Note to Sabres fans: There is too much time left.
A rash of negative phone calls hit the WGR-550 AM airwaves yesterday in Buffalo as fans voiced their disapproval with how contract negotiations with D Brian Campbell were botched, forcing a trade.
It appeared that many fans were pointing the finger directly at GM Darcy Regier. This wasn't Regier's fault. This time you can pin this on the NHL.
As much as Campbell was a solid offensive defenseman, he was an average defender. He could move the puck into the offensive zone to start the play, but he is playing as a part of a system set in place by the Sabres organization. Coach Lindy Ruff has worked with his D-men to work the puck up quickly to give the faster forwards the ability to work their magic.
Campbell has really been known for three things in Buffalo:
1) The Umberger hit during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs
To see the hit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD03ut-iUzg
2) His patented Spin-a-rama move when driving into the offensive zone.
3) The spokesman for Excessive Sweating and Vein Treatment Center.
Take away those three things, and Campbell is about as well known as Nathan Paetsch.
Tampa Bay's signing of 31-year-old D Dan Boyle to a 6-year, $40 million contract this week, as well as Calgary's recent contract extension to 22-year-old D Dion Phaneuf for 6 years and $39 million set the marketplace for defensemen.
Whether Sabres fans like it or not, we had to pay that type of money to keep 28-year-old Campbell. Not because he was a great player, but because he is a marquee name in the NHL. As soon as Campbell went to the All-Star Game in Dallas last year, the Sabres figured that they would need to pay at least $5 million per season.
Here's a look at this year's stats for these defensemen:
Boyle: 3 goals, 8 assists in 17 games (P/M -5)
Phaneuf: 13 goals, 32 assists in 64 games (P/M +8)
Campbell: 5 goals, 38 assists in 63 games (P/M -1)
Tampa is rewarding Boyle for his previous two years of work, while Phanuef is a rising star that needed to be inked long term. The jury on Campbell is still out. Why pay him over $6 million per season for just assists?
Agents are clearly driving the marketplace and the current collective bargaining agreement is allowing it to change the face of hockey in the "new" NHL.
I can't imagine why the Sabres wouldn't want to pay Campbell an overbloated salary. Because they know him and they know that he's not worth that type of long term investment with injuries and inconsistency.
The Sabres were forced to sign F Thomas Vanek, but chose to give F Derek Roy a long-term deal because he was young and is a rising star. Campbell is 4 years older, and hasn't proven himself this year.
Actually, the three-year offer for $17.25 million was quite fair, given the organization's outlook. No defenseman on the Sabres has more than a three-year deal, and the Sabres aren't in the position to be offering them. And no Sabre currently on the roster has a no-trade or no-movement clause...one thing that Campbell had been interested in obtaining.
Regier did his best, but in the end, Campbell's agent Larry Kelly saw the gold at the end of the rainbow for his client and walked away. Now we'll see how Soupy does in a new environment where hockey plays third to basketball and baseball.
With all of that being said, the Sabres are going to be just fine if they can find the right mix of chemistry on their line. The addition of Steve Bernier gives the team a physical presence that can change the shape of any game.
When teams hit their opponents early and often, the aggressor can usually dictate play and give themselves a mental advantage. When the Sabres have been at their best, Patrick Kaleta, Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad have been throwing checks and getting deep inside the heads of their opponent.
Bernier can be that type of player. Especially when the opposition will skate their fourth line out to harass the "Roy-Vanek-insert name here" line and have kept them away from scoring. Bernier could eventually work his way onto that top line to be the big body in front of the net, and allow Vanek and Roy to roam more freely.
As Nolan Pratt has become a stabilizer on the defense, Paetsch has been sitting on the bench waiting. Now is his time to set up and prove himself. Paetsch has the ability to be just as smart offensively as Campbell, but this all needs time to work together.
There are 19 games left in the regular season. A good week could be the difference between ninth place and fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The whole conference is wide open and the Sabres know that.
Sure, Campbell provided an intangible presence in the locker room as a leader, but there are a number of leaders who need the opportunity. And now is that time.