BUFFALO (LGS) — For years now, Darcy Regier and the Buffalo Sabres organization have abided by their own rule: No negotiation — or re-negotiation — of contracts during the season. While that may seem to be a move that "plays it safe," considering you probably wouldn't want to sign a guy for millions right before he suffers a season-ending injury, it hardly is anything but safe.
In the case of the Sabres, they will have another busy offseason. They didn't offer co-captain Daniel Briere a long-term deal last year, instead leaving it up to an arbitrator to decide Briere's salary. That salary became $5 million for 2006-2007. Now, Briere is set to receive a substantial raise again, possibly in the area of $6 million to $7 million next season and the years to come.
Same can be said for Chris Drury. The Sabres could've signed him for less than the $6 million he will command now on the open market.
And Thomas Vanek, the Sabres' most notable restricted free agent (RFA), probably could've been signed to a deal in the $3 million range or possibly less. But after a season in which he led the NHL in plus/minus and had 43 goals, it will be tough to justify paying him anything less than $3.5 million to $4 million a year.
But this is the Sabres and that is their long-held policy. I have never agreed with it. If this policy didn't exist, we would still have Jay McKee on the roster. $4 million a year is hard to justify for a defensive defenseman who, while being a league leader in blocked shots, didn't show a whole lot of offensive ability. I'm certain that a deal could've been made for McKee for half of what he's making now — and he would've taken it during the season. Same for J.P. Dumont and the plethora of free agents this year.
The issue with the Sabres' policy is that you're limiting your time to talk to these players, especially when your team is going deep into the playoffs and the free agent period starts July 1. If the Sabres made the Stanley Cup and held onto their policy, they would have less than three weeks to talk to all their free agents without the fear of losing them to the market. That's a very short period of time to try and sign some of your most necessary pieces.
The Sabres need to end the policy. This team has been shown as a new team with a new persona. It's time to show that they're truly a new organization by ending this terrible policy. Ending this policy could also be a positive for the players. Instead of coming to Buffalo knowing that they won't be talked to during the season about contracts, they could come to a team that they know will do everything in their power to keep them in Buffalo if they justify it with stellar play. That's what it should be all about.