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Regier chooses to take a long-term outlook

Darcy Regier emerged from his office about 45 minutes after the NHL trade deadline passed Monday and started making sense for a change. He acknowledged that the Sabres would need to take a minor step backward in order to make great strides forward in their quest to eventually win the Stanley Cup.

Regier looked and sounded like a man satisfied with his work and comfortable with his place in the organization rather than someone fighting for his job. He wasn't suggesting the Sabres give up on the current season, but there was a sense he had embraced reality and was already thinking ahead to the summer and beyond.

The mere decision to trade away a first-round pick in Zack Kassian showed Regier was willing to take a chance, a departure from what he had shown over the years. In return, he acquired Cody Hodgson, a center who arrives with strong credentials.

Add the first-round pick that he acquired from Nashville for Paul Gaustad and a fourth-rounder, and the Sabres will have two first-round selections in the coming draft and two more in the second round. The Sabres now have more sweeteners when packaging players for export going into the draft and leading into free agency.

"Long-term," Regier said, "it will turn out to be a good day."

Regier very well may be right. We might someday look back at his decisions Monday with fondness, a starting point in which the organization turned around and began building a winner. His message after the deadline sure beat him suggesting the Sabres' terrible season was an anomaly, like the weather in Buffalo this winter.

Upper management apparently was thrilled when Regier completed the deal for Hodgson, the one-time poster boy for Canadian junior hockey. He was selected two picks ahead of Tyler Myers in 2008. The following year, he played on a line with John Tavares and led Canada in scoring on their march to a gold medal in the World Junior Championships.

The Sabres were desperate for help down the middle, and Hodgson could be the playmaker they needed. He had 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games, putting him on pace for 20 goals and 42 points for the season. Not bad considering he played on the third line behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.

Hodgson is a right-handed shot, so you can envision him opening more ice and feeding left winger Thomas Vanek at some point in the future. He was on the Canucks' second power-play unit, too. Perhaps he can find chemistry with Nathan Gerbe and Ville Leino in the coming years and Brad Boyes this season. Who knows? He could be a young Daniel Briere.

It could be an ideal fit.

The swap with Vancouver also included a depth-for-depth trade with Marc-Andre Gragnani going to the Canucks for Alexander Sulzer. Gragnani took residence in Lindy Ruff's doghouse and wasn't happy. Sulzer, who wasn't getting much playing time in Vancouver, brings more experience to the Sabres.

Regier shipped out Gaustad after finding a Predators team that's pushing for the Cup while it still has dominant defenseman Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Nashville was desperate enough to unload a first-round pick when Buffalo agreed to include the fourth-rounder in 2013.

Gaustad was part of a core group that Regier developed through their system but ultimately failed to deliver. He came up as a big hitter, but his aggression waned in recent years. He was a good faceoff man and sound penalty killer. His departure was a sign Regier, although reluctant, could dissect a group that had grown stale.

The Sabres have more flexibility, so you could see Derek Roy sent on his way this summer. Or maybe it will be Drew Stafford. Ryan Miller could be packing his bags if the Sabres decide his $6.25 million annual haul is too much, and they found a deal they couldn't pass up. Anything is possible.

So far, it all sounds good.

Let's not start the celebration just yet. If I've learned anything over the years, it's to reserve judgment on Regier's decisions and not overreact to what appeared to be a good move. Expectations soared when he added three players last summer, but the Sabres were in 12th place Monday. It's a recent example.

Remember, the object is winning the whole thing. To me, the Sabres weren't big enough and tough enough before the deadline, and they came away smaller and softer afterward. Kassian is a big winger who was physical when willing. At times, he was the only one playing with bite that had been missing for far too long. He could turn into the nasty power forward Buffalo has been missing (see: Lucic, Milan).

The Sabres are puny down the middle with lightweights Roy and Hodgson tipping the scales at 185 pounds and featherweight Tyler Ennis all of 157 pounds. Questions remain about whether Hodgson, who had back problems last season, will validate predictions that he was a can't-miss No. 1 center in the NHL.

Hodgson's stats are impressive when you consider he played less than 13 minutes a night, but they're less so when you realize he had been playing against the third defense pairings while opposing teams tried matching up with the Sedin twins and Kesler on the first two lines. He'll get more ice time in Buffalo, but he might not be as effective with less talent around him.

And there's this simple question: Whom would you trust more to make the proper evaluation at this stage, Canucks GM Mike Gillis or Regier?

Gillis took a team that finished last the year before he arrived and helped build a three-time division winner and Stanley Cup finalist in three years on the job. He needed more toughness after watching Boston push around his team in the finals. If he thought so highly of Hodgson, he wouldn't have unloaded him for an unproven winger who struggled to score and spent 30 games in the minors.

Clearly, he was more impressed with Kevin Bieksa than he was Christian Ehrhoff, which was how the latter ended up on the blue line in Buffalo. Ehrhoff was known more for his offense, but Bieksa has been more productive this season while making $3 million less in salary. Ehrhoff counts for less money against the cap than Bieksa does.

Was Monday a good day Buffalo? Short-term, probably not. Long-term, let's wait and see.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com