. Here’s a dose of reality: Gary Bettman was never going to allow that to happen based on its fan base and geographic advantages. In truth, there would have been a rebellion.
In the end, Regier had no choice but to send Pominville on his way like so many other good ones who left town for all of the wrong reasons.
They have been grossly mismanaged for years. Regier is in his 16th season and is still learning lessons the hard way, but his mistakes come without repercussion.
I’ll say it again: managing a hockey team isn’t about spending the most. It’s about spending the wisest. And with the Sabres not getting a bang commensurate with the buck, he has been exposed. It doesn’t take much for a general manager to lose leverage, as Regier found out this season.
Veterans in particular look around, assess the future, and start looking for the door if they don’t like the view. My guess is Pominville would have rather stayed in Buffalo if the Sabres had a real chance of winning. But when it became obvious, he handed over his list of teams for the Sabres to avoid and landed in Minnesota.
He’s not the first good player to leave town, and he’s not going to be the last. Vanek already stated he doesn’t want to be part of a long rebuilding project. He and Miller are signed through next season and are set to become unrestricted free agents. They’re reaching a stage in their careers where they want to win the Cup.
I’ll forever be convinced that they made that run from near the bottom of the Eastern Conference to the No. 7 playoff seed in 2010-11 because players were inspired about Pegula’s pending arrival. They expected big changes. Instead, he adhered to the status quo and ended up with an uninspired team that put together a string of listless efforts.
But what the heck? That’s just my opinion. It’s based on this R-word: results.
Regier gets a reward.
Fans deserve a refund.