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Rewarding Inconsistency

February 9, 2013 - Matt Spielman
The Buffalo Sabres have become comfortable with inconsistency and, in some cases, are even rewarding it.

Just prior to the start of this shortened season, owner Terry Pegula decided that he likes the direction the team is going under Darcy Regier and rewarded the general manager with a new long-term contract.

That move, in essence, gave head coach Lindy Ruff an extension too — because as long as Regier is the GM, Ruff will be the coach.

What Pegula has seen in the two years since he purchased the team that says he should keep his management team in place is questionable.

At the end of Pegula's first season in charge, albeit abbreviated, the Sabres folded after leading a playoff series 3-2 over the Flyers and fell in seven games.

That offseason, Pegula made a splash laying out big money for Regier to bring in defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for 10 years and forward Ville Leino -- who just happened to be the player that knocked the Sabres out of the playoffs -- for six years. Those moves didn't exactly pay off, as Ehrhoff had a difficult time transitioning to the Sabres early in the season and Leino had arguably his worst season as a pro. With the way Tyler Myers is playing this season, the seven-year $38.5 million extension signed prior to the 2011-12 season is looking like another Regier misstep.

The Sabres' recent history is plagued by giving players long-term contracts and allowing players to become too comfortable with their jobs to keep performing at a high level. It seems that certain players are able to play under the weight of a long-term contract for big money and other players are not. It's not that the Sabres shouldn't give out long-term contracts; it just seems that their GM oftentimes gives them to the wrong players.

Drew Stafford hasn't come close to matching the 30-goal output he poured in before his four-year, $16 million extension. Jochen Hecht did relatively nothing on a four-year, $14.1 million prior to this season. Other than Ryan Miller's Vezina-trophy, Olympic silver-medal winning season in 2010, he hasn't lived up to his five-year, $31.25 million deal. Tim Connolly's time in Buffalo is probably the best example of overpaying one of their own for very little production — and Regier did it twice! First, in 2006, after Connolly had produced 125 points with the Sabres up to that point in his career, Regier signed the center to a three-year, $8.7 million contract — admittedly not a bad deal. At the trade deadline in 2009, just when fans thought Connolly's injury-plagued days in Buffalo were over, Regier came out with an announcement — not that Connolly had been traded, but he had in fact been re-signed for two years and $9 million more. Paul Gaustad won faceoffs, something this year's Sabres team sorely misses, but that skill did not warrant the contract with which he was rewarded.

And the one long-term contract Regier has signed that is a fairly productive deal — seven years, $50 million for Thomas Vanek — he was forced into by an Edmonton Oilers offer sheet and the emotional fallout for failing to extend Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

A lot could be said of Regier and Ruff for about the first 10 years of their run, but the last six have been difficult. Regier certainly has an eye for young talent, and his drafting has been above average during most of his tenure. But there comes a time when a coach's message turns stale for that young core group of players and when that happens, and the coach isn't held accountable, the GM has to be blamed as well. Ruff's career would probably benefit from a change of scenery, just like some players' careers would. Several coaches have been hired and fired since Ruff took over, and many of those coaches have seen success in the league.

A team's talent can be judged from the high marks of a season and their heart can be judged in the low marks. Wins over Boston and Montreal early this season have shown that the Sabres can compete with anybody in the NHL when players are giving 100 percent and showcasing their talent. But too many losses to below-average teams like the Panthers and Maple Leafs also show that Ruff isn't always getting the most out of his players.

If Regier doesn't notice that inconsistency, it's time for both of them to go.

 
 

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Darcy Regier AP photo