Allow me first to say that this is not intended to belittle Darcy Regier or infuriate apologists who manage to rationalize his mistakes. For the umpteenth time, my beef with Regier is not personal. This visit down Memory Lane is about remembering the facts before they get turned into fiction.
Daniel Paille set up the tying goal and scored the winner late in the third period against the Rangers on Tuesday to give the Bruins a 2-1 victory and a 3-0 series lead. Taylor Pyatt scored the lone goal for the Rangers after parking his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame in front of the net and getting a piece of a shot that beat Tuukka Rask.
Such are facts, not opinions, and there’s no getting around them.
Paille and Pyatt were not stars in Buffalo by any measure, but they do serve as reminders of just how many poor decisions were made over the past seven years. That’s the starting point for the Sabres going in a downward trend that Regier either caused or failed to stop amid a barrage of poor decisions that led them to, well, here.
Take a look at the playoff teams. Watch how they play. Examine the little things. Appreciate how much effort and toughness they have shown. See how much trust the players have in one another. And then evaluate the Sabres. They’re watching because their mistakes have been pushed aside as minor transactions, as hiccups.
Do you see what I see?
We’ll start with Paille, who was traded in 2009 for a third-round pick (Kevin Sundher) and future considerations because Buffalo was convinced Tim Kennedy was a better player. A year later, Kennedy was sent packing because he had the audacity to take the Sabres to arbitration. And then they made Kennedy out to be the bad guy.
In the process, Regier sent a message to his team that they’d better not test them when it comes to money. The message received by many in the dressing room, however, was that Regier was more interested in sending messages than he was in winning. In my opinion, that was the wrong message.
I’m not here to defend Kennedy, who played on the fourth line and helped the Sharks beat the Kings and tie the series Tuesday. In fact, you could argue that Regier made the right call with him. I disagree. But if you support their decision to dump Kennedy and continue paying part of his salary for two years, you must conclude that they made the wrong call when they traded Paille.
Paille was given a defined role in Boston. The Bruins ignored his offensive shortcomings, checked his speed and made him a defensive forward and penalty killer. They asked him for little more than effort, which he provided. He was a sound role player when they won the Stanley Cup two years ago. His effort led him to the winning goal Tuesday.
“I think a lot of it is chemistry,” Paille told reporters after the game. “We’ve been together four years now. We know our roles.”
Pyatt was lost in the shuffle in Buffalo. He didn’t tap into his size enough for my liking, but he did take up space and serve a purpose. He was a big body. The Sabres thought so little of him that they traded him to Vancouver for a fourth-round pick. He’s playing his seventh season with his third team since the trade. Clearly, he’s worth something.
Buffalo flipped the pick to Calgary for two fifth-round selections, which ended up being Bradley Eidsness and Jean-Simon Allard. Who? Precisely. Pyatt scored 23 goals in his first year with the Canucks and averaged nearly 15 goals over six full seasons after leaving Buffalo. His teams reached the playoffs six times in seven years.
I’m not suggesting the Sabres are a playoff team if they had kept Paille and Pyatt. That cannot be emphasized enough. I’m not condemning Regier for trading them. I am saying that he made too many mistakes involving personnel. They are two examples among many that have led the Sabres to, well, here.
Brooks Orpik, who grew up in East Amherst, was hoping to play in Buffalo after his contract with the Penguins expired after the 2007-08 season. He couldn’t get the Sabres to engage in contract talks. He returned to Pittsburgh with a six-year deal worth $22 million, a bargain, and won the Stanley Cup the following season.
Have you watched him play? Orpik is terrific defensively. He’s a ferocious hitter. He’s also become one of the Penguins’ top leaders. He even scored a series-ending goal in overtime this year to knock out the Islanders. He’s the kind of player the Sabres needed when they were looking for toughness and leadership.
Brian Gionta wanted to play in Buffalo. Instead, he signed with Montreal and was a 20-goal scorer and captain. Cory Conacher was under the Sabres’ nose at Canisius. He signed a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay and finished third among rookies in scoring with 29 points. Too small? Maybe. He was an asset to the Lightning, who traded him to Ottawa for goalie Ben Bishop.
Robyn Regehr needed to be talked into waiving his no-trade clause and coming to Buffalo. He certainly didn’t need to be talked into leaving Buffalo. He was gladly traded to Los Angeles, where he’s back to playing good defense and throwing his body around on the Kings’ top defense pairing.
Toni Lydman helped Anaheim to the second-best record in the conference this season. Henrik Tallinder played in the finals last year. Need we revisit Brian Campbell, near tears after getting traded by Buffalo, winning a Cup with the Blackhawks? He was swapped in a package for Steve Bernier, who was here for about 15 minutes.
Brad Boyes, the first player acquired after Terry Pegula took over, was a disaster in Buffalo. He had 35 points in 48 games for the Islanders, helping them reach the postseason. Blame the coach in Buffalo? Blame the guy who kept the coach? Blame the owner who kept the GM who kept the coach? Take your pick.
Look back on who was here, who came through here, who is here and who is coming here. Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are headed for the exit. Players aren’t lining up to play in Buffalo. I’m beginning to wonder if Ron Rolston is having trouble hiring assistant coaches because they believe Buffalo is a terrible organization.
It’s nothing personal when you tally up the record. You don’t need me making an argument against Regier. He makes the argument for me.