Niagara Gazette

August 3, 2006

TIM SCHMITT: Sabres get Briere, but tune isn't pretty

COMMENTARY


Darcy Regier is like that yodeling mountain climber on “The Price is Right.” Unwillingly, he keeps churning up the hill, waiting for the music — and the spending — to stop.

Hasn’t happened yet.

Thursday’s news that the Sabres conceded defeat in the Daniel Briere arbitration ruling, deciding to pick-up the shifty centerman’s $5 million salary for one season, brings Regier closer to the mountain’s edge.

Next stop, he and that pick-ax are headed for a nose dive.

Regier never thought it would come to this. He was the poster boy for due diligence during the NHL lockout, conservatively gambling that the league had finally put its nose to the fire enough times to stay away for good. There would be no more Alexei Yashin-like mistakes, no more bidding wars for second liners or deals that would push the standard price for slightly above average talent out of sensible reach.

In fact, Regier told the media the team would “not approach” the $44 million spending cap.

“We’ll be well below that,” he said.

That was before the Briere decision came in and the floodgates opened. J.P. Dumont was just the latest, with his 20 goals translating into almost $3 million a season. But by this point, the shock’s worn thin. It started with Jay McKee, the team’s fourth- or fifth-best defenseman, leaving for $16 million over four years. It’s come in daily waves since.

The Dumont decision only cemented the fact that Taylor Pyatt’s departure was just the beginning. Starting now, value will have to take precedence over straight production.

Mike Grier was a good player, but Daniel Paille will be a better value.

Same can be said for Jason Pominville, who scored at roughly the same clip as Dumont — Pominville had 18 goals in 57 games to Dumont’s 20 goals in 54 games — but will make about the same in three years that Dumont is schedule to make in one.

Don’t be surprised if that marks the end of Dumont’s days in a Sabres uniform, no matter what the logo.

The givens are that Marty Biron won’t open camp as a Sabre and that one of the following — Briere, Dumont or Maxim Afinogenov — will join him.

Expect it to be Dumont, but don’t be surprised to see any of the three leave town. And remember, Afinogenov has the highest trade value in the new NHL.

Either way, it’s tough to watch Regier’s plans come crashing so soon. This was an organization that plotted and planned, and was justly rewarded with a cupboard full of young talent and a corps that was going to give Buffalo room to grow slowly.

Instead, the signing of Martin Havlat (three years, $18 million) and others has pushed the market out of whack again, bringing the cycle around quicker than a broken record.

The whole scenario doesn’t have Regier singing a sweet tune. But he might end up yodeling.

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