This is going to be my first sports related entry. NHL free agency kicked off yesterday. In what is described as a "Weak free agent class" the Buffalo Sabres made three moves, 2 before July 1st. In picking up two veteran D-Men in Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff and budding Sabre-killer Ville Leino the Sabres showed they mean business in building a Cup contender.
Welcome to the Terry Pegula Era. Thank god almighty, Darcy Regier is free at last!
Gone are the days of signing Rob Niedermayer as the big move. Even further gone is losing both of your team captains within moments of the free agency start. The Sabres were bold. They went out determined to add veteran leadership, playoff experience and grit to their team. No matter how you feel about the moves they accomplished their goals.
All three additions have been to the Stanley Cup Finals, albeit all three lost in said Finals. That should keep them hungry though. Ehrhoff is an offensive addition to the blue line. Regehr a punishing defensive addition. They will add tons of experience to a very young defensive corps.
Are the moves perfect? Not by any stretch of the imagination. As previously stated it was supposedly a weak class. The Leino move is a gamble. Can he be a #1 or even #2 center? Is $4.5 million a year too much for a guy with only 30 career regular season goals and never more than 19 in one season? These questions will be answered for sure.
This leads me ultimately to Brad Richards. Stanley Cup Champion and Conn Smythe winner with Tampa, Richards was the bona fide cream of the free agent crop. True to previous years the coveted free agent went to the ever free spedning New York Rangers. The deal is reportedly for 9 years and $58 million, an annual cap hit of $6.5 million or 10% of the salary cap this year.
Yesterday he lead a media frenzy from his agent's office in Mississauga, ON in a reported bidding war only to sign with the Rangers who were supposedly the front runner all along. He strung out teams and ran the price up. Respected hockey reporter Darren Dreger reported on twitter that the Calgary Flames offered 9 years $65 million. So in the end Richards didn't sign for the highest amount possible, nor did he make the Rangers match the offer.
In my opinion Richards was doing one of, or both of two things. Either he was putting on a show while never intending to sign anywhere else besides the Blue Shirts, in which case Darcy made the smart choice in not driving to Ontario. This point should be troubling to Rangers fans. If he truly believed they were the best choice should he have even negotiated with anyone else? That leads into; maybe he was waiting to see if a team could truly blow the Rangers offer away which would definitively defeat his claim that he wanted to go to "a hockey market with an opportunity to win." Already the Rangers are loaded with an annual cap hit of $20.875 million between Gaborick, Lundqvist and Richards alone.
Had the Sabres taken part in and won the bidding war they would almost certainly have damaged the future of the franchise. That contract signed by Richards in Buffalo could have meant Tyler Myers being traded or allowed to be snatched up to an offer sheet next year. In my opinion Myers is the franchise. He may someday win the first Norris Trophy in team history. Only three of the last 11 Cup winners did not have a Norris winner on their roster. In contrast only one Cup Champion since the end of the lockout has had a Vezina winner between the pipes.
The future may prove me wrong but the Rangers will be lucky to make the playoffs let alone win the Stanley Cup with that team. Don't forget they owe Chris Drury $5 million to never play for them again. How much will they owe Brad Richards, who is 31 now and will be 40 at the end of the contract, when his body begins to degrade and they have to buy him out.
I think Darcy Regier is to be commended on the moves. In the end they may not work but the franchise won't be crushed if that happens and Buffalo is closer to being a destination for Cup hungry hockey stars.