Terry Pegula came to Buffalo, bringing along money and a vested ownership interest in seeing the local hockey team win. The issue here is whether the Sabres are spending it in the right places.
When hockey’s collective bargaining agreement was signed in the summer of 2005, it capped base rookie pay at $850K per season, effectively minimizing contract holdouts from draftees and giving teams that draft high a fast advantage to showcase players for generally less than they’re worth, even once you factor in the bonuses.
One unintended effect from this seems to have become the second contract. After being underpaid for three pro seasons under the rookie deal, the second contract has become the payday for a number of players. Millions of dollars stretched across a long period of time, to ensure player stability and to keep the stars with the team.
This can be a risky maneuvre, and the long-term, front-loaded second contract was once restricted by convention to the Alexander Ovechkins, Sidney Crosbys and Jonathan Toews’ of the world. Chicago landed a few more with Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook for a little under $24M per year to secure their core over at least five years.
The Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins can respectably shed a bit more money on their core since they’re proven to be championship-calibre, but the Buffalo Sabres? Count just over $7M for Thomas Vanek (thank Kevin Lowe) $4M for both Drew Stafford and next year’s $5.5M for defenseman Tyler Myers. That’s more than $16.5M for a core that has collectively proven to fluctuate with the play of their $6.25M goalie Ryan Miller.
I don’t necessarily tie playoff success to the quality of a sports team since a lot can happen in a seven-game series, but I don’t think a core of Stafford, Roy, Vanek and Myers is enough to carry a team far enough for the price of admission. This summer the Sabres opened their chequebooks and signed Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, two players who put up good numbers as the beneficiaries of circumstance last season. These players are simply not good enough to lead a team without a significant season from Miller. They paid full-market price for Ehrhoff and Leino, but they also ended up paying Tyler Myers the same way.
Myers is good, but is he the 18th best defenseman in the league? Considering that’s where his cap hit would rank up against his defensive peers, and only four higher than him, (Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Seabrook and Keith) signed their deals as RFAs (and only two as long-term deals from their current teams). The point of an RFA is that you can sign the player for less than he’d be worth on the market. If you can’t sign him to that, there will be a team who will, and you can trade him.
However, if you’re Sabres GM Darcy Regier is convinced Myers along with a team of Vanek, Stafford, Miller, Andrej Sekera, and Jason Pominville is good enough to eat up at least half of your cap space through 2014, then who am I to really judge?