Darcy Regier's history suggests he would rather stay out of the way than make a bold move before the NHL trade deadline. He had a tough enough time making deals when the Buffalo Sabres were desperate, so his instincts now must be telling him to keep his hands off before something gets broken.
Buffalo had a 33-12-4 record going into the NHL All-Star break, which put it on pace for franchise records in victories (55), road victories (29) and points (117). It was leading the league in scoring with 185 goals. It was the best team in the Eastern Conference, one that could finish an unfathomable 15-16-2 and still earn 102 points.
But do the Sabres have enough to win it all?
It's a tricky question facing Regier with the NHL trade deadline approaching Feb. 27, less than a month away. The Sabres might not have this opportunity again for years. Co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere are headed toward unrestricted free agency. The insurance policy known as Martin Biron is set to expire July 1.
For years, Regier made trades with the future in mind, but his philosophy has changed slightly this year. He knows the Sabres are strong enough to contend for the Stanley Cup, and he's prepared to give up a prospect or a player on his roster if it means getting a player in return who can push the Sabres over the top.
"You have to look at it," he said. "The further away from the top you are, the less likely you're going to give anything up. The closer you are to the top, you have to look at [a trade] under those circumstances."
The Sabres could pay later, but who cares if they win it all?
Buffalo has no glaring weaknesses, but it's not flawless. The Sabres' power play, ranked third last season but 24th going into the weekend, has been a mess all year. Their penalty kill, second last year, was 21st through 49 games this season. Special teams have decided many a playoff series.
Regier believes Tim Connolly will return, which would help. Connolly did three things the Sabres need on the PP: He penetrated the zone under control, delivered smart entry passes and consistently hit the net. Jaroslav Spacek is an offensive upgrade on defense, but he's been a disappointment on the PP.
Like it or not, toughness is an issue. I'm not talking about fighters. Andrew Peters, Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad can scrap with anyone. The Sabres lack physical forwards who can wear down opposing defensemen, and they lack physical defensemen who can overpower physical forwards. It's usually a factor in the playoffs.
"Their D-corps doesn't want to get hit, so we hit them," Columbus winger Dan Fritsche said after scoring the winner Friday. "They don't want to be pressured, so we pressured them."
For Regier to make any move, it would likely mean giving up a player on the roster because they have little room under the salary cap.
Sources said the Sabres have been looking for a dependable defenseman with an edge, which they need. Several other teams are shopping in the same aisle, which drives up the price. But there are players who could give Buffalo a boost.
"The biggest concern is one of depth, as it relates to defense more than anything else," Regier said. "We have more depth up front than we do on the back end."
St. Louis is expected to unload defenseman Eric Brewer, an ideal rental who wouldn't cost Buffalo its future. Brewer (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), a key figure in the deal that sent Chris Pronger to Edmonton, had shoulder problems but has been healthy this season.
Brewer, 27, played extremely well before the All-Star break, lugging 24 minutes or more seven times in 10 games and going plus-9 with a power-play goal and three assists. He makes $2 million this season and will become an unrestricted free agent.
Ales Kotalik makes $2 million but is attractive for most teams because he's a winger who can score. The Sabres are stocked with wingers in Rochester such as Drew Stafford, Daniel Paille and Clarke MacArthur. Dmitri Kalinin makes about $1.75 million and appears to have hit a plateau. But you can never have enough defensemen in the playoffs.
Islanders defenseman Sean Hill, who turns 37 next month, makes $600,000. He was plus-9 on a mediocre team looking toward the future. Dallas could move veteran Jon Klemm, who makes $950,000.
Relax. They are just examples, at least for now. Regier first needs to determine whether a deal is necessary and, if it is, swing the right one.
Oilers investment group chairman Cal Nichols took a few swipes at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for not using his influence before the board of governors voted against balancing the league schedule for next season.
Western Conference teams have been complaining all season about the schedule because they're forced to travel more than Eastern Conference teams. Another factor is that young superstars in the East visit Western cities only once every three years.
"Gary has to encourage [governors] to do the right thing for the game," Nichols said. "We should be more concerned with the future of the game than specific interests if it happens to cost a few extra dollars or teams have to fly a few extra miles."
Canadian-based teams have been concerned about the setup, too, because it means they don't play one another every season. Nichols should know, however, that Montreal and Ottawa also voted against the proposal, which lost by a vote.
Sharks in deal pool
San Jose could be among the buyers in the next month, which would add to a team that quietly has been among the best in the league.
The Sharks have an extra first-round pick this year from a trade with New Jersey, and they have enough cap space to make a significant move. They could make a play for Peter Forsberg just to keep him away from Detroit.
Remember, they grabbed Joe Thornton last season and signed free agent forwards Mike Grier and Curtis Brown, both former Sabres, over the summer. Grier and Brown work together on their top penalty-killing unit, which was ranked 10th.
'Fuji' forced to fill in
The Kings weren't quite ready for the Yutaka Fukufuji Era to begin this season, but he'll be sticking around until backup goalie Mathieu Garon comes back from a broken finger in what has become a disastrous situation in net.
"Fuji," as his teammates call him, is the fifth goalie injury-riddled Los Angeles has used this season. Two weeks ago, he became the first Japanese national to appear in an NHL game. In four games, the former eighth-round pick was 0-3-0 with a 4.38 goals-against average and an .837 save percentage.
"We probably get more coverage because of him than anyone we've got," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "They tell me he's front-page news over there. I'm just not sure what the headlines are."
Lightning captain Tim Taylor on the National Hockey League Players' Association: "It's kind of embarrassing to be a member right now. It's more screwed up than it ever was."
Around the boards
*Lindy Ruff was voted the best coach in the NHL by 141 players who participated in an ESPN poll during the All-Star break. Ruff received 41 percent of the vote. The next closest was Anaheim's Randy Carlyle, who had 13 percent. Players were asked to vote on a variety of subjects but weren't allowed to vote for members of their own teams.
*Former Maple Leafs great Dave Keon took a step toward ending his longstanding feud with the franchise when he accepted an invitation to a reunion March 22 celebrating the 40th anniversary since Toronto's last Stanley Cup. Keon disassociated himself from the Leafs after late owner Harold Ballard released him after winning four Cups over 15 seasons.
*Ed Jovanovski was dropping hints in Florida that he could be reunited with ex-Canucks teammate Todd Bertuzzi in Phoenix next season. "Wayne [Gretzky] had him in the Olympics and I know what he thinks of him. I know Todd always had his bags packed a few days before we went to Phoenix. But you can't read too much into that." Actually, you can.
*The Blues are holding out hope for the playoffs, but look for them to start moving several of their eight unrestricted free agents. President John Davidson said any moves the club makes will be for the future. Translation: Keith Tkachuk is available.
*Brian Rolston after leading the Western Conference with four points in the NHL All-Star Game and watching the Sabres' Briere win Most Valuable Player: "Danny played great, and we're all in a position where we have plenty of cars."