The biggest problem with being GM for a Day is that it only lasts 24 hours. Seriously, you want me to fix the Sabres in one day? Darcy Regier has created such a mess that it could take years to get this organization back into playoff contention. I’ll stand up for my record, but I’m no miracle worker.
Honestly, when examining the roster now, I’m not even sure where to begin. The Sabres’ foundation doesn’t simply have a few cracks. It has disintegrated into a pile of dust that needs to be cleared. They need to dig a new hole. They need a fresh pour of reinforced concrete. The first step is hiring a new architect.
The Sabres’ average finish since GM for a Day started in 2007 is between eighth and ninth place in the conference. Take away their division title in 2009-10, and it’s between ninth and 10th.
FYI: That’s pathetic.
And that’s why you need me.
Look, every general manager makes mistakes every year. I’ve made blunders along the way, too. In 2009, I was so desperate for a top defenseman that I was prepared to throw Jay Bouwmeester a seven-year contract worth $50 million.
Jay-Bo was a bust in Calgary. It doesn’t guarantee he would have been a bust here. You never really know how a player will fit with a certain organization until he plays for the team. Regardless, it was too much money for him. Calgary recognized its mistake, traded him while he still had value and started in a different direction.
My job for one day the last six years was adding and subtracting specific players and creating a roster that fit under the salary cap. My decisions were made based on what the Sabres needed while working with a base, a foundation. Now, with the foundation in ruins, they need a general approach rather than pinpointing players who can help.
With so many holes in the roster, creating a complete roster and detailed salary chart would be unrealistic. There are too many variables that come into play to say precisely what’s needed in one day. Real negotiations are required with other general managers. One move leads to several other moves down the road.
With no true core of players to build around, it’s become exponentially tougher.
Being the owner for a day would be much, much easier. I would fire Regier, hire Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations, hire Rick Dudley as general manager and allow them to hire the right coach and acquire the right personnel. The standards would never be lowered. They would be the same every year: Win the Stanley Cup.
And this column would end HERE.
The general idea now is slashing payroll as much as possible, which gives me more flexibility; acquiring as many good young players as possible with the idea several will emerge as good players and, eventually, strong leaders; and blending in willing veterans who can help with the transition.
Getting this team back into contention is a tall order for anyone. Young players come with uncertainty and mistakes. It leads to misses. It leads to problems with the salary cap. It leads to losing. It leads to suffering. It leads to, well, 12th place.
Let’s get something straight. No GM should be allowed to rebuild his own team. Their job is to build. If a rebuild is required, which happens to be the case in Buffalo, it means a team was poorly built the first time. If you invest time and money in a core group of players, you need to be right. If you’re not, you need to be replaced.
Overall, the job requires a strong stomach to take risks, a quality lacking in Regier. If I make too many mistakes, fire me. I have another job for 364 days a year.
Buffalo has the eighth and 16th picks overall in the upcoming draft. There’s almost no chance of Colorado giving up the first pick overall. If I can’t get Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin — the top three prospects — I’m looking to use one or both first-round picks as trade bait.
I’m willing to dip into the free-agent market for role players who are 28 or younger and will not kill payroll. Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg is at the top of a short list. Nathan Horton is a very good player, and tough, but I can only pursue him if I dump the salaries of Ryan Miller or Thomas Vanek or, preferably, both.
The Flyers reportedly are listening to offers for Sean Couturier. Couturier is coming off a terrible season in which he had four goals and 15 points in 46 games. He had a 27-game scoring slump. There is no getting around such facts, but he’s a 20-year-old with good size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds). He would not be THE piece. He would be one piece.
Regier has two assets in Vanek and Miller, plus two first-round picks in the coming draft. Vanek and Miller are eligible for unrestricted free agency after the coming season and have shown little desire to stay through a rebuild. Every day they remain here, the Sabres lose a little leverage in the trade market.
Wayne Gretzky was traded, so everybody on my roster is available for the right price. And that includes Tyler Myers and Mikhail Grigorenko. I’m not actively shopping them, but rest assured I’m listening to all offers for them or anyone else.
Myers has become emblematic of their problems. He’s a young player who hasn’t produced, cannot be depended upon to build around and is overpaid. His game has regressed in recent years. He might become a very good player. I’m open to moving him for the right price, but I’m also not giving him away.
What’s the right price? Big, right-handed defensemen are hard to find. I would need a proven young player and either two solid prospects or a young star and a high draft pick.
My options going into the draft are twofold. The eighth and 16th picks could be used in a package to move into the top three positions of the draft or they could be used with Vanek and/or Miller for a good, young prospect with experience. I would not be inclined to keep both picks and take my chances in the draft. It’s too risky.
The Sabres need help down the middle yet again. Cody Hodgson is not a true No. 1 center. In my book, he’s a second-line center on a good team and perhaps a third-line center on a contending team. The trick is convincing another team to unload a good young center for a high pick and Vanek or Miller.
Remember, there’s a very good chance you’re losing Vanek and/or Miller if you don’t trade them. Would the Flyers be interested in giving up Couturier, for example, for Vanek and swapping the 16th and the 11th picks? I don’t know for sure. If Philly buys out Ilya Bryzgalov, they could be interested in Miller.
That kind of thinking is required to get the Sabres moving in the right direction.
Adam Henrique is another good player, a second-line center on a good team but a first-line guy for the Sabres. He’s coming off a mediocre year (11 goals, 16 points, 42 games) but had 16 goals and 51 points in 74 games as a rookie. He’s 23 years old and has played in the Stanley Cup finals.
Would the Devils be interested in Vanek and a first-round pick for him? Or would they take Miller to take over for Martin Brodeur, plus a first-round pick? Yes, it’s a hefty price. It’s also getting something back for Miller or Vanek. If they become free agents, they can walk and bring nothing back in return.
It would still leave Buffalo with another first-rounder and one star to make a deal elsewhere. Not Henrique? How about considerably less for young Jacob Josefson?
Would the Blue Jackets be interested in trading away high-scoring center Boone Jenner, a former second-round pick, or defenseman Ryan Murray, the former second pick overall who is coming off a shoulder injury? Both are 19-year-old prospects of a team desperate to make the playoffs and looking for a scorer (Vanek) after losing Rick Nash.
Is there any way I can get my hands on Matt Duchene or Ryan O’Reilly, even if it means trading Miller or Vanek (and more) to Colorado? Could the Oilers move Magnus Paajarvi, a former 10th pick overall who has had a slow start to his career for a team loaded with young skilled forwards? Edmonton needs a goaltender.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon is listening to offers for the second pick overall. It’s time to give him a call and find out the price tag. I would be willing to trade Miller, Vanek and a first-round pick for the second pick overall. Why? Because the chances of keeping one or both is minimal. It would require them signing extensions with Florida, of course.
Is that possible? Anything is possible. Now do you see where this is going?
One player on my radar is Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who is stuck behind former Conn Smyth winner Jonathan Quick. Bernier and Jhonas Enroth would be battling for the No. 1 goaltending position until further notice. Both would get their share of opportunities until one emerged. If neither did, start looking again.
Bernier, 24, has a 29-20-6 record with a 2.36 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 62 career games. He still has plenty to prove, but he’s a former first-round pick with potential. It’s time to call the Kings for the asking price.
I would be more willing to give up a first-round pick for someone who’s already an NHL player, than willing to risk taking one eighth or 16th overall. The Kings need a first-round pick. How about giving the Kings the 16th pick overall and Drew Stafford for Bernier and the Kings’ second-round pick?
Miller and Vanek would be traded before or during the draft. It’s time to begin life without them. Just know they will not bring the return you would hope because the Sabres lost leverage by keeping them after the 2013 trade deadline.
It’s a shame the Sabres have reached this point. But if they followed my suggestions over the years, they wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
GM for a Day track record
Yes, I know, it’s unfair to make such a blanket statement without providing evidence. Let’s review my six years as GM for a Day:
In 2007, the master plan allowed them to keep Drury and Briere. It meant dumping Maxim Afinogenov, Jaroslav Spacek and Teppo Numminen. Afinogenov had trade value after putting up 134 points in 133 games over two previous seasons. I wasn’t overly impressed with him or his statistics, which were a product of the players around him.
The Sabres kept the latter three for the next two years. Afinogenov accomplished almost nothing, spent one season with Atlanta and was out of the NHL. Numminen returned and played 58 games over two years. They are among many players that Regier retained for far too long.
In 2008, the goal was shipping out Afinogenov and Numminen and making sure Miller wasn’t overpaid. I suggested a three-year deal worth $17 million with the following rationale: “If he plays well, he gets back to the bargaining table sooner and can make his case for more money. If he doesn’t, the Sabres aren’t shackled by a long-term deal built on potential. If that doesn’t work, well, there’s hardly a shortage on good goaltenders who could be had for $5 million or less.”
Miller signed a five-year deal for $30.25 million, or $6.25 million a year. He has not justified the money for the last two seasons.
The plan in 2008 also called for signing unrestricted free agent Brooks Orpik to a four-year deal worth $18 million. Orpik was interested in coming to Buffalo, but Regier showed little or no interest in him. He re-signed with Pittsburgh for six years and $22.5 million, won a Stanley Cup and became one of their biggest leaders.
In 2009, it was removing Afinogenov, Spacek and Numminen and adding Dudley as my assistant GM. It marked the first time I suggested they ship out Jochen Hecht. Four years later, he was still here. It was about playing kids such as Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy and finding out whether they belonged in the NHL.
The big move that year was signing Bouwmeester, a mistake.
In 2010, it was about acquiring gamers, starting with Patrick Sharp, severing ties with Hecht and Tim Connolly and using Andrej Sekera as trade bait. I suggested they inquire about Sheldon Souray, who was in the doghouse in Edmonton. Souray had 13 goals and 38 points and was plus-30 in 108 games over the past two seasons. Sekera had four goals and 25 points and was plus-1 in 106 games over the same span.
The same year, I also suggested the Sabres could do without Henrik Tallinder or Toni Lydman unless they returned for the same money. Lydman signed for less money with Anaheim, which finished second in the conference this year. My mistake that year was saying Myers would be effective without Tallinder. He was not.
Two years ago, it was about deleting Connolly (still!) from the roster and signing Brad Richards and/or James Wisniewski or Christian Ehrhoff. If Richards signed elsewhere (which he did) the focus should turn toward Paul Stastny, Jordan Staal, Erik Cole and Tom Fleischmann. And, if possible, sign Ville Leino for $3 million per season.
Stastny remains in Colorado. Staal was traded last summer. Cole had 35 goals for Montreal and last season was traded to Dallas. Fleischmann led the Panthers in scoring the last two seasons. The Sabres signed Leino to a six-year deal for $4.5 million per season, a bad contract that placed pressure on the salary cap. I would buy out Leino, by the way, but it can only happen if he’s healthy.
Concise plan vital
Finally, last year was about firing Lindy Ruff, shopping Miller and using one or both of their first-round picks in a trade package with Derek Roy and/or Sekera. The idea was to get Stastny, Staal, Ryan Malone or Jarrett Stoll. Oh, and it was saying goodbye to Hecht after his contract expired. Hecht returned, yet again, and failed to help them, yet again.
My list of coaching candidates included Craig Ramsay, Jon Cooper and Dallas Eakins. Ramsay is a veteran coach and respected teacher. Cooper is coaching Tampa Bay. Eakins recently was snapped up by Edmonton. The Sabres promoted Ron Rolston and retained him rather than wait for other coaching candidates, such as John Tortorella, to pop free.
When you look back, there’s no telling what would have happened if the Sabres made the right decisions along the way. Chris Drury and Daniel Briere wouldn’t have stayed this long but for a few years they would have helped a good team on the verge of contention. One or both could have been traded. They would have been assets.
Vanek wouldn’t have cost them $50 million over seven years, either. At worst, they would have had four first-round picks from Edmonton, and likely a strong core, for him.
And that brings us to now.
The general manager should be doing what’s best for the team. If the team is going nowhere, you plan for the future. Regier talked about creating a new foundation starting with the Gaustad trade. Regier didn’t know how to properly guide his team to the bottom and, thus, increase its chances for the top pick overall.
Fans have suffered enough.
And that’s why you need me.