Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 1, 2011: The Live Blog

THE PRIZE: Brad Richards or Bust!
I can still feel the hurt of July 1, 2007. I can almost taste it, as if it had poisoned the hot dogs and hamburgers that we were grilling. We were waiting in the parking lot of the majestic Artpatk for The Tragically hip, the most Canadian of bands, as our beloved Buffalo Sabres, who play the most Canadian of sports, were picked apart by the rich of the league. 

In 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers ended the Sabres first appearance in the Stanley Cup final, on July 1, 2011, the Flyers made sure that the post lockout version of the Sabres would never get there, when they signed Danny Briere for 1billion dollars. He might have got a bit less than that, but even if the Flyers offered 3 billion, the Sabres were in no position to match it. 

Mesi got his brain scrambled BEFORE Tyson
Later that day, the Rangers signed away Chris Drury and officially ended the hopes of the Sabres winning a Stanley Cup in the foreseeable future. We, as a community, struggled to cope with the double blow to the chin. It felt like the hook to the jaw from Mike Tyson that Baby Joe Mesi was never healthy enough to stand up to. 

I hate to bring up the wounds. I am sorry I made Sabres Nation taste it again, but I promise it will make tomorrow taste even sweeter.  Tomorrow is the day that the Sabres transform from seller to buyer. Tomorrow is the day that the Sabres exorcise the July 1st demons that have haunted them for years.

In a way, the Sabres started their transformation from sellers to buyers at the trade deadline when they traded for Brad Boyes to be more than just a two-month rental (like Raffi Torres, Doninic Moore, and Dainius Zubrus before him). 

Maybe, tomorrow started last week at the NHL Draft where Darcy Regier and his new blank check from owner Terry Pegula fleeced the Flames for defenseman Robyn Regehr AND a second round pick AND Ales Kotalik, for only Chris Butler and prospect Paul Byron. 

Or did tomorrow start today when the Sabres, having acquired the rights to Christian Ehroff, didn't wait till July 1 to lock Ehroff into a long term contact? The Sabres have also signed Nathan Gerbe to a long term deal and tenured all of their restricted free agents well before anyone tried any of that funny stuff that almost resulted in Thomas Vanek walking out of the door the same day that Danny Briere and Chris Drury did. 

Regardless of when tomorrow starts or if it has already started, the bottom line is that the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference last season and the team that had the most points in said Eastern Conference after the calendar turned to 2011, are strategically putting the pieces in place to be a powerhouse for years to come. 

The Sabres are building from Ryan Miller out and that isn't a bad thing. Miller went from star to superstar last year in Vancouver as he helped Team USA to a silver medal at the Olympics. Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres back up goaltender, can be counted on to play about 15 games and keep Ryan Miller fresh. On defense, Tyler Myers is a star with the kind of upside that could make him one of the greatest players to ever wear the blue and gold. Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani are on the right side of 30 and had great second half runs last season. Gragnani was especially impressive in the playoffs scoring 7-points in 7 games. Robyn Regher and Christian Ehroff are the big additions and Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrison are veterans that give Darcy flexibility to trade for a Center, protect against injury, and block the inconsistency that can sometimes com from the younger defesneman. I can't recall a moment in the over forty year history of the team that they have been so stacked at defense. The Sabres are so stacked at defense that Darcy could trade not 1 but 2 defenseman and still feel giddy going into the 2011-2012 season. 

Another area of great strength and depth for the Sabres is winger. Thomas Vanek is the team's most productive forward and has learned to be one of the best two way players in the league. I am not the only one in this city that thinks he should be carrying around a "C" on his chest. Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe made huge strides last year, and you can always count on at least 20 goals from Jason Pominville. Tyler Ennis scored 20 goals as a rookie, and Brad Boyes (a former 40 goal scorer) should be more comfortable in Lindy Ruff's system by the start of next season. 

Look at this roster:

1G- Ryan Miller
2G- Jhonas Enroth

1D- Tyler Myers
2D- Christian Ehroff
3D- Robyn Regher
4D- Jordan Leopold
5D- Marc-Andre Gragnani
6d- Andrej Sekera 
7D,8D- Shaone Morrison & Mike Weber

1W- Thomas Vanek
2W- Drew Stafford
3W- Tyler Ennis
4W- Jason Pominville 
5W- Brad Boyes 
6W- Nathan Gerbe
7W- Patrick Kaleta
8W- Ales Kotalik

The last position is Center. First, I think Cody McCormick is a good to very good fourth center. I think we have seen the last of Tim Connoly and Rob Neidermayer in Sabres jerseys. Paul Gaustad is a decent third line center and is terrific at the face off circle. 

4c- Cody McCormick
3C-Paul Gaustad

This is where Darcy Regier and July 1st comes in. Derek Roy would be a fine second line center. He would also be a great start in a trade for Paul Stastny. Would the Avalanche trade the Sabres Stastny for Derek Roy, Mike Weber, and a first-round pick? I think they might. Let's pretend they do. 

2C- Paul Stastny

The last piece to this puzzle is a number one center. I have an easy answer to that problem... Brad Richards. Also known as the most prized player on the free agent market, Richards has already been the number one center on a Stanley Cup winning team (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2004). Chis Drury and Briere were the most prized players on the 2007 free agent market. The difference tomorrow will be that this time the Sabres can afford to be one of the big guns. Darcy Regier can drive to Mississauga, where Richards will be hanging out at the office of his agent, with one of those giant checks signed by the great Terry Pegula. He can bring the check blank and let Brad fill it in with the amount necessary  to make him a Sabre next season. Then, with one autograph at the end of a multi-year contract, Brad Richards can kill the ghosts of July 1 past. 

1C- Brad Richards

Sure, I am reaching for the stars a bit. However, consider this, Greg Wyshynski and Sarah Kwak both called the Sabres "the dark horse" to land Richards on Episode 28 of The Sports-Casters. Also, Bob McKenzie had this to say on twitter, "No question in my mind BUF will be knocking on Brad Richard's door tomorrow. They still have cap room and will make a big add up front."

I don't have a plan B for 1C. It's Brad Richards or bust. I can live without Stastny because although he can be frustrating, Derek Roy is still a very talented #2 center. 

Wouldn't you love to take a run at the Cup with the roster that I detailed above? Would you sign up for that right now? I bet you would. 

I am going to get some sleep, but make sure you check back at high noon tomorrow for a live blog as the start of NHL Free Agency plays out before us. I will update this blog all day and see how close the Sabres get to the statement that owner Terry Pegula said at the press conference to announce his ownership of the team....

"Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup."

Live Blog:

11:45PM: Since we talked last night, The Sabres locked Cody McCormick into a 3-year deal worth about $3-million total. Also, James Wisniewski has signed with the aggressive Columbus Blue Jackets (more on them later). Patrick Eaves, James Harding, Sami Salo, and Christopher Higgins all re-signed with their current teams. 

12:00: I am watching the NHL Network and they are nice enough to simulcast TSN's fabulous coverage that they call, Free Agent Frenzy. Pierre McGuire, Mike Johnson, and Darren Pang,  are the analysts on set. Bob McKenzie is also in the mix and the host is the most Canadian of the bunch (I will get his name if he says it at some point) Also, I will be checking twitter to see what the Eklunds of the world say is an e4 or whatever.

1205: The first report of the day is that the Pittsburgh Penguins have offered Jaromir Jagr a 1-year 2million dollar contract. What do you think Jags?

12:10: The guys on set are debating who Brad Richards will sign with. The odds on favorite is the Rangers. Pierre McGuire is very animated in his belief that the Rangers are going to get Richards.

12:12: James Wisniewski is on the phone and should be the happiest guy in the world right now. How in the world did this guy get 6 years at $5.5 million per? That is stupid money, but I give the Blue Jackets credit for stepping up and doing what they think they needed to do to compete. They made a run at Brian Campbell and he stiffed them for the Florida Panthers. That is like the high school quarterback getting stiffed by the prettiest girl in school for the chess club geek. 

12:17: Our boy Greg Wyshynski is reporting on his Puck Daddy blog that the Penguins have pulled their offer to Jaromir Jagr.  

12:29: We are about a half an hour in. I am annoyed with the Canadian guys. Brad Richards isn't a Sabre yet. If I had to make a guess, I would say that Brad Richards will sign around 3:30. I don't think it gets much beyond that.  

12:30: TSN introduces a side panel featuring former Buffalo Sabre Michael Peca. Also a guy named Button and another Canadian. They are playing games. The first game: Either-Or? Michael Ryder or Simon Gagne? Simon Gagne would be my pick if I was on the set. He is the more consistent of inconsistent players. Gagne is a great penalty-killer and a gold medal winner. 

12:32: The Los Angeles Kings are in Mississauga to try and drag Brad Richards to California. I wouldn't be surprised if they come this close to getting him and he ends up elsewhere. They are a serious contender to steal our guy. So is New York, Toronto, Philadelpia, Boston, and just about any other team with an owner willing to open his wallet as wide as it can go.

12:38: TSN has more people covering NHL free agency than ESPN usually has covering the NFL Draft. Detroit is out of the Jagr sweepstakes. It seems more and more like he is going to end up in the KHL.  

12:41: Stop the presses, The Tampa Bay Lightning have singed Mathieu Garon to a 2 year $2.6 million dollar deal to back up Rollie the Goalie. 

12:45: Live blogging is usually a lot faster than this. It seems like the pace today is going to be very slow. Teams are working on keeping their own talent right now and about 7 teams are busy trying to be the team to take Brad Richards to the prom. I will try to keep this interesting with relevant videos and pictures. Are you wondering why the fuss is so great over Brad Richards?

12:50: 2 more signings. The Edmonton Oilers have signed Ben Eager to a three year deal worth around $3 million dollars. Also, Jamal Mayers signs a 1 year deal with the Blackhawks for $500k. 

12:55: It looks like Jose Theodore is headed to Florida. 

12:56: Are you looking for some good July 1 twitter follows? @buccigross @darrendreger @tsnbobmckenzie @reporterchris @jprutherford @wyshynski @pham22758 @sean_leahy

1:03: If our blogs, TSN, and Twitter aren't enough, you can check out the guys from Puck Daddy Radio at this link. Sabres fans can tune into WGR550 for Sabres centric coverage. 
1:10: Miss Caster just got back with lunch. 

1:17: SIGNING: The Florida Panthers lead by Dale Tallon have signed Scottie Upshall to a four year contract worth about $14 million dollars. Upshall was once the sixth overall pick of the Nashville Predators. He has never had more than 32 points in an NHL season.

1:20: WOW, the Philadelphia Flyers have signed Jaromir Jagr.

1:21: We are moving now. Raffi Torres signs a 2 year $3.5 million dollar contract with the Phoenix Coyotes. Torres is not a popular player on this blog, and I wish him sunburn and a lack of water in the desert. 

1:28: Can you think of a bigger slap across the face of a fan base by a player than Jagr stiffing 66 to play for the Flyers? Maybe Favre signing with the Vikings? I offer Penguins fans this medicine. 

1:35: Still available: Brad Richards, Thomas Vokoun, Thomas Kaberle, Ville Leino, T. Fleischmann, Eric Cole, Jan Hejda, and Ian White. From TSN's top 10 when the day started, only Andy Greene (Devils) and Matt D'Agostini (STL) are off of the market. 

1:37: Jagr gets a 1 year deal for just over $3 million dollars. I guess $1 million dollars is enough to slap Mario Lemieux in the face, devastate a fan base that has supported you since you were 18-years old, walk away from having 68 hang next to 66 forever in the Consol Energy Center, and piss off Dave Dameshek. 

1:40: Ed Jovanovski has signed with Florida on a four year deal worth $16.5 million dollars.

1:41: The Flyers have signed Jakub Voracek to a one year deal worth $2.25 million dollar contract. 

1:55: We are about two hours into the free agency period and about one hour away from when I predicted Brad Richards would be signed. 

1:56: I have been listening to Puck Daddy Radio for a bit (@robpizzo is a stud) and just looked over to TSN to see a bunch of old Canadian guys with funny glasses.  

2:01: The Capitals have traded Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a first round pick in 2012 and a second round selection in 2012 or 2013 . Colorado was the team most rumored to sign Thomas Vokoun. Where does Vokoun go now? 

2:05: From Steve Simmons on twitter:  "Its early- but Leafs source says- we're not close to anything"

2:13: Andrew Brunette signed with the Blackhawks and is on TSN right now calling from Wimbledon. The word is that it's a 1-year contract worth $2 million dollars. Brunette is a finisher and would fit well with Sharp or Toews.

2:15: From Scottie Upshall on twitter, "Ecstatic to be joining the Florida Panthers organization!! Awesome day... Truly a dream come true." Let me translate that for you, "Ecstatic to have signed for a shitload of money in state without income tax and sunshine everyday. The good news is that no one cares about hockey in that market and if I dick around on the beach or the golf course and don't deliver value no one is going to give a shit."

2:20: Tim Brent who signed earlier with the Carolina Hurricanes has also checked in on twitter. "Very excited to be a new member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Looking forward to being in Raleigh and helping the team continue to get better." Another translation, "I couldn't be happier to get the fuck out of Toronto. Those people's expectations are out of control and the pressure to play there takes most of the fun away. I can't wait to play in a town where the pressure is on Dale Earnhardt Jr. and not the hockey players."

2:25: A report out of New York says that no matter what happens today, the Rangers will have a chance to match or better any deal offered to Brad Richards.

2:26: Radim Vrbata has signed a $9 million dollar deal to stay in Phoenix. 

2:36: Max Talbot has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers for five years and a total of $9 million dollars.  

2:43: OH BOY. From twitter, @DarrenDregerTSN says that sources are telling him that Richards will land in Buffalo. 

2:48: Brian Boucher has signed a two year deal with the Hurricanes for a total of 1.9 million dollars.

2:55: Another backup goalie signs. Peter Budaj to Montreal on a two year deal worth $1.1M, and then $1.2M.

3:00: The New York Rangers have signed Mike Rupp to a three year deal worth $4.5 million dollars. 

3:04: DarrenDragerTSN is a fake account. @Darrendrager has no news on the Sabres and their bid for Brad Richards. 

3:07: Non hockey: Interesting article on the National Football Post about former Oklahoma Sooner Gerald McCoy.

3:08: 33 free agent signings so far today. 

3:12: The real Darren Dreger is reporting that the Canadians are closing in on Erik Cole. 

3:17: Steve Sullivan leaves Nashville to play with the Penguins for one year and $1.5 million dollars. 

3:21: Non Hockey: I downloaded an awesome app for my iPad last night called, Video Time Machine. It features over 10,000 handpicked videos from 1860-2011. The videos are sorted by year and category. Last night, I searched "1991 music" and watched an excellent Alice in Chains performance of Man in the Box. 
3:29: @jonahkeri and @DanLevyThinks are having a battle on twitter about the value of Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. Eddie Vedder thinks that Shane Victorino is a force of nature.

3:33: Eric Cole is a Montreal Canadian. He signs a 4 year deal worth $18 million dollars. Also, Roman Hamrlik signs a two year deal with the Washington Capitals worth $7 million dollars. 

3:35: Alex Auld signs with Ottawa for one year at $1 million dollars. 

3:44: While we wait, check out episode 27 of The Sports-Casters with @michaelombardi and @18to88 or episode 28 with @jonahkeri, @wyshynski, and @si_sarakkwak.

3:46: Michael Ryder signs with the Dallas Stars for two years at $3.5 million per year.

3:54: Eric Cole played his college hockey at Clarkson University. Grand Island, New York's Mark Zarbo had a fantastic freshman season at Clarkson last year and his brother Joe Zarbo will join him on campus this fall. Their older brother Mark Zarbo also played college hockey in the ECAC, at RPI. More Buffalo born hockey players that will play NCAA hockey next season: Anthony Day (Yale), Michael Benedict (Niagara), Sam Alfieri (Niagara). Imagine if the University at Buffalo had a legitimate D1 hockey program. If they landed all of the best local talent the way that Texas does in football, they could challenge for a national championship every single season.

4:00: Four hours into free agency and Brad Richards is still a free agent. TSN has one hour of coverage left, but this blog will carry on until it seems like time to stop. Kris Versteeg has been traded to the Florida Panthers.

4:04: Non Hockey: Nike has re-signed Michael Vick to an endorsement deal. Why? Does Nike really need a scumbag like Mike Vick on their payroll? 

4:06: Eklund is reporting that Leino has signed with an Eastern Conference team, but he is not allowed to say who. My guess is he will say who once it's announced. 

4:07: I have just found out who has signed Brad Richards. I am not allowed to say who yet. I can promise you that it isn't the Ottawa Senators. I will tell you who signed him once an official announcement is made. 

4:10: I don't know if my mockery is subtle enough, but I can't stand Eklund. The guy just throws rumors against the wall and hopes that one sticks. He hides behind his "sources" and his lame e1-e5 system. I think he is a joke. Puck Daddy is to Eklund as a billion dollars is to a nickel.  

4:11: The Buffalo Sabres have signed Villie Leino to a multi-year contract. That is from @sabresdotcom on twitter. Another winger?? Bob McKenzie says that it's a six year deal worth $27 million dollars. That is a $4.5 million dollar cap hit.  

4:14: When are the Sabres going to address their need at Center? Are we still in the race for Brad Richards? TSN is reporting that Richards probably won't sign today. 

4:16: I don't know if Villie Leino kills the ghosts of July 1, 2007, but he does kill the ghosts of Easter Sunday 2011. 


4:18: From TSN: Over $200 million dollars have been spent on NHL free agents today and Brad Richards hasn't been signed yet. 

4:21: I am glad that the Sabres are willing to spend money like it's water, and the Leino deal puts them close to the salary cap. However, who the hell is going to play center for this team? Are they going to trade Derek Roy? Are we still in on Richards? As of right now the roster looks like this:

1c- Derek Roy
2c- Jochen Hecht
3c- Paul Gaustad
4c- Cody McCormick

I just don't think that is good enough down the middle. If they are going to sign Richards they will have to trade Roy. I don't want to sound like a brat, but I just can't get excited about a $27 million dollar contract for a left winger that scored 19 goals last season. We already have plenty of 20 goal wingers.

4:30: No offer sheets today. Maybe a frustrated team that doesn't make a move today tries the offer sheet route tomorrow to please frustrated fans.

4:31: I am rattled. I am not smarter than Darcy Regier, but why did we need another player that isn't a center?

4:34: Darcy Regier is going to speak to the media in about fifteen minutes. 

4:37: What is the bigger picture? What is the next move? Maybe Eklund knows and will tell us when it is announced.

4:38: I need to take an Ativan and cool off. I am rattled by this. I remember waiting for the Saints to sign a quarterback in 2005 and knowing it was Drew Brees or bust. How would I have felt if the Saints signed Stephen Jackson instead? That might be what this feels like.

4:47: Gino Reda insists on TSN that the Buffalo Sabres are desperate to get Brad Richards in a Sabres uniform and that they are waiting for their chance to have a conference call with Richards and his agent.
4:53: Jeremy White from the local radio station in Buffalo points out that the Sabres have 14 forwards and 8 defenseman. A trade has to be imminent.
I was a Center.

5:00: Darcy Regier is on the clock. I am anxious to hear what he has to say.

5:01: The busy Florida Panthers sign Tomas Fleischmann for four years and a total of $18 million.

5:06: The Flames are making a presentation to Brad Richards.

5:07: Talk radio in Buffalo is now talking about trading Thomas Vanek. I am not interested in trading him for Paul Stastney or anyone short of Sidney Crosby.

5:08: Paul Hamilton reports that the Sabres are out of the Brad Richards sweepstakes and that the Sabre think Leino is a center. Darcy Regier says that this is their team. They could pursue a trade later in the summer but nothing is imminent.

5:16: Alright, I guess the Sabres are done. So this blog is done too. TSN has signed off so I might as well call it a day too. I have to celebrate Canada day. I am so disappointed that the Sabres didn't try harder to get Richards. Regier says this is the team we will see in Europe this October, so lets take one more look.

1C- Derek Roy
2C- Villie Leino
3C- Paul Gaustad
4C- Cody McCormick

1W- Thomas Vanek
2W- Drew Stafford
3W- Tyler Ennis
4W- Jason Pominville 
5W- Brad Boyes 
6W- Nathan Gerbe
7W- Patrick Kaleta
8W- Ales Kotalik/Jochen Hecht

1D- Tyler Myers
2D- Christian Ehroff
3D- Robyn Regher
4D- Jordan Leopold
5D- Marc-Andre Gragnani
6d- Andrej Sekera 
7D,8D- Shaone Morrison & Mike Weber

1G- Ryan Miller
2G- Jhonas Enroth

Lines- My best guess
Vanek - Roy - Stafford
Ennis - Leino - Pominville
Boyes - Gaustad - Gerbe
Kaleta - McCormick - Kotalik 
13th F- Hecht

D Pairs
Myers and Leopold
Ehroff and Regher
Gragnani and Sekera
7th D- Weber 

The team is obviously better and they could still make a trade. This is the first year the Sabres are a team that will open up their wallet and be a part of the discussion for the biggest and best free-agents. The Sabres could wait until next season when Patrick Sharp, Alexander Semin, Andrei Kostitsyn, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky, Saku Koivu, Dustin Penner, and Shane Doan are unrestricted free agents. You would think that at least one of those players, if not more, should be available at the trade deadline. According to CapGeek, the Sabres have the highest payroll in the league right now. Has that ever been the case?

The bottom line: It's a good time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. 

Buffalo Sabres Free Agency Grade: If you take Darcy at his word, this is the team that the Sabres will take with them to Europe to start the 2011-2012 NHL season. Since the Sabres were eliminated form the playoffs, they have dramatically improved the defense and basically traded Tim Connoly for Villie Leino. I think that is worth a B+. It's time for Darcy Regier to make a hockey move. He needs to trade one of the may wingers on the team for a center. When the Sabres have a center better than Derek Roy on the roster I will think about turning that B+ into an A.

I am going to Mississippi Mudds to enjoy the Niagara River, the best Cajan chicken sandwich in the world, and little Bella. Who the hell is Bella? Well, she is the little sweetie that we are dog sitting. 

In the spirit of that, I will let Bella say goodnight for now. 

Bella- I call her Bells because it was my favorite supermarket.

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