By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier didn’t want to “use the ‘r’ word” when explaining Wednesday’s trade involving former captain Jason Pominville.
Perhaps the Sabres are still trying to figure out what that ‘r’ word stands for: rebuild, reload or retreat.
They’re certainly not reloading. By acquiring draft picks and young prospects in exchange for established veterans, Regier is backing up his words that he’s looking ahead to next year and beyond.
Retreat? To do that, you’d need to willingly back off from the direction in which you were proceeding. The problem is, the Sabres have been adrift for most of this season.
That leaves us with the option Regier was trying not to say but is the right ‘r’ word to use: rebuild. It’s time the Sabres admit it’s their only reasonable course of action. They took significant steps over the past few days by shipping Pominville, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold to Minnesota, Los Angeles and St. Louis, respectively, in exchange for young prospects and draft picks.
They’re good moves that could serve Buffalo well at the next three drafts. They could also prove useful in the event other teams express interest in the Sabres’ remaining veteran stars.
Regier should entertain those offers and make a few of his own. Looking at what’s ahead, now’s the time to seriously consider deals involving their other stars.
As popular and talented as he is, this might be the right time for Regier to seriously consider dealing Ryan Miller. The goalie turns 33 next season and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season. His two backups, Jhonas Enroth and the newly acquired Matt Hackett, both become restricted free agents at the end of this season. Down in Rochester, former St. Joe’s standout David Leggio is putting up impressive numbers and could be ready to challenge for a roster spot on the parent club next season.
Miller, meanwhile, is set to make $6.25 million next season according to capgeek.com, the website that tracks NHL salaries and contracts. If Regier is serious about rebuilding — I’m using that ‘r’ word again — it might be the right time to lock up the younger talents, none of whom are worth Ryan Miller’s level of money just yet, and let them grow as part of the rebuilding project.
Sure, it’s a risk and Sabres fans have seen it backfire before. Buffalo once traded star goalie Tom Barrasso to Pittsburgh and later watched him lift the Stanley Cup twice with his Penguins teammates. Maybe Miller is the final piece to some other team’s puzzle. Perhaps Miller’s key to winning the Cup is playing in some other team’s uniform.
As painful as that might look to Buffalo fans, what do the Sabres have to show for keeping him and other star players for this long? It’s certainly not yet another ‘r’ word: results.
Jason Pominville will leave Sabres fans with one everlasting memory, his shorthanded overtime goal in 2006 that eliminated the Ottawa Senators from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I even remember where I was when I watched him score it: in my wife’s hospital room, with our one-day-old baby sleeping nearby, at Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. That goal also produced one of Rick Jeanneret’s finest sound bites, “Now do you believe? These guys are good. Scary good!”
As much as it will pain Buffalo Sabres fans to think about rebuilding, it’s perhaps the only way the Sabres really can become “scary good” once more.Email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @MrozGazette