During the 2006-2007 campaign for the Buffalo Sabres, you knew in the back of your mind the carnage was about to commence come July 1st, 2007. Once Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier stated that he will not talk contacts till after the season was over with potential Unrestricted Free Agents Danny Briere and Chris Drury, the future did become the now in Western New York.
The Sabres were marching through the regular season like none other in their 36 year history. Despite this accomplishment, when the NHL trading deadline came and passed in March, a majority of Sabres fans were disappointed as Regier failed to add enough size or grit to the team that was going to be needed for the playoffs. Yes, the Sabres traded a 1st round pick to the Washington Capitals for forward Danis Zubris, who proved to be an valuable asset come playoff time. But dealing longtime Sabres goaltender Martin Biron to the Flyers for a 2nd round draft choice, and adding goaltender Ty Conklin did nothing to improve the depth and size on the roster, and Sabres fans began shuttering at the thought of ever seeing Conklin between the pipes in a big spot.
Nevertheless, the Sabres finished the season with 113 points winning the first ever President's Trophy in the history of the franchise. As the playoffs commenced, you can tell something was not right with the Sabres. Several players were just coming off injuries that kept them out of the lineup for multiple weeks, such as wingers Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik, as well as Center Tim Connolly, who missed 80 games because of a concussion sustained in the 2006 Playoffs against Ottawa. The chemistry was just a little off, the flow of the offense was not quite there, and the Powerplay struggled mightily as well as the penalty killing at times. All of these problems would ultimately be the 2006-2007 Buffalo Sabres demise.
Despite these issues, the Sabres moved on against a pesky New York Islanders team in 5 games, and gutted out a tough 6 game series against the New York Rangers and star goaltender Henrik Lundquivst. While I was feeling optimistic heading to the Eastern Conference Finals for the 2nd straight year, something just did not look and feel right about this Sabres team, unlike the team from 2005-2006. And once the Sabres played the Ottawa Senators, all my fears came to the forefront, as the Sabres inexplicably played poorly against the Senators, and lost to the hated Sens in 5 games.
Ray Emery, the rebound master, was giving off some juicy rebounds and the Sabres could just never capitalize. The Powerplay was atrocious, and for the first time, perhaps ever, the Sabres were outmatched by the Senators, notoriously considered a soft team, PHYSICALLY. That was the disappointing part, especially considering the opponent, and I do pin some of this on Regier for not fixing this issue. Regier became "Eurosessed", especially on defense.
The 2007 Eastern Conference Finals was, and still is, a tough series to swallow, especially after watching the Senators fold like a cheap suit against the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 Stanley Cup and revert back to their old ways.
The off-season was upon us, and July 1st was quickly approaching. Darcy Regier offered a contract to Danny Briere, 5 years, $25 million. So Danny Briere is about to become a UFA, and is coming off a 95 point season and an All-Star MVP, so let's offer him a 0 percent raise. Brilliant! So Danny said sayona to The Queen City and signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Chris Drury part was much more frustrating. In November of 2006, according to sources, Drury and the Sabres agreed to a 4 year, $23 million dollar contract extension. Looking back now at the outrageous money that was throw around during the UFA period, that contract looks great! But get this, the contract was NEVER faxed to Drury's agent. Did Darcy Regier forget how to use a fax machine? Then Drury decided to break off talks and Drury signed a hefty deal with the Rangers in the summer.
On the surface, this looked like the same old NHL. The bigger NHL markets such as Philadelphia and New York are throwing big money around and taking the best players away from smaller market teams like Buffalo. You cannot blame a Sabres fan for feeling that way at first. Plus, factor in that the Sabres popularity in Western New York was at an all time high. Every game from the 2006-2007 team sold out, the ratings were sky high, rallys during the playoffs OUTSIDE the area would be attended by as many as 10,000 fans in a given night. Merchandise (although I stil despise the slug) was flying off the shelves. So after Drury and Briere fled town, you thought to yourself, 'Here we go again, SOS (Same Ol' Sabres).
But now as time has gone along during the free agency period, and looking at the Sabres roster, the money was needed to lock up some of the young and rising stars on this team. Superstar winger Tomas Vanek (43 goals, 23 years old), although overpaid and another Regier miscue caused that, is locked up for 7 years and $50 million dollars, and centre Derek Roy (63 points, +37 on the 3rd line) is signed for another 6 years at $24 million Now the Sabres cap is at around $45 million, so there is some justtification to Regier's madness.
But let's think about this from another angle. If the Sabres would have signed Drury last November, and tried to negogiate more aggressively with Vanek or Roy before or during the season, money would have been saved. You knew the Sabres would lose either Drury or Briere. Sabres fans just did not expect both to leave town.
Despite the off-season that was, the Sabres are still in very good shape for 2007-2008. Vanek, Roy, Jason Pominville (34 goals), Afinogenov (point a game player), Jochen Hecht, and Connolly make a good core of forwards. Add Drew Stafford to the mix, who has great hockey awareness, good hands, good size and a smooth skater, and the cupboard looks far from bare. Defensemen Henrik Tallinder is a smooth skater who is an emerging force on the blue line, and Brian Campbell has very good offensive skills and is very good at quarterbacking the Powerplay. And do not forget Ryan Miller between the pipes will always give this Sabres team a chance.
So in closing, I want to say thank you to Danny Briere and Chris Drury for the memories, you will be missed. I cannot blame them for signing these outrageous contracts, what would you have done? Yeah, I thought $o. And Sabres fans, it is time to look forward to the future, and as the Goo Goo Dolls sign, look for Better Days ahead.