Every year going into the NHL trade deadline, you've begged Darcy Regier to work the phones with the idea he can add a player or two who can push the Sabres toward something greater. And for years, the path behind him has been pocked with feeble deals that failed to make a difference or failed, period.
The Sabres woke up for their four-game road trip today in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, six points behind Winnipeg with 20 games remaining. The playoffs are within reach if enough things fall into place, but their chances of getting there become slimmer with every point squandered and every game that falls off the schedule.
Owner Terry Pegula made it clear the day he took over that the goal was winning the Stanley Cup, not heroically marching into eighth place.
Sneaking into the playoffs and winning the Cup is possible, but to suggest it's within Buffalo's grasp is failing to grasp the likelihood. A bottom-three seed has never won it all. The Sabres aren't good enough, tough enough, deep enough, together enough or hungry enough to win 16 playoff games.
What should Regier do today?
Not much of anything, really.
OK, perhaps he could ship out pending free agents Paul Gaustad and Brad Boyes for midround draft picks or prospects in cap-clearing deals. But if there's even a sliver of doubt inside the organization about retaining Regier -- and there is -- he should otherwise keep his hands off the roster.
You want Derek Roy or Drew Stafford or Ryan Miller on the next bus out of town? Fine, but that's a decision for the next GM. The sooner Pegula and his upper-management team realize Regier is not the man who will build a Cup winner, the sooner they can get to work on winning one.
At this stage, Regier can't be trusted to lead the Sabres in the right direction. Any move today should be greeted with suspicion because there's a good chance he'll make the wrong one. Anyway, there aren't enough players available who can rescue this team after so many listless efforts and so many losses.
The damage is done.
Maybe it could have been avoided if Regier traded one of the players on the ice, such as Gaustad, when Milan Lucic ran over Miller. His response wasn't much different than theirs. Buffalo moped for a good two months and will likely miss the playoffs for the third time in five years. It's grounds for dismissal in itself.
Sabres fans can only hope for an honest and intelligent evaluation after the season. Pegula has wanted nothing but the best for his team since he purchased the franchise. He can't possibly believe Regier is the best option available, can he?
It hasn't been all bad with Regier, but it hasn't been nearly good enough. For the most part, the names of players who rolled into town at the deadline also rolled into the gutter.
Boyes came aboard last season but his arrival was really a message from Pegula that the Sabres were ready to spend rather than fantasies about Boyes becoming the 40-goal scorer he was in St. Louis. He's making $4 million and has three goals.
Before Boyes, there was Raffi Torres. Before him, there was Dominic Moore. And there was Steve Bernier. And Dainius Zubrus. How about Brad Brown and Jeff Jillson? Let's not forget Bob Corkum, an honest player short on talent whom Regier turned into a local punch line.
Any general manager is bound to connect every once in awhile, and Regier did when he landed Daniel Briere and a third-round pick that ended up being Andrej Sekera for Chris Gratton and a fourth-round pick. Briere had been on the market for months before the Sabres took a flier on him. Their primary goal was dumping Gratton.
It was a terrific trade.
It also was nine years ago.
Regier's record looks better between seasons, but that's usually the case with GMs. He's mostly ineffective when under pressure. Flying under the radar, not changing on the fly, is what he does best.
He has been described as both patient and petrified at the deadline, and the truth is probably somewhere in between. You can't blame him for believing in his personnel, but he has a reputation around the league for overvaluing his players and keeping them for too long. From the outside, it appears his personal admiration for them has interfered with his professional objectivity toward them.
It doesn't make Regier a bad guy. He's a good guy, actually, but it doesn't make him the right general manager for this team. He poured his resources into a core group that has mostly underachieved. He thought he had strong leaders, but recent years have proved a lack of them. He's been here nearly 15 years.
Buffalo needs changes starting today, but it begins with him.