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Taro T

Muckler Sabre History

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In the past few months, there has been a lot of Darcy bashing (some deserved, some not so deserved) with a lot of the talk being of the belief that Muckler was a much better GM than Darcy is. The following is a historical look back on Muckler's tenure to assist in providing a means of comparing the two. (Note: I was going to add Darcy's stats to this post, but it took me a LOT longer than I had planned to come up with the Muckler info., thus the post turning into a Muckler history rather than a Muckler-Regier comparison.)

 

Muckler joined the Sabres prior to the 1991-'92 season in the role of Director of Hockey Operations, kind of reporting to Gerry Meehan who was the GM at the time but not fully. Muckler took over as coach in December '91, replacing Rick Dudley. Until the '93-'94 season, he was not the GM officially; but it was widely known that he had significant input into the Sabres personnel decisions. When he 1st got to Buffalo, he (and Meehan) were essentially provided a blank check. I believe the team had the league's 4th highest payroll in '93-'94 and know they had the league's 6th highest in '95. In 1995-'96, the team went frugal coinciding with the then new CBA and the Knoxes hemorraging money. The Rigases took a larger financial stake in the team in 1996 which eventually led to their taking over ownership of the team.

 

In the '91-'92 season, Snuggerud was traded for Presley; Haller was traded for Svoboda; Hannan was picked up for a 6th round draft pick; Jay Wells was traded for Randy Moller; Shannon, Hartman, and Kennedy were traded for McLlwain, Donnelly and draft picks; and there was one other minor deal that had Turgeon, McLlwain, Krupp, and "the Sabres hate French Canadians" Hogue for Hillier, Wood, and some guy named LaFontaine. I have always considered the trades from '91-'92 to be Meehan trades as he had not seemed to lose the power struggle with Muckler at that time. For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that these trades were Meehan trades and that the Muckler transactions begin the following season.

 

So Muckler started out with Lafontaine, Hawerchuk, Mogilny, Audette, Andreychuk, Presley, Hannan, Ruutu, Wood, Snuggerud, May, Ray, Ledyard, Ramsey, Svoboda, Bodger, Puppa, and Malarchuk.

 

One of the very 1st things Muckler did (although technically Meehan was the GM) was get Hasek for Ruutu and a 4th rounder (used to pick Eric Daze). Pretty cool, unfortunately he did not realize what he had and sent Puppa, Andreychuk, and a 1st rounder (used to pick Kenny Jonnson) for Grant Fuhr and a 5th rounder. He also sent Ramsey to Pittsburgh for Errey and picked up Patterson. In the next off-season he exposed Hasek to the expansion draft and he picked up an injury prone Craig Simpson for Cierny and a draft pick but lost Ledyard and Errey to free agency and he traded away Draper for a 7th rounder.

 

With Muckler behind the bench for a full season, the Sabres finished in 4th in the division and then swept Boston in the 1st round. Fuhr was hurt in Game 4 and Hasek came in for him. Hasek was in net when the Sabres won the game. In the next series, Muckler played an injured Fuhr and lost in 4 straight to the Canadiens. All 4 games ended 4-3 with 3 of the games ending in OT.

 

The Sabres struggled early in '93-'94 losing 7 in a row and only winning 1 of their 1st 9. Fuhr injured his knee in November and the Sabres put Hasek between the pipes. Hasek playing combined with a defense 1st philosophy inspired by injuries to Lafontaine, Simpson, Mogilny, Svoboda, and Sweeney led the team to go from 19th in the league in goals against in November to 1st and led to Hasek being the 1st goalie to give up fewer than 2 goals per game since Parent did it in the '70's. The only significant in season trade was bringing in Muni for Carney. He picked up Houda for O'Donnell in the off season.

 

The '95 season started with the lockout and subsequent exposure of the Sabres player rep, Randy Wood, to the waiver draft where he was picked up by Toronto and ended up their 6th leading scorer. It also saw Fuhr heading to LA along with 2 prospect defensemen, Boucher and Tsyplikov, and Zhitnik, Huddy, Stauber, and a draft pick headed back to Buffalo. There were 2 other trades of note, Ken Sutton became Scott Pearson and Svoboda became Garry Galley.

 

The following off season, Sabres management told Muckler he had to rein in salaries. He did so in dramatic fashion, allowing Dale Hawerchuk to sign a free agent contract with the Blues and sending Mogilny and a 5th rounder to Vancouver for what seemed to be a bag of pucks at the time - 2 young players and a 1st round pick. One of those players did turn out to be a bag of pucks (Mike Wilson), but the other 2 players turned out to be pretty decent - Peca and McKee. The salary and age purge continued throughout the season as Muckler traded away Bodger for Varada, a minor leaguer, and a couple of draft choices (one of which was later sent to Phoenix and became Daniel Briere); Muni and that pick that turned into Briere for Grosek and Shannon; Huddy and a 7th rounder for Hamel; Khmylev and an 8th for Grand Pierre and draft picks that turned into Sarich and Afinogenov; Hannan for a 6th rounder; and a 3rd rounder for Boughner. He also picked up Hughes off waivers from Boston and Conn off waivers from NJ and signed Burridge, Trefilov, and Ward as free agents at the beginning of the season. (Ward spent the year in Rochester.)

 

The Sabres finished that season 11th in the East, but led the league in penalty minutes and shots against. Muckler hired a "no name" coach that season, but Ted Nolan managed to get the team to play hard and for each other, which is something they hadn't always done under the previous 2 coaches. There was speculation prior to Nolan's hiring that Muckler had wanted to name John Tortorella as the new head coach but that the top Sabres brass wouldn't allow it because Tortorella had gotten into a minor altercation with a fan earlier the previous season.

 

That following season, the team won it's division for the 1st time since the early 80's. They also only had one trade of significance. The sent Barrie Moore and Craig Millar to Edmonton for Satan. The front office of the team imploded after the season was over and Muckler and Nolan were gone with Quinn to follow in a few months and Regier and Ruff coming in.

 

Draft picks during the Muckler years (I chose '93-'96 for this, as I know #1 in '92 David Cooper was a Meehan pick) include 1st rounders Primeau, McKee, Biron, and Rasmussen, 2nd rounders Tsugurov, Brown, Dutiaume, Sarich, and van Oune, 3rd rounders Philpot, Ndur, Sunderland, and Methot, with no late round players that made an impact.

 

All in all, I'd say he did a good but not spectacular job, but do not think the reviews would be nearly as favorable had Dom been selected by Florida or Anaheim. The Sabres definitely dodged a bullet on that one.

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Dave?

 

You have way too much time on your hands. Do you work at City Hall?

 

Muckler gets a high grade for purging the team of it's stars and building a team fans fell in love with. Remember the 'Hardest working team in hockey'. The 'Hard Hats' in the Oranges? That team didn't make the playoffs but fans were happy. Even when Regier took over and Hasek was winning playoffs series fans still wanted that 'Hardest Working Team'.

 

Part of Regiers problem is that he doesn't know this area and what sells. Most fans would rather have a team of Rob Rays then Thomas Vaneks. It's the old Black and Blue Adams Division that fans want back. Don't believe me? Ask all the Blue Seats you see on TV every game.

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Dave?

 

You have way too much time on your hands. Do you work at City Hall?

 

Muckler gets a high grade for purging the team of it's stars and building a team fans fell in love with. Remember the 'Hardest working team in hockey'. The 'Hard Hats' in the Oranges? That team didn't make the playoffs but fans were happy. Even when Regier took over and Hasek was winning playoffs series fans still wanted that 'Hardest Working Team'.

 

Part of Regiers problem is that he doesn't know this area and what sells. Most fans would rather have a team of Rob Rays then Thomas Vaneks. It's the old Black and Blue Adams Division that fans want back. Don't believe me? Ask all the Blue Seats you see on TV every game.

I would ask those blue seats, but they keep getting harder and harder to find.

 

Attendance (not just tickets sold) was over 16,000 for the last two home games, despite awful weather for the Montreal game.

 

The fans want to see a winning team. They don't give a hoot what they look like doing it. A team of Rob Rays may be fun to watch, but a team of Brieres wins you games and gets you into the playoffs.

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I would ask those blue seats, but they keep getting harder and harder to find.

 

Attendance (not just tickets sold) was over 16,000 for the last two home games, despite awful weather for the Montreal game.

 

The fans want to see a winning team. They don't give a hoot what they look like doing it. A team of Rob Rays may be fun to watch, but a team of Brieres wins you games and gets you into the playoffs.

16,000 for the Habs and the Rangers? Next thing you're going to tell me is that the Leafs will draw well. Both those games were down from the previous meetings. The Rangers by a few hundred and the Habs by 2,600 which could be do to the weather. And I do believe it is paid attendance and not actual.

 

They have a six game stand at the turn of the year. Let's see how they do with teams that don't draw well and the Bills season over. What would be considered a good draw for those games? 100,000, 105,00 or 96,000?

 

Lets see

 

;)

 

Oh yeah. how many playoff games has Briere played in? 6 is it? How many years has he played? Just wondering.

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Dave?

 

You have way too much time on your hands. Do you work at City Hall?

 

Muckler gets a high grade for purging the team of it's stars and building a team fans fell in love with. Remember the 'Hardest working team in hockey'. The 'Hard Hats' in the Oranges? That team didn't make the playoffs but fans were happy. Even when Regier took over and Hasek was winning playoffs series fans still wanted that 'Hardest Working Team'.

 

Part of Regiers problem is that he doesn't know this area and what sells. Most fans would rather have a team of Rob Rays then Thomas Vaneks. It's the old Black and Blue Adams Division  that fans want back.  Don't believe me? Ask all the Blue Seats you see on TV every game.

Nah, I was travelling over the holiday and had the day off.

 

Actually, attendance during the last season in the Aud, the one where the team was starting the "hardest working team in hockey" schtick had the lowest average attendance since the '86-'87 team (which ironically enough was the last place overall team).

 

Attendance from '98-'99 season through '01-'02 was higher than in the 1st season in the Mmarena which was the other "hardest working team in hockey" season. Attendance did drop during the 1st Ruff / Regier year. I would consider the support for the team better in '96-'97 than in '01-'02 because there were a LOT of free ticket giveaways in '01-'02. I was a season ticket holder back then and got extra tickets to at least 2 games and I think I got them for 4 games that year.

 

So, although it seems like people supported the "blue collar" Sabres better, I think that they actually supported "winning" teams better and the attendance data bear that out.

 

I can also tell you that the rink has felt a lot fuller this season than in the early parts of the past 3 seasons. The beer stand near my section is only manned (womanned, actually) when attendance breaks some threshold (I believe it is 15,000, but not positive about that). In '03-'04, the stand was only opened once before December; this year it has been open at least 3 times (and probably 4-5). The higher early season attendance is obviously a very good thing as attendance picked up over the course of the season in each of those past 3 seasons. As I expect the Sabres to stay in the playoff hunt and continue to play entertaining hockey, I fully expect that trend to continue.

 

Also, as an aside, to the best of my knowledge, the Sabres have used tickets distributed for attendance figures for at least the past 10 years, not turnstile count.

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Nah, I was travelling over the holiday and had the day off.

 

Actually, attendance during the last season in the Aud, the one where the team was starting the "hardest working team in hockey" schtick had the lowest average attendance since the '86-'87 team (which ironically enough was the last place overall team).

 

Attendance from '98-'99 season through '01-'02 was higher than in the 1st season in the Mmarena which was the other "hardest working team in hockey" season. Attendance did drop during the 1st Ruff / Regier year. I would consider the support for the team better in '96-'97 than in '01-'02 because there were a LOT of free ticket giveaways in '01-'02. I was a season ticket holder back then and got extra tickets to at least 2 games and I think I got them for 4 games that year.

 

So, although it seems like people supported the "blue collar" Sabres better, I think that they actually supported "winning" teams better and the attendance data bear that out.

 

I can also tell you that the rink has felt a lot fuller this season than in the early parts of the past 3 seasons. The beer stand near my section is only manned (womanned, actually) when attendance breaks some threshold (I believe it is 15,000, but not positive about that). In '03-'04, the stand was only opened once before December; this year it has been open at least 3 times (and probably 4-5). The higher early season attendance is obviously a very good thing as attendance picked up over the course of the season in each of those past 3 seasons. As I expect the Sabres to stay in the playoff hunt and continue to play entertaining hockey, I fully expect that trend to continue.

 

Also, as an aside, to the best of my knowledge, the Sabres have used tickets distributed for attendance figures for at least the past 10 years, not turnstile count.

I miss the days of getting free tickets for ordering HBO ;)

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Overall, I think Muckler left a lot to be desired prior to the salary purge and did good to very good post salary cap purge. He wasn't here long enough to give a fully legitimate evaluation of his body of work, but I was not impressed with his pre-salary purge work and thought he did a good to very good job in the post-salary purge work.

 

I'd say he hit on 1/2 of his 1st and 2nd round picks, missed on the other half and didn't have any success beyond that (unless you consider Shane Hnidy a success).

 

Pre-salary purge, clearly picking up Dom was the steal of the century, but he NEVER REALIZED what he had until he was forced to play Dom due to injury. He left Dom exposed to the expansion draft and he gave up a LOT for another goalie after he had Dom in the fold.

 

I really liked the trade to bring Zhitnik in and Huddy was an asset for a season or 2, but when you look at the trade as Puppa, Andreychuk, Jonnson, Boucher, and Tsyplikov for Zhitnik, Huddy, and Stauber, I think that was a very steep price to pay for Zhitnik.

 

Losing Ledyard and Errey for nothing and bringing in Simpson were all mistakes in my book. Haller for Svoboda was good at the time and the team seemed to need a veteran presence when they picked up Muni but I was very unhappy to see Carney go at the time. I also think bringing in Preston for Sutton did not improve the team. Galley for Svoboda was a slight upgrade but they both created a lot of scoring chances for the opposition. Svoboda by running around in his own end, Galley by putting the puck on the tape of the opposing forward in the neutral zone.

 

Post salary purge, the Peca deal was a very good one but that wasn't obvious the 1st season. The Satan deal was an absolute steal. Losing Hawerchuk for nothing also hurt, but I don't know that Muckler had a lot of options at the time. I thought the Khmylev deal was very good and liked the pick up of Boughner. Getting Varada and Burridge were good pickups and Ward eventually worked very well with Peca but definitely had an overinflated sense of his value to the team. It would have been interesting to see what Muckler would have been able to do had he remained at the reins.

 

I personally think that Regier did a better job of drafting than Muckler did. He found much more late round gems and serviceable players (Kotalik, Miller, Gaustad, Campbell) than Muckler did.

 

I know Regier did not sign Heisten and Zigomanis, but don't know how much of those problems were due to cheapness on the part of the criminals, so I give him a PARTIAL pass on those 2.

 

Regier's Peca deal MAY end up at least even if not a Sabres win when all is said and done. It looked horrible prior to the lockout. Satan was converted back into nothing. I look at the Zhitnik non-signing very similarly to the Hawerchuk non-signing. Most of the smaller deals that Regier has done have worked out well.

 

The big difference between the 2 in my opinion is that Muckler lucked into Hasek and Hasek held a gun to Darcy's head.

 

I give Muckler a slight nod over Darcy currently, but if the Sabres move up the food chain over the next 2 years would move them to closer to even. If the Sabres collapse this year, I'd say Muckler was definitely better than Darcy.

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I know Regier did not sign Heisten and Zigomanis, but don't know how much of those problems were due to cheapness on the part of the criminals, so I give him a PARTIAL pass on those 2.

Heisten ended up signing with the Rangers. The majority of the league wasn't going to give him the money he wanted.

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Heisten ended up signing with the Rangers. The majority of the league wasn't going to give him the money he wanted.

And where is he now? Alaska of the ECHL. In 10 career NHL games he has 0 pts and 2 pims.

 

The Zigomanis debacle can be viewed as a minus on Darcy's track record, but I'd have to view passing on Heisten as a plus. The draft is a crap shoot. So we wasted a pick on Heisten who ended up being a career minor leaguer. At least Darcy was willing to say (in effect) "he didn't pan out the way we thought he would" rather than, like most teams, coughing up the cash and rolling the dice on a top draft pick just to save face.

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And where is he now? Alaska of the ECHL. In 10 career NHL games he has 0 pts and 2 pims.

 

The Zigomanis debacle can be viewed as a minus on Darcy's track record, but I'd have to view passing on Heisten as a plus. The draft is a crap shoot. So we wasted a pick on Heisten who ended up being a career minor leaguer. At least Darcy was willing to say (in effect) "he didn't pan out the way we thought he would" rather than, like most teams, coughing up the cash and rolling the dice on a top draft pick just to save face.

Sure, in hindsight you can call it a good move, but at the time that the Sabres lost his rights, they had no idea he was going to be in the ECHL today.

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I agree, 100%, but perhaps they saw something in him that said he wasn't worth the money. So many teams aren't willing to do that - admit that one of their picks didn't pan out as hoped.

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I agree, 100%, but perhaps they saw something in him that said he wasn't worth the money. So many teams aren't willing to do that - admit that one of their picks didn't pan out as hoped.

He wasn't worth what he wanted and there was no way a team like Buffalo was going to sign him. I don't have access to the numbers, but I'm willing to bet that Buffalo hasn't signed a single draft pick over the last 5-10 years for the same money that Heisten got from the Rangers.

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