The 2010-2011 NHL season is winding down in Buffalo and the Sabres continue to sit on the brink of the playoffs. After tonight’s 3-2 shootout win against Montreal, there will be 27 games left in current the season. With the trade deadline on February 28th at 3PM, there are only six games left for GM Darcy Regier to make any final adjustments before the playoff push. During that time the Sabres will have to make up enough points to get past Carolina and the New York Rangers in order to get into the playoffs for a second straight year.
Here are three issues that Buffalo GM Darcy Regier will need to examine as time ticks by to this year’s deadline.
1. Find out Terry Pegula’s commitment to spending.
There is no doubt that Terry Pegula, the new owner of the Sabres, will play at least some role in the decisions made between now and the end of the season, including any trades that may take place. While I’m sure that he already has, Darcy needs a firm commitment, in one direction or another, whether Pegula plans to spend to the salary cap limit. According to CapGeek.com, the Sabres currently have just over $4 million to spend to get up to the cap. That amount of money will easily be enough to bring in at least one top four defenseman or top nine forward that can put the team over the edge. That is, of course, assuming no money is going out or being traded away. Meaning Regier could save that money for off-season spending to bring in better talent. Pegula will likely sit down with his staff, which will apparently include former Pittsburgh Penguin executive Ted Black, Regier, and head coach Lindy Ruff, to determine what type of financial commitment is going to be made going forward. I have a suspicion that the trad deadline will show a glimpse of Pegula’s spending habits, something that Regier may have to adjust to immediately.
2. Assess whether the current roster can get your team to the playoffs and into the future.
With the continuous crop of NHL-ready talent seemingly running low in Portland, Regier will have plenty of difficult decisions to make with regards to his veterans. With the exception of perhaps Cody McCormick, I am almost certain that if all of the unrestricted free agents on Buffalo’s current roster were either traded or not resigned after this season, no fans would come knocking down Regier’s door any time soon. At least not based on this season’s play from the seven players that Regier will have to decide what to do with in the next 13 days. Further, less than half the Sabres currently under contract, 12 out of 25 to be exact, are signed past the 2011-2012 season. Six of the remaining 13 players are restricted free agents that the Sabres will have first priority to should they so choose after this season. That means that if management decides to, they could completey remake the current roster and retain only a core group of players. While the ability to build from the core by trading away “dead weight” may be appealing to fans, not many teams are going to want aging players (read Rob Niedermayer and Craig Rivet) that haven’t contributed much this season.
By no means am I suggesting a “fire sale” is in order, perhaps even to the contrary. What I am saying though is that if players are given up that currently occupy a roster spot, someone that is available to play immediately should be brought back in return, preferably not as a rental player for the sake of roster consistency. Pegula, Regier, and Ruff need to sit down and think long and hard about how to handle the tough situation of planning for the immediate future, i.e. the playoffs, while also taking into consideration that this team could be drastically different come next season.
3. Figure out what legacy you want to leave with the Sabres.
If you ask the fans of Buffalo whether they want to see the current GM stick around after this season, depending on the most recent performance of the team, you will likely get a response in the negative. While Regier and Ruff have been a duo for the better part of a decade in Buffalo, fans are growing more impatient by the minute. To an extent, how can you blame them. In years mixed with mediocrity and lack of effort you will also find multiple Conference Final runs. But one thing has remained elusive in Regier’s time and that is the Stanley Cup. In a town that has seen more than its fair share of bad breaks, Buffalo yearns for a title like a man in the desert does for water. In my mind, unless the Sabres have a lengthy run in this year’s playoffs, Pegula has no choice but to cut loose Regier. I’m not sure the fans would let the new owner live down the opportunity to start fresh in the front office if Regier is not able to make a strong justification for being retained. Even if there is a decent playoff run, why would an owner want to keep around a GM that has become accustomed to finishing outside of the playoffs far too much in recent seasons. While a Cup isn’t necessarily needed to justify retaining Darcy, a true commitment to winning is in order for the fans of Buffalo to warm up to the idea of Regier sticking around. Fans in Buffalo may be fickle at times, but the fact remains that no one wants to watch a team that isn’t performing to its fullest potential. Regier can cement his place in Sabres history by showing that with the right ownership backing him up, he can create a winning team.