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Be Careful What You Wish For

Whenever the name Terry Pegula is mentioned around Buffalo Sabres fans, one word comes to mind: aggressiveness.

Most fans believe that once Pegula takes over as majority owner from Tom Golisano, Pegula will spend his resources to the limit in order to bring a Stanley Cup to Western New York. Pegula is widely regarded as one of the wealthiest men in America and would be considered the second-richest owner in the NHL (behind Philip Anschutz of the Los Angeles Kings).

However, just because a team is willing to lavish more money on players doesn’t mean that the approach will work.

Case in point: the New York Rangers. Although they have spent tons of money on great players in the past (Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan are a few names who come to mind), they never helped the Ranger get past the second round of the playoffs.

The Rangers have also been known for not just throwing dollars at great players, but spending it on the wrong ones too. There have been multiple guys who have had much success earlier in their careers, only to falter under the bright lights of  Broadway.

Big names like Valeri Kamensky, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Darius Kasparaitis and Bobby Holik never lived up to expectations while playing in Madison Square Garden and are now known as punch lines whenever a Ranger is referred to as a bust.

The lesson here is that it doesn’t matter how much money you spend. What matters is spending your money wisely.

Around the League

1. Speaking of New York, it’s amazing how well the Rangers have done this season despite the mind-boggling number of injuries the team has endured. Players such as Brandon Dubinsky (stress fracture in leg), Ryan Callahan (broken hand), Alex Frolov (knee), Vinny Prospal (knee), Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder), Chris Drury and Marian Gaborik have all missed significant time.

Any other team would probably cave in and just try to get the season over with, but not the Rangers. Most of the credit should go to head coach John Tortorella for keeping his team focused and on the right track.

2. It pretty much goes without saying how important having a good power play can be for a team. Back in late December, the Sabres were ranked 20th in the league with the man-advantage and 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Since then, the Sabres’ power play unit has improved considerably; rising all the way up to 11th and the team (not coincidentally) has jumped up to 9th place in the Eastern Conference. More often than not, a good power play will help you win more games, and that’s what’s happening with the Sabres.

3. Rumors have been circulating for weeks that once Pegula has managing control of the Sabres, he might bring in former Pittsburgh Penguins GM and long-time confidante Craig Patrick in a consulting role or perhaps as the team’s president. I think this would be a brilliant idea. Bringing in Patrick, a Hall-of-Famer who led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups in the early 90s and contributed greatly to the success of today’s Penguins by drafting the likes of Crosby and Malkin, would have to be considered a no-brainer.

4. I was reading an article in The Sporting News the other day regarding first overall draft picks in the NHL. I was completely floored by what I read: nearly every top pick going back to 1997 has turned out to be very successful.

The likes of Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos have all become stars in the league. Only Patrik Stefan, Rick DiPietro, and Erik Johnson can be considered disappointing (the jury is out on John Tavares and Taylor Hall.)

The biggest reason why so many top draft picks pan out is because, unlike other sports, hockey has multiple amateur levels (juniors in Canada, college hockey in the U.S.) and has many layers of minor-league hockey too. Playing in all of these levels of hockey creates a huge portfolio for these players, and information on them can go back to when they were 14 years old. Plus the pressures of performing well in junior tournaments can bring out the best (and worst) of players on the big stage.

5. Another interesting note to pass along: it sure seems as if goaltenders don’t mean as much to a team’s success as they used to. One of the main reasons why last year’s four finalists (Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal and San Jose) have still succeeded despite not having their starting goaltenders from last season is because they have talent everywhere else on their rosters.

Now if they had someone like Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur on their roster, this might be a different story. But those four previously mentioned teams don’t have that type of goalie (save for perhaps Montreal, where they have a solid youngster in Carey Price).

6. When will the Toronto Maple Leafs learn? Brian Burke has done a decent job trying to bring the Blue and White back to respectability by bringing in guys like Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but when is he ever going to go for a top center?

This team hasn’t had one since Mats Sundin was still lurking around the Air Canada Centre. Granted, it is the Leafs’ own fault for not having any quality centers in their system due to years of trading away draft picks and prospects for veterans, but it’s time they get that bona-fide center.

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