BUFFALO (LGS) — There is less than 48 hours before Unrestricted Free Agency begins in the National Hockey League and to no surprise Darcy Regier and the Buffalo Sabres have finally decided to start aggressive negotiations in an attempt to re-sign co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
Unfortunately, the last minute attempts look like they will be too little, too late, barring a miracle from the Sabres brass. Although it will be next to impossible to break the club's tradition of not negotiating new contracts during the season, something could and should have been done to lock these two vital veterans soon after losing Game 5 to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals.
According to sources inside the league, the salary cap will be set around $49 million next season. With the current qualifying offers extended to all Restricted Free Agents except Vanek (who's due a colossal pay day) and Roy (eligible for arbitration), Buffalo's current salary is about $31.3 million. This leaves about $16 million to play around with, assuming if Regier and company does NOT spend to the cap. With word that Drury and Briere will command about $14 million combined, that doesn't leave a lot for what else we need to spend money on, such as a physical defenseman and a backup goaltender.
With yesterday's word of Danny Briere rejecting a contract that paid him the same salary as last year, I applauded the Cookie Monster for doing the right thing. He is looking for a hometown discount from the Sabres, and Regier gave him the Wal-Mart discount. Drury, on the other hand, has a contract offer on the table that will pay him roughly no less than $6 million per season. That is a well-deserved increase for a guy who gives it his all night in and night out, but Chris knows he can command more. The question is does he really deserve more?
Darcy is making many Sabres fans irate for these last minute negotiation tactics during the course of his tenure as GM. He should have learned by now that being shrewd towards his best players isn't always the best course of action – especially when the two players everybody else looks up to in the locker room are on the verge of walking away over being low-balled on new contracts. If he wants to elevate this club to get into the Stanley Cup Finals, it is imperative that he locks up both his co-captains by tomorrow night. Where does he get the money? Simple - trade away some of your current roster.
In terms of talent, the Buffalo Sabres are a glutton, and Darcy Regier needs to trim the fat immediately. Ales Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov, and Dmitri Kalinin are just a few names that could have their contracts moved elsewhere in order to make room. Ottawa moved salary space last season to keep their core together, and look where they ended up for the first time in franchise history – the Stanley Cup finals. Jaroslav Spacek could also be moved, but his steep price tag will make that dream impossible.
Those four alone make about a combined $12 million next season. Granted, Afinogenov is a big offensive threat, he can be spotty with his play at times. If anybody does move, it should be Kalinin and Kotalik. Heck, Calgary is looking for a top four defenseman. Several teams will be looking for scoring depth that may not addressed in free agency. Darcy, I sure hope you're reading this – not for the fact that what I write is what you should do (which it isn't because I'm not the GM), but to get the gears in your mind turning on what you have to do to keep this club competitive for years to come.
Also keep this in mind – if we lose both Drury and Briere, and perhaps Vanek on your watch, you will have a lot of questions to answer. Not only to the media, but to the legion of fans that have tolerated you for the past ten years. Nobody will tolerate losing all of them, especially both co-captains. You let them walk, and whatever respect this city and the fans have for you will walk as well.
The clock is ticking…now get the job done.