Should Regier’s work draw criticism?

Darcy Regier’s recent contract extension is well known by fans throughout Sabres nation. What was unknown is the exact length of that new deal. Pierre LeBrun’s ESPN blog from yesterday initially indicated that it was a five-year extension before that information was later removed from the post.

The removal of that information doesn’t indicate whether or not LeBrun’s information was correct. It is just as easy to assume that LeBrun was asked to remove it by Regier or another member of the Buffalo front office in order to adhere with the team’s wishes to not publicize the length of the deal. Of course it would be just as easy to assume that LeBrun’s information was wrong and he wanted to expel the false facts from the post. You can split it either way and talk yourself in circles trying to figure out something that really doesn’t matter.

Regardless of the length, Regier was extended this season and that likely means at least three more years of him at the helm for the organization. Based on some of his recent comments, that might also mean a few more years of Lindy Ruff behind the bench.

It would appear that a large proportion of fans were displeased by the reported length of the extension and bemoaned the thought of another half decade of this regime. In many ways they’re right to be upset. Certainly the lack of championships and playoff victories are evidence enough to think that it is time for a change.

However, is Regier specifically to blame for where the Sabres are today and even where they ended up at the end of the 2011-12 season? The answer is complicated, but I’d argue that he isn’t as guilty as some may think.

Darcy Regier is the architect of this team, there is no denying it. He has traded for, drafted and signed the players that have been suiting up on a nightly basis. In that sense, he is fully responsible for the pieces to the puzzle that he has laid on the table. For those asking if these are the pieces to a championship team; that certainly remains to be seen. It is also fair to ask if the man deciding where to put those puzzle pieces is doing his job.

Looking at the big picture of Regier’s recent work there aren’t just signs of life, there are healthy indications that he isn’t just doing his job but doing it well. His draft history over the past six or seven years has been strong – particularly in the higher rounds – and he managed to tread water while operating under a difficult internal budget under past owners.

Since Terry Pegula “took off the handcuffs” there has been much more action from the Sabres GM. Offseason signings like Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, trades for Steve Ott, Robyn Regehr and Cody Hodgson and the continued success at the draft table have defined these past two seasons. These are also two seasons defined by struggles on the ice.

At the risk of writing a novel of a post, looking at each of Regier’s recent moves is worthwhile and necessary to remind many fans of where this team was and the direction they’re being led.

Specifically focusing on the time since Pegula purchased the team; Regier has been more active on many fronts. Starting with the acquisition of Brad Boyes at the 2010 deadline, things have certainly been different. The Boyes trade ended up being a failure. His hot start tailed off significantly and he never brought the return many fans expected. While he appeared to be the right player to target, Boyes didn’t meet his potential in Buffalo.

The same is probably going to be said of Ville Leino. At the time, Leino was noted as one of the free agent crop’s most talented forwards not named Brad Richards. With Buffalo missing out on Richards, they focused on Leino and paid him at a rate in which the market was dictating. Leino spent much of last season languishing and has yet to take the ice in 2013. His injury is becoming an issue in more ways than one (amnesty) and there has been zero return on investment for the team thus far.

Signing Leino was certainly more of a gamble than trading for Boyes. Boyes was much more of a “change of scenery” player than Leino who hand’t proven his resume could stretch beyond his impressive 18 months with the Flyers. Combined with the term of his deal, Leino has become far more of an albatross for a team that will be staring down cap problems this summer. While his potential and limited resume pointed to a wise signing, Leino has not yet shown that he’s worth the money. Of all his recent moves, this rings as the loudest misstep.

However, Leino joined Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr in their inaugural seasons with the Sabres last year. Acquiring this pair showed a much different side in terms of success and how Regier has begun to operate.

The Ehrhoff trade and sign deal, despite being a textbook case of cap-circumvention, not only indicated that Regier was ready to run with the big market clubs but that he was targeting the right talent. For all the whining about Ehrhoff’s big first-year salary, his $4m cap hit is almost criminal when you consider what other top-four defensemen are making around the league. Now that Ehrhoff has cemented himself as the Sabres top blueliner, it seems safe to say Regier picked wisely.

As for Regehr, I place him in the category of wise decisions. The Sabres were devoid of any sort of serious veteran leadership and stay-at-home, physical defensemen. Regehr met both of those requirements immediately. Now, he hasn’t been a menacing shutdown force, but he’s also been quite steady when you consider the performance of many around him. Some fans may not be pleased with what he offers, but they should also remember how they felt when Regehr came over with a second round pick for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. Consider that, along with Buffalo’s glaring need for physical defensemen two summers ago, before complaining that Regier never gets the right players.

The same could probably be said of Steve Ott. Although the jury is still out on his impact to the roster. Regier targeted him – much like Regier – as a solution to the shortcomings in the physicality department. Ott is one of those “character” players who brings “sandpaper” and “grit” to a lineup. He was exactly what the Sabres needed and precisely what they were lacking over the past few seasons. Now he has to prove that addition will pay off over the course of the next 130 games.

Part 2 of this post will focus more on how Regier’s recent decisions have come into play for the organization and if he is truly where the shortcomings begin. There will also be a poll that you get to vote in, polls are fun.

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