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Regier Silencing His Critics ... For Now
November 16, 2009 - Matt Spielman
I can't decide which is quieter in Western New York right now -- the snowplows or Sabres fans bashing Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff.
Everybody was calling for owner B. Thomas Golisano to make a change in leadership after last season when the Sabres missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Regier had let too many stars go and Ruff was no longer getting through to the players.
A 12-4-1 start to this year has changed all of that. Regier only made two significant moves this past offseason, but it turns out he probably knows a lot more about the business of hockey than anybody who was calling for his job. Steve Montador has been playing probably the best hockey of his career and Mike Grier has been doing what he always does ... shutting down the other team's top lines and killing penalties.
Management was bashed in recent years for letting its "stars" walk during free agency. Other than J.P. Dumont, all of the major players who left are experiencing great downturns in their careers. Daniel Briere struggles to stay in the lineup in Philadelphia, Brian Campbell is a third-line defenseman in Chicago and Chris Drury has two goals and four assists in New York. No fans were complaining when Ales Kotalik and Max Afinogenov left Buffalo, but they are far more productive than any of the previously mentioned players.
The alternative to keeping Drury, Briere and/or Campbell was re-signing a young core that came up through Rochester together. Ryan Miller has stabilized a goaltender position that was in flux ever since Dominik Hasek left. Miller is arguably a top-five goalie in the league now. Thomas Vanek, even though Regier was forced into paying higher-than-market price for him, is a proven sniper and Derek Roy is building into a No. 1 two-way center in the mold of Drury, but with more offensive fire power. Management was also blasted for giving Tim Connolly -- currently the team's leading scorer -- a long-term contract. If Connolly stays healthy all season, he will be a steal.
What is often overlooked about Regier are his trades and draft picks. The team's captain, Craig Rivet, came via trade as did Jochen Hecht, who can't find the back of the net, but often keeps the opposition from doing the same.
The general manager also hits on draft picks. Roy, Vanek, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy, Jason Pominville, Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers as well as several other components were selected during Regier's tenure. According to the team's Web site, a league-high 63 percent of the Sabres players last season were drafted by Regier.
All Ruff has done is get the most out of his roster since he became head coach 13 years ago. Miller and Vanek were injured for significant portions a season ago and the team still only missed the playoffs by a few points. I'll admit, he needs to handle his goaltenders better, but when you have Ryan Miller, it's hard to bench him no matter who the backup is.
So lay off management, enjoy the season and expect a return to the playoffs this spring. Regier and Ruff earned it.
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Darcy Regier Photo courtesy of Sabres.com