(WECK 1230) — I haven’t been the biggest supporter of Darcy Regier since 2006-07, but the pre-July 1 personnel moves he made to improve the Buffalo Sabres have been more than enough to get me to give him a second chance (as if he’s massively desirous of such an opportunity!).
Then, I read that Ville Leino had become a Buffalo Sabre and got even more excited… until I saw the price tag. At six years and $27 million, Leino had become the Sabres third-highest paid forward. Derek Roy and Drew Stafford would be paid less than a player with a commendable playoff record but 70+ career points by age 27.
I was perplexed, maybe even a little angry. Did Regier understand the concept of a salary cap? Shouldn’t he have been signing Tyler Myers to a long-term extension? I didn’t need him to get Brad Richards (in fact, I’m somewhat against it), but for real?
Yes… and I get it.
I really hate agreeing to this move, but armed with the knowledge that Leino is a natural center I’m ready to like — not love — the move. The fact of the matter is that the Sabres have added three winners to the roster and kept a guy who throws his body around like he’s indesctructible. They also extended a gutsy mighty mite to an extremely reasonable contract.
An the anatomy of these moves points to another major surgery forthcoming… a big trade. Follow me:
1) Chris Butler & Paul Byron to Calgary for Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and a second-round pick.
The Sabres entered the offseason with four RFA blueliners: Mike Weber, Butler, Andrej Sekera and Marc Gragnani. The likelihood of signing all four was fine, but the odds that the majority of them would be happy were ridiculous.
2) Trading a fourth-round pick for the rights to negotiate with Christian Ehrhoff.
This is actually the only truly un-Darcy thing that’s been done. Regier loves draft picks, but this risk was phenomenal. The 10-year deal is absolutely fine, but only plausible because T-Pegs is okay with giving a defenseman $13 in signing bonuses over the first two years of the deal.
3) Resigning Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe to three-year deals.
You work hard here? You stay here. Boom.
4) Signing Ville Leino for six years and $27 million.
Whether Leino as center is a smoke screen or truth, the guy has shown up beginning three seasons ago in a brief spell with the Wings. He arrived in the playoffs with Philly in 2009-10, scoring 21 points in 19 games including three goals and six assists in the seven-game Cup loss versus Chicago.
Leino also gives the Sabres 14 forwards under contract and terrific depth at defense. In fact, the guy who deserves the most credit for the upcoming Step Five is someone who wasn’t doing it on purpose: Tom Golisano.
5) Trade multiple roster players, prospects and picks for a true No. 1 center
No rewards without risks, but the Sabres have an almost gross amount of prospect depth. They’ve drafted defensemen for years and not sent them packing because of Golisano’s rules. They’ve got some terrific NHL-ready forwards as well, and now can deal those picks, which may not even be precious anymore.
It could be multiple deals: Maybe Pominville and Morrisonn go to some team short of the cash ceiling and then Sekera, Adam and a first go for a stud. Perhaps it’s a blockbuster. Maybe they land a piece we didn’t even know was available: Dustin Brown, David Backes, Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, Ryan Getzlaf, Evgeni Malkin… who knows?
It’s all on the table at this point, and that — more than a substandard free agent class — is what makes the new Sabres a threat to win a Cup as early as next year. It’s pretty awesome. If this Leino signing, however, is it, I’m going to temper my enthusiasm a bit. Tyler Ennis is a natural center, too, but what comes natural isn’t always what’s best in a league that features the best of the better.
P.S. Expect Ryan Miller to post Vezina numbers again with Regehr and Ehrhoff joining the fold.