Niagara Gazette

April 28, 2008

SCHMITT: Gerbe's signing a must for Sabres' image

By Tim Schmitt<br><a href="mailto:tschmitt@gnnewspaper.com">E-mail Tim</a>

They insist things have changed. They’ll be proactive. The emphasis is putting the lockdown on good, young talent and creating a stable foundation for the future.

All of which makes the signing of Boston College star Nathan Gerbe an even bigger priority for the Buffalo Sabres.

Gerbe is a rocket. Some say he’s the next Martin St. Louis. Others insist he could be Paul Kariya. Either way, the Sabres need him on their roster if they plan to rebuild from a disastrous tumble from grace.

Yet despite all the rhetoric that a postseason pow-wow with Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier offered up, the Sabres have yet to make any noise about signing Gerbe or home-grown talent Tim Kennedy, who again finished as Michigan State’s leading scorer.

Granted both are juniors. But as Niagara University can attest, a year of remaining eligibility hardly means a college player needs to stay.

And both Gerbe and Kennedy have absolutely nothing left to prove in college.

Kennedy’s Spartans won the NCAA crown in 2007 as he scored in the championship game, then assisted on the title-winning goal by Justin Abdelkader. Gerbe, meanwhile, stole the show at this year’s event, finishing with five goals and three assists in the two games of the Frozen Four.

Gerbe was the nation’s leading scorer. He had one of college hockey’s most dynamic moments, when he pulled a Brian Campbell-like spin-o-rama on a penalty shot earlier this year.

And although he’s tiny, everyone who sees him live agrees he’s a can’t-miss prospect. He’s got attitude, speed and a lethal shot. Gerbe was an invite to the United States team’s training camp leading into this week’s World Championships, and it hasn’t taken him long to get comfy — he scored a goal and added an assist as the Americans topped Sweden 5-1 in an exhibition tune-up Sunday night. This while sharing shifts with potential Sabre teammates Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville, not to mention other NHLers Zach Parise, Lee Stempniak, Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane.

Gerbe didn’t miss a beat.

He also got a resounding ovation from the crowd in Lewiston, Maine, an interesting note since the University of Maine and Boston College are bitter Hockey East rivals. He’s likable, talented, and a proven winner.

But the trials of Gerbe — and to a degree, Kennedy — illustrate the best and worst the Sabres organization has to offer. Buffalo pulled Gerbe out of a fifth-round hat, the latest in a long line of draft-day heists. Regier snatched Kennedy for a sixth-round pick.

If the Sabres let Gerbe get into his senior season, look out. His stock has already jumped exponentially, and if Buffalo fails to tie him up this summer, expect him to flirt with the idea of holding out until next August, when he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Regier insists players like Gerbe and Kennedy are bargaining in good faith. But word has it the Sabres are tossing their typical low-ball offer, assuming fifth-round money will appease a fifth-round draft choice.

It won’t.

Gerbe holds most of the cards on this one. The Sabres faithful will burn HSBC Arena to the ground if he plays out his senior season, then goes elsewhere and makes an impact.

And you can’t say Quinn and Co. deserve anything else. The Sabres have taken a beating in the press and from former players, all of whom question their commitment to winning a Stanley Cup.

Quinn stared into a crowd of local media members a month ago and insisted that’s what the organization is all about.

Lip service? Another summer of uneasiness will tell.

Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.