Friday, July 06, 2007

Bottle Rocket...


The Edmonton Oilers shot off a bottle rocket of an offer for Buffalo Sabres restricted free-agent forward Thomas Vanek. It climbed and climbed and climbed and then…..



Darcy Regier spent about four seconds pondering the idea of losing another forward (Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Dainius Zubrus for those of you scoring at home). Not even four first round draft picks could dissuade Regier from matching the heavily front-loaded seven-year, $50 million offer that breaks down as follows:

Year 1: $5.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Year 2: $3.0 million signing bonus, $5.0 million salary

Years 3-7: $6.4 million salary

Buffalo has lost three players to a combined $107.15 million (ponder that number for a moment and ask yourself if you think that lockout year was worth anything more than a bucket of warm piss). Losing a fourth would leave Buffalo looking a bit like Ryan Miller and 911 on speed dial.

As it is, Buffalo overpaid to retain Vanek. At $7.14 million/year, is he worth more than Drury ($7.05 million/year) or Gomez (ok, Gomez is a little higher at $7.38 million/year)? Then again, what was Buffalo to do? Let him walk? You think Sabres were going to sell out the season with Derek Roy centering Jason Pominville and Maxim Afinogenov? I like those guys a lot, but with Vanek going out the door, you’d have to worry about what was behind those three. Buffalo isn’t looking at a Philadelphia-like collapse – they are still (on paper, especially with retaining Vanek) a playoff-caliber team. But they are not going to be thought of in 2007-2008 on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders, not unless Regier has some moves up his sleeve.

Buffalo was stuck. We’ve raised this point before – a team that sells out its season finds itself in financial makes no sense. Then, it watches as two of its core players walk out the door (let’s discount Larry Brooks’ breathless “everyone wants to play in New York theory” for the moment). A player it rented walks soon after. Then, perhaps its best up-and-coming young forward is offered the sun, the moon and the stars, forcing the team in to what might be a decision to stave off and further bleeding in the standings or, potentially, its gate.

There are those who think this league is just fine, that everything is alright, if we just give it some time and nurture it and heed our “cost certainty” structure. I think it’s nonsense.

I think JP is dead on with his question of whether Kevin Lowe is trying to get himself fired in Edmonton (is he trying to out-"Milbury" Milbury?). But meanwhile, looking at what’s happening in Buffalo hockey looks, if not broken, then fractured. And that is the franchise that was supposed to epitomize the new NHL.