Buffalo Sabres: Did They Spend the New Money from Ownership Properly?


The Buffalo Sabres have historically been one of the cheapest and poorest teams in the NHL, and were highlighted by their filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003.

Well those days appear to be over.

On February 23, 2011 the Buffalo Sabres were purchased by local owner Terry Pegula with the promise that the team will remain in Buffalo, and will  be competitive for many years to come. Pegula‘s purchase of the Sabres has created one of the largest offseason expenditures in hockey history.

The jury is still out on whether the Sabres will be any better after spending all this money, or will be the new edition of the pre-lockout New York Rangers.


What happened last year: The Buffalo Sabres lost in the Game 7 of the first round of the NHL Playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers after blowing a two goal lead in what was a wild final game.

The whole season was filled with ups and downs for the Sabres.

They started off the season extremely slowly, winning only three of their first 14 games. After 35 games and the Playoffs far from sight, the Sabres lost their best scorer Derek Roy to injury for the rest of the season. Everything looked lost. Well as we know, they ended up coming back and stormed into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

The reason that the Sabres were able to climb back into the Playoffs was mainly due to fantastic production from some of their top offensive players. Thomas Vanek had a great bounce-back season (and is finally earning at least 40 percent of his mammoth contract). Drew Stafford broke the 30-goal barrier, and was in the top five in the NHL in goals per game. Tim Connolly managed to play 68 games and had a respectable 42 points and together with the rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe really helped make up for the loss of Roy.


Small note for hockey poolies: Drew Stafford had a remarkable goal-scoring campaign this past year. You might be a little skeptical drafting him believing that he was lucky based upon his 17.3 percent shooting percentage.

However, before you pass judgement, it may be worth looking at his first two seasons in the NHL, he shot 19.4 percent and 15.5 percent respectively. While in 09-10 he scored on only 7 percent of shots, that may be the anomaly and the high shooting percentages the norm. He may simply be a remarkable shooter. I would look at him in a mid-late round in a pool that places high value on goals scoring.


Summer needs and Cap space available: Disclaimer–This may be the first time that you read an article that did not like the moves that the Buffalo Sabres did this summer. To put it bluntly I am not impressed.

The Sabres are $4 million over the salary cap, and in no way do they look like a Stanley Cup caliber team. In my opinion, and probably the opinion of most hockey analysts, the Sabres needed to upgrade their offence, especially with the loss of Tim Connolly.

Well they signed Ville Leino to a whopping six-year/$27 million deal. This contract is absolutely ridiculous. Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier should have considered making a statement on a player with a significant track record. Leino has ONE season in the NHL with over 15 points, albeit 53, and no seasons with over 20 goals.

In comparison players of the same age–like Dustin Brown making $3 million, Ryan Kesler making $5 million, Mike Ribeiro $5 million, the numbers for Leino look like an absolute joke. In no way does the addition of a good third liner make this team offensively lethal.

Below are the statistics of two players in their best statistical seasons, and in my opinion compare extremely favorably to Ville Leino. The first two stat lines belong to Jonas Hoglund.

Anyone that has been following the Leafs since the late 90s know that these statistics are inflated by playing with Mats Sundin. Nobody ever confused Hoglund with an objectively good player, and definitely would not have received a contract of $4.5 million.

Actually in 2002, the first year after these “amazing statistical” seasons, Hoglund was rewarded with a whopping $1.54 million dollars! (By the way the Leafs’ team salary for the season was over $65 million, which is over the allotted amount of the NHL salary cap this season–there goes that justification for Regier)

 Year      Team           GP   G   A  PTS

99-00   Mapleleafs     82   29  27   56

00-01   Mapleleafs     82   23  26   49

The below stat line belongs to current Leaf Colby Armstrong. The year in reference is his rookie year that he played on a line with Sidney Crosby. Armstrong was on pace for a 65-point season. Well as we all know, after being traded to the Thrashers, he resettled into his realistic role–a third line player that should make maximum $3 million (which some might consider high) and contribute as an above average third line player.

 Year    Team        GP   G  A  PTS

05-06  Penquins    47   16  24  40

Sorry for the tangent but you see my point?

Ville Leino played with some great players on the Flyers, and unless he plays with Vanek and Roy, he will see his numbers drop back down to a more realistic total. With the loss of Connolly, the Sabres will have a harder time scoring goals then people are anticipating, unless Brad Boyes can return to the 40-goal scorer that he was at one point in his career. 

To be fair to Regier, he did make some savvy trades and took full advantage of Pegula‘s open pockets. The Calgary Flames needed to free up some money if they had any interest in trying to get creative and improve their team (I noted this months before the trade http://realfantasyhockey.blogspot.com/2011/05/calgary-flames-looking-lot-like-2007.html) He was willing to take the Kotalik contract off of Feaster’s hands together with receiving Regehr and a second round pick, while giving up only depth defenceman Chris Butler. Savvy move for the high-spending Sabres.

The other big signing this summer was snatching Christian Ehrhoff from the Vancouver Canucks. While the average salary of $4 million is very manageable, the length of the contract is a bit excessive.  

Ehrhoff will be 39 years old when the contract is over, and while he will only make $1 million per season in each of the final three years, the cap hit remains at $4 million. Unless Ehrhoff waives his no-movement clause, they will not be able to place him in the minors should his career flounder. Risky move, but it may pay off for the Sabres.

The final big news in the Sabres summer was announced only today.

Tyler Myers was re-signed to a seven-year/$38.5 million contract. The contract does not kick in until the end of this season, the final year of his entry-level deal. This is an extremely expensive high-risk deal for the Sabres, and in many ways provides the sort of dilemma that Brian Burke may be facing in his contract negotiations with Schenn. (I think the Myers contract was very much influenced by Tavares deal that he signed yesterday).

The Myers contract includes the first three seasons of his unrestricted free agency. The reason I do not like this signing is quite simple. If you would sign Myers for the final four seasons of his restricted free agency, you could get him signed in the range of $4.5 million per. Less than $4 million the first two seasons and  about $5 million for the last two seasons. This would equal a total of four-year/ $18 million.

Now the calculation continues as follows. What would Myers fetch on the open market as an unrestricted free agency?

Let’s assume that he will be looking at Shea Weber/ Zdeno Chara money (which is probably his peak potential) he would be looking at a contract in the range of $7 million for three seasons, for a total of $21 million. The sum of $18 million and $21 million would equal $39 million per season, or half a million in savings.

Even if I am being conservative and I am under calculating by 10 percet this would still only equal savings of about $4 million over seven seasons. The risk of having a player with only two years of NHL experience, and playing a high-risk style game is not worth 10 percent savings in contract.


What the future holds: Well the Sabres have a lot of players in long term contract. Ehrhoff, Myers, Vanek, Stafford, Ryan Miller, Andrej Sekera, Gerbe and Leino are all in Buffalo for at least the next three seasons.

There are four key players that are unrestricted free agents following this season: Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, and Ales Kotalik. While the total value of these four contracts is $13.5 million, one of these players is going to be starting the season in the AHL, as the Sabres are $4 million above the cap.

Essentially the Sabres will have about $9 million dollars in cap space for next season to replace these players. Hecht and Kotalik will either take significant pay cut to approximately the $1.75 million range, Gaustad would remain at about $2.5 million, and Boyes is the real wild card. If he has another fantastic season (I think he will), then he is looking for another contract in the $4-$4.5 million range.

In other words there is not much room for growth for the Sabres in the next five years. This is the team they are going to have, unless they make some trades in the foreseeable future. All of the additional money that the Sabres might save in the next two years, will need to be pumped into Jason Pominville and Derek Roy. The lack of ability to improve in future offseasons via the free agent market is my biggest issue with the way Darcy Regier has handled the extra money ownership has given him.


My Prediction: This team definitely has enough talent to remain a playoff team–assuming they can stay healthy. One variable I did not focus on is the unbelievable talent that they have in goal. Ryan Miller on his own can push this team over-the-top and into the Playoff picture. I think they are going to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference.


Hope you enjoyed! Check out the other team analysis!



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