Friday, July 01, 2011

Smarter by the hour

The start of free agency in the National Hockey League has come and gone, and the Buffalo Sabres suddenly are big spenders.

They handed out $40 million to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, and $27 million to Ville Leino. Add that to the acquisition of Robin Regehr back at the draft, and the Sabres suddenly have a new image as a big spender. Care to guess who the league leader in payroll is right now? Yup. It's like Jim Nabors putting out a rap CD.

What's more, Darcy Regier certainly is being examined by some in a new light. Remember the guy who dared to be cautious, who was afraid to make the moves that would change the image of the team? History. It seems the general manager of the Sabres has gained several IQ points in a matter of days.

Which raises the key point here -- sometimes things happen in pro sports in which we don't know the full story until well after the fact.

When I worked for the team more than 20 years ago, the Sabres came very close to acquiring Peter and Anton Stastny (one by trade, the other by free agent) at the deadline. General manager Gerry Meehan had the deal put together, but Sabres' management wouldn't spend the money to sign the two players. So the deal fell through, and Meehan took the blame for the team's lack of action at the deadline.

In another sport, then-Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman revealed in his book that sometimes he had to be the fall guy when management wouldn't take certain steps to help the team. He willingly took the blame for those actions, saying it came with the job.

Regier has suffered some hits in the past several years here, some of them deserved. But all of a sudden, it sure looks like he's had one hand tied behind his back for quite a while. Now with a new owner anxious to make an impact, Regier suddenly looks like Bill Veeck. I'm not planning a parade yet, but the Sabres acted aggressively and decisively at identifying and acquiring players. We'll see if their judgment is up to the task.

Regier always struck me a pretty bright person, and was at times a victim of some odd personnel moves instead of the perpetrator. He was rewarded for it with a large contract extension before the old ownership left, but his GM chair must have been warm if not downright hot at times. I'm not sure his image has been completely rehabilitated, but it sure took about four steps in that direction this week.

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