The Buffalo Sabres are spending a lot of money



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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.

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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?

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think Myers’ contract is worthy. He’s rapidly turning into one of the league’s better defencemen. Vanek’s is unfortunate (and as you hinted, not entirely intended; I personally would’ve taken the compensation in that case, but whatever), and most of the other contracts aren’t bad. I have a little bit of a problem with Stafford’s contract since he’s still very much unproven, and the only one I really take issue with is Leino’s, since Leino is pretty much quantifiably awful. Erhoff isn’t going to blow you away defensively, but a d-man who can do what he does on the attack is worth significant coin. It’s not like he needs the same sheltering a guy like The Anton or MAB requires.

    • I’m not as big on the Myers contract personally. He’s been pretty good so far, but his age and that length of deal equals significant risk. Think of Jovo after his second season for instance. Or Phaneuf. The temptation for kids is always to project upward, but it doesn’t always go that way.

      Now, there’s certainly a chance he becomes a value signing for sure. But if he goes the other way…yikes.

      Leino, Ehrhoff (particular when you consider dollars rather than the artificially low cap hit) are really bad bets, full stop. Before seeing butter minutes with the Sedins, Ehrhoff wasn’t even a 40-point defender on average. He’s not terrible defensively, but he’s not a 50-point guy either.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I’m not a Christian Ehrhoff fan. He will likely be an offensive threat for a few years, but he’s not worth $4M and he’s definitely not the kind of player that should be committed to for 10 years. Comparatively speaking, the salary and term that Babchuck recieved this year is more palatable (understanding that he he is not as good as Ehrhoff).

  • RexLibris

    My worry is that Buffalo will become a sort of mirror-image of what they were but to the same ends, spending money in all the wrong places and still struggling to find success (real success, not just one-and-dones in the playoffs). So basically like the New York Rangers. At least for the fanbase they don’t have to face the inevitability of losing their prospects to predatory big-market teams. Any fan of Calgary or Edmonton can empathize with that.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Oh yeah, in actual dollars the contracts look horrendous. And I can see how Myers carries a certain risk. The difference I see between him and Phaneuf (I can’t speak for Jovo) is that Phaneuf just basically blew onto the scene and started doing things, then became less useful because his game was very one-sided and people got used to his tendencies (and I don’t think he’s exactly what you’d call ‘cerebral’, so he may not ever adjust to that). Myers started out very well, and from what I’ve seen, has improved steadily through his first two seasons (point drop not withstanding). Myers has actually expanded his repetoire a bit, whereas I saw none of that with Phaneuf.

  • I think comparing new contracts to older ones is a bit unfair to the new one. The cap has gone up consistantly and what 5.5 million has meant to a cap-spending team has varied accordingly. Players sign contacts based on what the market is like right now and in the future, not what it was three years ago.