By Bill Hoppe
Yes, on July 1, when he’s only 22 years old, Tyler Myers will receive a $10 million signing bonus, the official beginning of his new seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension. The Sabres will be rewarding their franchise defenseman handsomely, making him one of the NHL’s highest-paid talents.
But in inking a long-term deal before his third season has even started, Myers sacrificed millions of dollars. If the youngster had went the short-term route, re-upped for, say, three or four years, he’d be able to cash in again as he entered his prime. He didn’t want that, though.
Myers desired comfort, stability and the opportunity to win a championship, things he believes the Sabres offer. For him, that’s worth leaving substantial money on the table. Incredibly, the contract got done in about two weeks, general manager Darcy Regier said.
“I, along with my teammates, want to win a Stanley Cup,” Myers said Thursday during a news conference inside the First Niagara Center. “To do that both sides have to be happy with the extension. I’m very happy with it. Something I’ve wanted to do since I stepped in with Buffalo is to sign a long-term contract with them. …
“It’s somewhere where I want to be the rest of my career. I’m still young, but I’m very happy with this organization and where it’s going.”
Where the Sabres are going under new owner Terry Pegula, in the eyes of most observers, is up. Many think the team’s on the fast track to a championship.
Don’t think only the fans are excited for the upcoming season, which kicks off this morning when veterans report for physicals.
“With Terry and what his team have done ever since he stepped in, it’s pretty motivating as a player to see that and want to come to the rink and play for somebody like that,” Myers said. “I think as teammates in our discussions daily (we talk about) how excited we are with what’s happening in Buffalo and this organization. It’s amazing the motivation you can see in all the guys coming into this year.”
Since he purchased the club in February, Pegula has committed more than $100 million in salaries and poured millions more into a state-of-the art dressing room, technology and other improvements.
Exactly how much has been spent?
“I don’t know what that number is,” Pegula said. “We invest in our hearts.”
It’s those words, the passion that Pegula exhibits, not just his deep pockets, that have transformed the Sabres’ perception around the league and the attitude around One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza.
“The job as owner of a sports team has one job, to be liked,” Pegula said. “One way to be liked is to win.”
Under the Tom Golisano regime, very few people respected the Sabres, let alone held them up as a model franchise.
“I told everybody in the organization … ‘We’re going to walk out of here like we’re winners. That’s our goal,’” Pegula said about a recent meeting. “You start acting like it. You start believing in it, and the next thing you know it happens.”
Pegula added later: “Just because you talk about it doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. I don’t think anybody in here is foolish enough to believe it’s going to happen just because you want it to.”
Still, Regier said, “The expectation internally is we’re going to win.”
“You talk about championships,” Regier said. “I think at times for a lot of organizations that’s the white elephant sitting in the corner. … You got to talk about, you got to put it right out front and center and you got to go after it.”
Of course, the Sabres’ new way of doing business has thrust Regier into an odd situation. For years, he spoke about their limitations as a small-market club. Now, the Sabres have become big spenders, essentially another Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Rangers.
For the second time recently, Regier negotiated a front-loaded contract to soften the cap number. Despite getting more than a quarter of his money up front, Myers only has a $5.5 million cap hit because of his low base salaries: $2 million, $6 million, $5 million, $5 million, $4 million, $3.5 million and $3 million, according to TSN.
The 10-year, $40 million deal defenseman Christian Ehrhoff signed in June carries only a $4 million cap hit thanks to the $10 million he’ll receive this year and the low base salaries.
A year ago, if other teams had spent wildly and structured deals to beat the cap, would Regier have bemoaned them?
“Sometimes you try to get an advantage, and if it involves a little lamenting about someone else’s resources, yeah, I probably would’ve,” Regier admitted. “We’ve been very fortunate here. The owners have been terrific, so in my position you work in the resources you have available to do the best you possibly can, and you use them as responsibly as you can.”
It can certainly be argued the Sabres spent too much during the offseason. They’re still $3,595,357 over the $64.3 million cap, according to capgeek.com. Regier has until opening night, Oct. 7, to get under.
Instead of jettisoning players to the minors, Regier will try to shed salary through trades.
“I have been talking to my counterparts to try to get a sense of what the market is like,” Regier said. “We’ll work through training camp and look at the alternatives, look at the options. The expectation is it’ll be through a trade process.”