Well, what a surprise. We're back here again. A few faces changed, but the result was still basically the same along with my opinion about what needs to be done. My long-standing belief that Darcy Regier should be fired never wavered while the Sabres made their miraculous march into ninth place.
You should know that it's just as tiresome for me to write about his job status as it is for you to read about it year after year. Why does it continue, you ask? Funny, but I've asked myself the same question. Why do the Sabres continue to employ a general manager after years of failure? My opinion isn't changing until I hear the answer.
Respected hockey minds for years wondered how Regier kept his job when so many others have been fired for less. I'm not talking about three or four people. It's more like three or four dozen on all levels: current and former executives, current and former scouts, current and former players, current and former Sabres.
Shame on them for not wanting their names used, but you can understand why they don't need the aggravation. It's been years since someone I trusted told me Regier should stay. Most are stunned he's still here, and a growing list are saying the same about Lindy Ruff. Just last week, one of them suggested I write a column saying Regier should be retained with the idea the Sabres would fire him.
It's ludicrous, right?
This year was nothing new. It was the same collection of mistakes with a few different players under the usual guise of hope. I also was caught up in the optimism racing through town. I picked them to win the division and lose in the conference finals. It's not the first time I was wrong and, unfortunately, not the last.
Terry Pegula arrived with a standard of excellence and commitment to winning the Stanley Cup. To me, it meant getting the best people in the right places as soon as possible. Regier has done a good job drafting players and perhaps that's where he belongs, but it's the only reason he should stick around.
Forget his pre-Pegula failures. He did little this season to convince anyone that he's the right man moving forward. Or that he's capable of building a winner, of making the right move at the right time to make a difference. I say that without emotion or venom. Simply, nothing about him stands out when stacked against his counterparts.
Is he the best man available for the job? If not, fire him.
If so, what makes him better than average?
Pegula, if he's true to his word, needs to find the answers for himself. That's the hard part. He's not likely to get the truth from other GMs who want Regier in charge of the Sabres for as long as possible because he's not viewed as a major threat. Someone needs to give Pegula a cold, informed, unfiltered opinion rather than polite gibberish.
Even good general managers get fired every year, sometimes simply because a change is needed. Craig Patrick served as GM for 17 years in Pittsburgh in a front office that included Sabres top executives Ken Sawyer and Ted Black. The Pens replaced him with Ray Shero, whose fresh perspective helped him finish the job in two years.
Spending more helps, but it guarantees nothing. If you weren't sure in the past, you should be convinced now. Fifteen teams spent less and finished higher than the Sabres did this season. Florida, Phoenix and St. Louis spent at least $9.5 million less than Buffalo did and won their respective divisions.
This notion Pegula removed handcuffs from Regier was a myth. Tom Golisano acknowledged when he sold the team that he cared mostly about the bottom line, but Regier wasn't tied down. The Sabres were 15th, the top half, in payroll the previous two seasons.
Buffalo had the fourth-highest payroll in the NHL this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in five years. This is the fifth straight year in which the Sabres failed to win a playoff round. Pegula might not be overly concerned with financial losses, but paying more and getting less doesn't work from any angle. It makes the organization look foolish.
There's no reason to bore you with the laundry list of blunders that define Regier's 15-year tenure. Ruff also has been here since 1997 and had plenty of say, so he shouldn't be excused, either. But when it comes to personnel matters, it falls directly on the man at the top making decisions.
Regier signed Tim Connolly to the ridiculous two-year contract extension three years ago. He kept Derek Roy after he vanished in the postseason against Boston. He signed Rob Niedermayer and watched him score five goals in 71 games. He wasted $4.15 million on defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who played this season in Rochester.
Morrisonn was passed over for rookies Brayden McNabb, T.J. Brennan and Joe Finley when injuries piled up on the Buffalo blue line. The Sabres pointed toward bad luck and suggested it was a mirage, but they should have pointed toward a lack of depth and addressed their shortcomings.
Brad Boyes' arrival signaled a shift in spending by Pegula but not a shift in thinking by Regier. Boyes was another soft player who had eight goals and 23 points this season while collecting $4 million. Regier outsmarted himself and tried making Ville Leino a center when he was a winger. Paying him $3 million per season was too much, but within reason for a Buffalo team needing help. Paying him $4.5 million for eight goals and 25 points this season was an egregious error.
Regier wasted $3 million this year on Jochen Hecht, a prime candidate for a buyout before the season given his $3.525 million cap hit. His entire salary didn't count against the cap because he had a long-term injury. But he should have been gone years ago when age and ineffectiveness became apparent to people other than Regier.
Buffalo lost 12 straight road games without making a trade when almost any move would have worked to shake up a stale but comfortable group. Black suggested in January that Regier was shopping his players, but nothing was done until minutes before the deadline.
Trying wasn't good enough. The Sabres needed results.
If Regier couldn't make a swap because he couldn't find a partner, the Sabres needed someone who could. If Regier gets credit for getting a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad and a fourth-rounder, he gets criticism for waiting too long to trade Gaustad, period. If Regier gets credit for finding defenseman Alexander Sulzer at the deadline, he gets criticism for not acquiring Sulzer sooner.
Common sense suggests Sulzer was available for a reasonable price in December. He played only eight games before Christmas for Vancouver, and the Sabres were desperate for help. Ruff admitted knowing little about him when he arrived. Sulzer had three goals and eight points in 15 games for the Sabres.
Intelligent trade or blind luck?
Cody Hodgson, the key figure in the trade with the Canucks, had three goals and eight points in 20 games for Buffalo. Be careful before praising Regier for grabbing Hodgson. The Sabres addressed a need and acquired a center, but we're not going to know for years whether it was the right move.
Zack Kassian was shipped to Vancouver with the idea, Regier said, that Marcus Foligno would be the power forward Buffalo needed. Kassian played 27 games with the Sabres, Foligno one, before the deal. The fact Kassian was a first-round pick should have meant nothing -- zero -- for a team falling down the standings.
Foligno could have made a difference. If Regier watched Foligno and Kassian on the same sheet of ice, he would have known, or should have known, who was more prepared for the NHL. It was obvious during the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
Several GMs and scouts, in town for world juniors, were baffled that Regier was traveling with the Sabres rather than watching the tournament in his own town. And people wonder why we're back here again, in a familiar place with a familiar story about a man whose teams produce results that are all too familiar.
It's hardly a surprise.