Last season the Buffalo Sabres organization received a much needed shot in the arm when Pennsylvanian natural gas billionaire Terry Pegula purchased the franchise. Having an owner who was not only a die-hard fan, but also willing take off the fiscal handcuffs that this franchise had been operating under, injected the fan-base and team with a great sense of hope.
The good vibes carried the Buffalo Sabres to the best record in the NHL post All-Star break and into the playoffs. After a disappointing game 7 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers the new Sabres brass led by Pegula and newly appointed Team President Terry Black vowed to spend money and make the team better in the off-season.
Here we are 46 games into the first full season of “Hockey Heaven”, and the Buffalo Sabres off-season moves haven’t quite lived up to expectations. Here’s my mid-season grades of the new arrivals:
Method of Acquisition: Traded a conditional 7th round pick to the Islanders for his rights
Contract Terms: Signed a 10 year $40 million dollar contract with Buffalo
This was a bold move for the Sabres. Christian Ehrhoff was undoubtedly going to be one of the most sought after free agent defensemen in the 2011 off-season, but Buffalo acquired Christian’s rights from the Islanders three days prior to the start of free-agency and was able to ink Ehrhoff to a monster contract before July 1st.
Christian got off to a slow start for Buffalo but had really seemed to find his game in the early part of December before suffering an upper body injury in early 2012. He has 17 points in 37 games and is a minus -11 on the year thus far. His points per game average is .460 which is down from .633 last year in Vancouver. Additionally his -11 rating is very poor given that he was a +55 combined between the last two seasons playing for the Canucks.
Mid-Season Grade: C+
Method of Acquisition: Buffalo traded Paul Byron and Chris Butler to the Calgary Flames for Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik, and a 2nd round pick in the 2012 draft.
Contract Terms: Buffalo inherited the remaining 2 years on Regehr’s contract at $4 million per year
This was another uncharacteristic move by the Buffalo Sabres that further proved Terry Pegula’s sole motivation is to win, and not pinch pennies. In acquiring Robyn Regehr the Sabres also took on the contract for the former Sabre winger Ales Kotalik, knowing full well there wasn’t a roster spot for him. However Buffalo was committed to procuring the veteran shut-down defender from Calgary, even if it meant having to waive Kotalik and pay him his $3 million to play elsewhere.
To Pegula the reward out weighed the financial risk, but so far Regehr’s play has been frustratingly inconsistent. He has remained relatively healthy playing in 43 of Buffalo’s 46 games, and a lot of Regehr’s inconsistency is circumstantial as he has not had a consistent defensive partner all year. Robyn was not brought in for his offensive prowess, he had only totaled 17 points in each of his previous two seasons, but even for him this has been a disappointing offensive year as he currently has only 2 assists and 2 points in 43 games.
Robyn was brought in to bring an edge to the Sabres defense, and while he has provided some grit to the Buffalo blueline, his first 43 games in blue and gold have been unremarkable to date.
Mid Season Grade: B-
Method of Acquisition: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on 7/1/11
Contract Terms: Buffalo signed Ville to a 6-year, $27 million dollar contract
The single biggest deficiency with the Buffalo Sabres roster last season (the last several for that matter), has been a top 6 play making center. This past off-season featured only 2 premiere top 6 play making centers, Brad Richards, and former Sabre Tim Connolly. Buffalo wisely opted to move on from Tim Connolly, however they lost the Brad Richards sweepstakes to the New York Rangers.
Not without a contingency plan it was announced that after Richards had signed with NY the Buffalo Sabres had agreed to terms with Ville Leino. There was no doubt that Ville was a skilled play maker, however the notion that he could slide into the pivot for Buffalo was wishful thinking. Ville hadn’t played center full-time since 2007 in the Finnish Elite league, and at spot duty for the Red Wings and the Flyers he often looked over matched at the center position.
Additionally, the large payday given to Ville left many scratching their heads, as unlike Brad Richards or Tim Connolly, Leino was essentially getting paid off of one good season, and one great playoff run. Outside of a 19 game playoff stretch in 2009, and his 53 points in 81 games in 2010, Ville had accomplished very little at the NHL level.
Leino has battled leg injuries during the first half of this season, and has only appeared in 35 games, however his 10 points and -10 rating are far below the expectation level for him. After the first two weeks of the season, the center experiment wasn’t to Ville, or Buffalo’s liking, and Leino was put back on the wing where he belongs. Leino was brought in to produce between 55-65 points, currently he is on pace to finish the season with roughly 20 points.
Though he is getting used to a new offensive system, and injuries have denied him an opportunity to develop chemistry with his linemates, Ville has been by far one the most disappointing of the off-season acquisitions. He has another half decade to repair his image here in Buffalo and earn his contract, but he’s not off to a good start.
Mid-Season Grade: F