Darcy Regier made the message perfectly clear, abandoning his propensity for subtlety and getting right to the point. It was delivered last week after the Buffalo Sabres signed Derek Roy to a six-year deal worth $24 million, a contract that more than anything outlined the dangers of trickle-down NHL economics.
Roy in the first year will receive a 480 percent raise over last season, and Regier immediately said he expects more production. It sounded fair. General managers should demand bang for the buck. But who takes the blame when an organization pays too much for a player?
The Sabres overpaid Roy, plain and simple, with the idea he'll become a bargain at $5.5 million at the end of the deal. It's hard to imagine him getting substantially better, but we'll see. His stock soared this summer even though he didn't play a shift. He was heading into arbitration prepared to make a valid case as the second-best center on the roster behind Tim Connolly. Buffalo faced the very real possibility of getting clobbered.
Roy had the hammer, but only because the Sabres handed it to him. It goes back to their mishandling of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. The saga long ago grew tiresome for Sabres fans, but its effects aren't going away. The organization for years will be paying, or overpaying, for that series of blunders.
See, had they followed through on the tentative agreement reached last fall that would have paid Drury $21.5 million over four years, and had they satisfied Briere with a five-year extension worth $25 million, Roy would have been the least of their problems. He would have been their fourth-best center, a replaceable player on a stacked team.
Not happy? Take a dive.
The Sabres also could have established the market price for their own players rather than have the league do it for them. How? You get Drury and Briere signed in the $5 million range, acceptable for both players. You reference their contracts while aggressively pursuing Vanek long before he hits the market. It would have been the Sabres' contribution to cost certainty.
At the very least, Buffalo would have had options before getting Vanek's seven-year contract worth $50 million forced halfway down their esophagus. Who would have blamed them, with Drury and Briere locked up, for walking away and taking four first-round picks from Edmonton? Certainly not me.
For a team quick to blame others for jacking up salaries, the Sabres did a pretty good job themselves.
They also didn't do Vanek and Roy any favors. They'll get their money, but it comes at a price. You want to make big-time dough? Become big-time players. Vanek has potential, but expectations for him will be through the roof. Roy is a solid player, but he was fortunate to play between Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov.
While the Sabres expect more from them in the coming months, the two forwards should expect a steady dose of top checking lines. Vanek had 43 goals and 84 points last season while Roy had 21 goals and 63 points. Both were among the NHL's top five in plus-minus. Equaling those numbers on this team would be a major accomplishment.
Regier knows that as much as anyone. For all the mistakes he's made over the years, he's certainly no dummy. He's taken his share of lumps that come with being a general manager. Perhaps his hands were tied so tight he couldn't perform his duties the way he saw fit. But if he's compromised to that degree, why would he want the job?
Ultimately, he was caught in the middle of trickle-down NHL economics. Everybody knows how it flows. It starts at the top.