The buzz around Buffalo ever since Terry Pegula purchased the Sabres back on February 22 was that their team’s new owner would provide the fans with an off-season for the ages.
And while many Sabres fans obviously thought the passion to win and deep pockets would inevitably lead to Buffalo attracting some of the NHL’s finest talent, not many were too confident things would actually turn out as good as they’ve been before the league’s free agency period even kicks off at noon on July 1.
In less than a week, Darcy Regier and the Sabres have not only completely re-structured their entire defensive core, but they have done so by luring a few of the league’s best defensemen to come play for the Blue and Gold after trading for Robyn Regehr and the rights to negotiate with then impending free-agent Christian Ehrhoff.
Regier then further displayed that Sabres hockey has indeed entered a new era by opening up the check books and inking Ehrhoff to a long-term 10-year, $40 million deal, a concept that in the past only big-market teams have been able to practice and one that past Sabres regimes never would have touched in a billion years.
And as if Sabres fans haven’t already begun to feel the ultimate Pegulaville euphoria, the biggest fish on this year’s free agent market is still yet to be courted to — and the Sabres are said to be very much in the mix for the former Conn Smythe winner.
Ever since the Dallas Stars announced they would be parting ways with their star center, teams like the Maple Leafs and Rangers have been considered the inevitable landing spot for Richards and what is likely to be a monster contract for the 31 year old.
But recently the Sabres have been gaining steam in the race for Richards, a player in which would instantly fill the team’s most glaring need at the middle of the top-line, right between Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. And after witnessing how the Sabres ponied up for Regehr and Ehrhoff, who’s to really doubt Pegula and company couldn’t pull this one off?
I know, I know, this is Buffalo were talking about, but if you’d like a method to my insane theory, I have many.
On Wednesday, WGR550 featured Brad Richards’ agent Pat Morris on the Howard Simon Show and when asked what Richards was looking for in his eventual landing spot, the agent seemed to describe Buffalo to a tee.
“He would like to first and foremost, when you’ve won a Stanley Cup, you want to win another one.” Morris said. “He’d like to win again and have an opportunity to be with a team that has younger players coming in to fill and in a market where hockey matters every game, game in and game out with full buildings. A hockey market with an opportunity to win are the top 2 criteria.”
He’d like to win another Stanley Cup? Well, who would’ve thought. And what better place to do so than with a team whose owner has promised multiple Cups and who appears will do everything in his power to assure that goal is reached in the near future? They are certainly more equipped to do so than the Maple Leafs right now, and were already better than the Rangers last season.
Younger players he says? Well the Sabres have arguably the league’s must abundant stock of young talent, especially across the blue-line.
Guys like Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Myers, Luke Adam, Zack Kassian, and Brayden McNabb all almost certainly will or already are playing a huge role in the achievement of Pegula’s promise.
A market where hockey matters every game? Full buildings? Well, Buffalo is nearly hands-down the home to some of the most hockey-crazy fans outside of Canada, and certainly the within the United States. Those fans pack the house every single night to support their Sabres, especially if it means there may be a Stanley Cup parading throughout the streets of their fine city sooner than they expected. Richards knows this.
Now, I know agents like to do this sort of thing — build up their clients potential suitors in the hopes it will bring more money their way, but it has to make you at least think about it. So are the Sabres really going to be in the hunt for Brad Richards when free-agency begins Friday at noon? I believe they will, and I believe they will throw Richards an offer he’s going to have to think long and hard about refusing.
Although the offer might not be as lucrative as the ones other teams could offer, the Sabres, believe it or not, still have cap room after their recent deals — about $7 million in fact. Shave a bit off when you move Morrisonn and Kotalik to the minors when the season begins and take even more off seeing as teams are able to spend up to 10% over the cap during the off-season.
Even with the approximate $4 million it will take to lock up their remaining RFA’s, that’s plenty of room for the Sabres to make a respectable offer to Richards. And if he is truly passionate about signing with a team in which his agent described, my guess would be he wouldn’t mind taking a million or two less to play for that team.
Is it the best direction for the franchise to go in? Maybe not. Spending a ton of money in hopes of an instant Cup run often doesn’t work out as intended — see Rangers, New York.
Maybe trading for a number one center, a younger one in Paul Stastny or a sexier one like Jason Spezza, would be the best option for the franchise. But maybe those options are already exhausted? Or maybe the Sabres would rather not part with the assets it would take to pry them from their current teams? That’s a debate for a different day.
With the recent signings the team has already wrapped up, a very good, young core in place and the lack of other options beyond Richards, what better time to take a gamble on the big fish? Despite the inevitable huge contract he will receive, Richards very clearly gives the Sabres the best shot they have at a Cup right NOW.
He brings instant leadership and playoff experience to the Sabres’ top-six and could very well be the missing piece that allows Vanek to return to the 40-goal mark and catapults Buffalo right to the very top of the Eastern Conference. So what would you all think if the Sabres wound up with Brad Richards today? As crazy as it sounds, it is incredibly possible and could very well mean the Sabres are signing what will be the player the team need to hoist the Cup.
And that’s what we want right? A Stanley Cup for Buffalo, in the very near future.
Follow Brandon on Twitter for even more insightful Sabres coverage @THWGoldSchlager