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Eleven

Revisiting some of the less blatant questionable mid-2000 decisions.

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We all know about Drury and Briere and I'm not going to revisit those.  Those decisions were bad, we all know it, nothing to talk about here.  But I'm still bored out of my mind, so I'm going to take a crack at some of the others:

 

1.  Trade, 2007 deadline, Martin Biron to Philadelphia for a Second Round (31st Overall) Pick.  Watching the replay of the end-of-streak game against the Islanders made me rethink a bit about the 2006-07 season.  Obviously, the Sabres knew that Biron was gone at the end of the year.  And they took what they could for him, which is as close to a first-round pick as one gets.  (This is the reason I'm still not mad about what the Sabres paid for Lehner; that's an ok price--just ten picks higher than what they got for Biron--for a goalie whom you presume will be your next starter.)  

 

But did they need to make that trade right then?  No.  Philadelphia was not looking to get over the bubble at the trade deadline; they were either in dead last or very close to it.  It was obvious that this move, from Philly's perspective, was all about 2007-08 and beyond.  The Sabres, meanwhile, were cruising towards a Presidents' Trophy and were presumptive Cup favorites in most hockey writers' minds.  So why make that move in February 2007?  That move could have been made near draft day.  Philly still would have needed a goalie, and if it didn't, some other team would.  

 

And that move might, just might. have cost the Sabres dearly.  Biron proved his value and proved that he could handle the workload during an extended Miller injury in November of that season.  Might one of the reasons for the 4-1 series loss against Ottawa have been that Miller was exhausted?  He had played two overtime games (one double) in the previous series, and he played two overtime games (one double) in the Ottawa series, during which he also let in uncharacteristic numbers of goals in the first two games.  If he was out of gas (and we truly don't know), Ruff might have turned to Biron.  He certainly wasn't going to turn to Ty Conklin, who came in to take Biron's roster spot, though.  Plus, the Sabres in February could anticipate that they'd be playing well into May, but couldn't possibly have anticipated whether Miller would have suffered injury by then (thankfully no, just maybe exhaustion). This trade might have cost the Sabres more than we thought, and the timing didn't have to be what it was.  Grade:  D.

 

2.  Not trading or Re-signing Jay McKee.  Ol' Dirty Shinpad is one of my all-time favorite Sabres, and his quiet toughness was one of the reasons the Sabres got to a Game 7 against Carolina.  The man could settle anything down.  At the end of 2006, he became an unrestricted free agent.  The Sabres let him walk, and he signed a 4x$4M deal with Saint Louis.  

I know we like to point to 2006 for the proposition that a team can never have too many defensemen, but in the reality of a cap-controlled world, of course it can.  That's why this decision is a no-brainer.  The Sabs' blueline the following year would be well-stocked, with Campbell, Numinen, Kalinin, Lydman, Tallinder, Sekera, and Spacek.  That is a Cup-winning blueline right there.  Think of if we saw that group in Blue & Gold today!  

Given cap strictures and only cap strictures, i.e., no Quinn/Golisano budgeting, it still was a good move, because (looking prospectively from the time the move was made) the Sabres had to consider contracts for Drury, Briere, and others, in a cap-controlled environment.  Grade:  A.

 

3.  Not Re-signing J.P. Dumont.  A fair argument could be made that Dumont was a considerable part of the "soul" of the 2005-06 team.  His was a strong checking game, but he wasn't shy around the net, either, going 20-20=40 in his last Sabres season.  A salary arbitrator evaluated him at $2.9M in the summer of 2006, and the Sabres declined to accept.  The market proved the Sabres right--just slightly--as he received a two year, $4.5M contract from Nashville shortly thereafter.  (I discount the arbitration slightly because it was for one year rather than two, so I would compare the arbitration to a two year, $5M contract.)  

Dumont's role with the Sabres was replaced by Dainus Zubrus at the 2007 trade deadline, and Zubrus's numbers with the Sabs were just slightly below Dumont's pace; he would have been on track for about 38 points across a season (he was 4-4=8 in just 19 games with Buffalo).  Still, I have this nagging feeling that Dumont was a "dressing-room guy," and that spending a few extra hundred thousand to keep him on the Buffalo bench would have been a good move.  Grade:  C+.

 

4.  Matching the Thomas Vanek Offer Sheet.  Ok.  We all know that they "had to" from a PR standpoint.  A team can't just let Drury and Briere walk and then also let walk the young kid who potted 43 goals, right?  

Wrong.  We have spent way too long on this board defending the match because we don't know where Edmonton would have finished if they had Vanek and maybe it would have been 4 picks at the end of the first round rather than good picks, and all that, whatever.  I certainly was one of the proponents of this theory.  Now, I'm going to debunk it.

First, in the light of hindsight, we know that Edmonton couldn't draft well enough to stock a team during the years in question.  This alone should disabuse all of us of the notion that Edmonton's picks would somehow have been in the 20s rather than in the top ten.

Second, this would have accelerated the inevitable:  the rebuild that we all know and hate.  Only, possibly, the rebuild would have happened under the supervision of competent professionals rather than Murray, Botterill, and the parade of coaches that we have seen since 2012.

I liked Vanek as a player.  I think he received unfair criticism for not being "tough" when it was his lower back receiving cross-checks from opponents on every power play.  But, ultimately, I think Regier could have done a lot with that draft capital.  (As much as we like to pick on him--even this post picks on him--that 2006-07 team was largely homegrown.)  Grade:  C, and only because of the public pressure.  Otherwise a D or an F.

 

5.  Not Re-signing Mike Grier.  As is the case with Dumont, I think of Grier as a "soul of the team" guy when I think of 2005-06.  He was an excellent penalty killer, but not so great around the net.  I do think that he would have been part of what I'll call a "success cabal" involving Drury, Briere, Dumont, McKee, and a couple of other forwards,.  So his spirit was missed.  But was his presence?  Not so much.  Grier broke 15 goals once, and he didn't do it here.  On the other hand, he never was expensive; while data before 2010 is out of my reach, it appears that he never crossed the $2M/yr threshold.  I think he had more value in the dressing room than on the ice--unless killing a penalty, and so...Grade:  B.

 

6.  Letting Don Luce Walk.  Not the player, but the scout.  Notice something about Regier's drafts while Luce was around, which almost led to two home-grown teams win Cups, and the drafts after.  Oh, and Philadelphia seems to have improved in the meantime.  I think this was, in the words of Gob from Arrested Development, "a huge mistake."  Grade:  F.

 

7.  Keeping Jochen Hecht and Paying Him What He Was Paid.   This is a short two-for.  Hecht was reviled here and elsewhere for not being a great player, but the reality is that he was a good player who simply was overpaid.  Hecht could--and often did--settle a game down the way McKee could.  On the other hand, his salary, compared to cap, was out of his category.  Grade:  C.

 

8.  Not Hiring Jim Lahey as Head of Security.  The current head of security is a good friend of mine.  He's conscientious and does his job.  Jim Lahey, on the other hand, would be driving around drunk with a man with no shirt on.  The Sabres did the right thing by not hiring Lahey.  Grade:  A.

 

The Sabres' GPA, not including the last one, which was just for fun:  2.04.  Not enough to get them kicked out of Faber College, even.

 

It would be fun to debate these and other mid-2000s moves.

Edited by Eleven
Mostly to correct title case.
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Agree on Dumont.  IIRC it was a move to free up a spot for Afinoganov. Another stupid assessment by the "braintrust."

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11 hours ago, Eleven said:

We all know about Drury and Briere and I'm not going to revisit those.  Those decisions were bad, we all know it, nothing to talk about here.  But I'm still bored out of my mind, so I'm going to take a crack at some of the others:

 

1.  Trade, 2007 deadline, Martin Biron to Philadelphia for a Second Round (31st Overall) Pick.  Watching the replay of the end-of-streak game against the Islanders made me rethink a bit about the 2006-07 season.  Obviously, the Sabres knew that Biron was gone at the end of the year.  And they took what they could for him, which is as close to a first-round pick as one gets.  (This is the reason I'm still not mad about what the Sabres paid for Lehner; that's an ok price--just ten picks higher than what they got for Biron--for a goalie whom you presume will be your next starter.)  

 

But did they need to make that trade right then?  No.  Philadelphia was not looking to get over the bubble at the trade deadline; they were either in dead last or very close to it.  It was obvious that this move, from Philly's perspective, was all about 2007-08 and beyond.  The Sabres, meanwhile, were cruising towards a Presidents' Trophy and were presumptive Cup favorites in most hockey writers' minds.  So why make that move in February 2007?  That move could have been made near draft day.  Philly still would have needed a goalie, and if it didn't, some other team would.  

 

And that move might, just might. have cost the Sabres dearly.  Biron proved his value and proved that he could handle the workload during an extended Miller injury in November of that season.  Might one of the reasons for the 4-1 series loss against Ottawa have been that Miller was exhausted?  He had played two overtime games (one double) in the previous series, and he played two overtime games (one double) in the Ottawa series, during which he also let in uncharacteristic numbers of goals in the first two games.  If he was out of gas (and we truly don't know), Ruff might have turned to Biron.  He certainly wasn't going to turn to Ty Conklin, who came in to take Biron's roster spot, though.  Plus, the Sabres in February could anticipate that they'd be playing well into May, but couldn't possibly have anticipated whether Miller would have suffered injury by then (thankfully no, just maybe exhaustion). This trade might have cost the Sabres more than we thought, and the timing didn't have to be what it was.  Grade:  D.

 

2.  Not trading or Re-signing Jay McKee.  Ol' Dirty Shinpad is one of my all-time favorite Sabres, and his quiet toughness was one of the reasons the Sabres got to a Game 7 against Carolina.  The man could settle anything down.  At the end of 2006, he became an unrestricted free agent.  The Sabres let him walk, and he signed a 4x$4M deal with Saint Louis.  

I know we like to point to 2006 for the proposition that a team can never have too many defensemen, but in the reality of a cap-controlled world, of course it can.  That's why this decision is a no-brainer.  The Sabs' blueline the following year would be well-stocked, with Campbell, Numinen, Kalinin, Lydman, Tallinder, Sekera, and Spacek.  That is a Cup-winning blueline right there.  Think of if we saw that group in Blue & Gold today!  

Given cap strictures and only cap strictures, i.e., no Quinn/Golisano budgeting, it still was a good move, because (looking prospectively from the time the move was made) the Sabres had to consider contracts for Drury, Briere, and others, in a cap-controlled environment.  Grade:  A.

 

3.  Not Re-signing J.P. Dumont.  A fair argument could be made that Dumont was a considerable part of the "soul" of the 2005-06 team.  His was a strong checking game, but he wasn't shy around the net, either, going 20-20=40 in his last Sabres season.  A salary arbitrator evaluated him at $2.9M in the summer of 2006, and the Sabres declined to accept.  The market proved the Sabres right--just slightly--as he received a two year, $4.5M contract from Nashville shortly thereafter.  (I discount the arbitration slightly because it was for one year rather than two, so I would compare the arbitration to a two year, $5M contract.)  

Dumont's role with the Sabres was replaced by Dainus Zubrus at the 2007 trade deadline, and Zubrus's numbers with the Sabs were just slightly below Dumont's pace; he would have been on track for about 38 points across a season (he was 4-4=8 in just 19 games with Buffalo).  Still, I have this nagging feeling that Dumont was a "dressing-room guy," and that spending a few extra hundred thousand to keep him on the Buffalo bench would have been a good move.  Grade:  C+.

 

4.  Matching the Thomas Vanek Offer Sheet.  Ok.  We all know that they "had to" from a PR standpoint.  A team can't just let Drury and Briere walk and then also let walk the young kid who potted 43 goals, right?  

Wrong.  We have spent way too long on this board defending the match because we don't know where Edmonton would have finished if they had Vanek and maybe it would have been 4 picks at the end of the first round rather than good picks, and all that, whatever.  I certainly was one of the proponents of this theory.  Now, I'm going to debunk it.

First, in the light of hindsight, we know that Edmonton couldn't draft well enough to stock a team during the years in question.  This alone should disabuse all of us of the notion that Edmonton's picks would somehow have been in the 20s rather than in the top ten.

Second, this would have accelerated the inevitable:  the rebuild that we all know and hate.  Only, possibly, the rebuild would have happened under the supervision of competent professionals rather than Murray, Botterill, and the parade of coaches that we have seen since 2012.

I liked Vanek as a player.  I think he received unfair criticism for not being "tough" when it was his lower back receiving cross-checks from opponents on every power play.  But, ultimately, I think Regier could have done a lot with that draft capital.  (As much as we like to pick on him--even this post picks on him--that 2006-07 team was largely homegrown.)  Grade:  C, and only because of the public pressure.  Otherwise a D or an F.

 

5.  Not Re-signing Mike Grier.  As is the case with Dumont, I think of Grier as a "soul of the team" guy when I think of 2005-06.  He was an excellent penalty killer, but not so great around the net.  I do think that he would have been part of what I'll call a "success cabal" involving Drury, Briere, Dumont, McKee, and a couple of other forwards,.  So his spirit was missed.  But was his presence?  Not so much.  Grier broke 15 goals once, and he didn't do it here.  On the other hand, he never was expensive; while data before 2010 is out of my reach, it appears that he never crossed the $2M/yr threshold.  I think he had more value in the dressing room than on the ice--unless killing a penalty, and so...Grade:  B.

 

6.  Letting Don Luce Walk.  Not the player, but the scout.  Notice something about Regier's drafts while Luce was around, which almost led to two home-grown teams win Cups, and the drafts after.  Oh, and Philadelphia seems to have improved in the meantime.  I think this was, in the words of Gob from Arrested Development, "a huge mistake."  Grade:  F.

 

7.  Keeping Jochen Hecht and Paying Him What He Was Paid.   This is a short two-for.  Hecht was reviled here and elsewhere for not being a great player, but the reality is that he was a good player who simply was overpaid.  Hecht could--and often did--settle a game down the way McKee could.  On the other hand, his salary, compared to cap, was out of his category.  Grade:  C.

 

8.  Not Hiring Jim Lahey as Head of Security.  The current head of security is a good friend of mine.  He's conscientious and does his job.  Jim Lahey, on the other hand, would be driving around drunk with a man with no shirt on.  The Sabres did the right thing by not hiring Lahey.  Grade:  A.

 

The Sabres' GPA, not including the last one, which was just for fun:  2.04.  Not enough to get them kicked out of Faber College, even.

 

It would be fun to debate these and other mid-2000s moves.

When I've got a bit more time might look at the whole list but there are some glaring exceptions that eeserve mention.

1.  Several players coming out of the lockout wanted more than 1 year deals.  Briere and McKee deserved them and should've been offered them.  To have had each of those 2 locked up through '07-'08 for ~60% of what they'd end up signing for in the summer of '06 would've allowed them to keep Dumont and would've given Golisano a push (IMHO) to sign whatever deal Regier would've had worked out with him in early October '06 and it likely would've been less than the ~$5.4/ that was worked out as the co-captain would've been making ~$2.8/ yrs.  They MIGHT have lost Vanek in '07, but no way he's offered $50MM over 7 years because Quinn doesn't dare the league to offer sheet him.  They likely either keep him for a reasonable deal or get the extra 1sts.  Either way a win.  And Grier likely isn't as frustrated with management as he was and re-signs instead of walking

Grade D.  When the hubris and downstream effects are added, make it an F.

2.  Not signing Spacek in '05.  The Sabres pursued him, but with their own private cap weren't willing to match the offer.  Nor did they offer enough to grab him at the trade deadline.  Having him for that playoff run would've given them 1 more NHL D-man in game 7.  That would've been enough IMHO.  They finally grabbed him the following off-season, but as a replacement for McKee.  They needed to have both those guys.  As a plus, his "growing pains" learning Ruff's system would've come a year earlier when they were stacked and the guy that captained the Ice Bowl would've been the D-man the Presidents Trophy team had.

Grade D-.

3.  Not signing Zubrus after Drury & Briere bolted.  Yes, the plan was for him to be a rental.  When plans A1 & A2 walked out the door, he needed to be Plan B.  The C's would've been Roy, Connolly, Zubrus, & Gaustad.  Not incredible, but good enough to stay in the playoffs.  Losing all 3 guys led to missing the playoffs in '08.

Grade D+

4.  Video scouting.  We're still watching them pay for that decision.  How many late rounders got found when Luce & Benning were around.  How many came in after that?

Grade F.

That's just ottomh.  Will try to add a few more tonight.  Time to get to work now.

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