By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
While Pegulamania is at a fever pitch in Buffalo and spreading into parts of Ontario and east of Rochester even after the Sabres big splash both before and after free agency opened July 1st, it's safe to bet a few other NHL owners aren't so thrilled about their new fraternity brother.
The Sabres spent over $30 million on Friday, but the contracts given to former Vancouver defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and former Philly forward Ville Leino probably made the price of business go up a bit for everybody else, including the big market teams who've been spoiled into thinking they were the only ones who could make those eye-raising deals.
Ehrhoff's deal probably stretches the intent of the salary cap rule, since his 10-year, $40 million dollar contract will only cost the Sabres $4 million a year in cap dollars. By paying Ehrhoff $10 million the first year - something only an owner with DEEP pockets like Terry Pegula can do - the Sabres found a creative way to circumvent the current rules. Ehrhoff's deal is thought to be structured so that the final years of his deal will be "only" a million per season.
Anybody here think that's what his salary will be by then IF he's even still playing? Of course not.
Leino's deal no doubt caught the Flyers by surprise, since they thought they'd be able to sign him again, but they were so busy making other deals the Sabres jumped in and grabbed him away. There is a bit of irony here, of course, since the Flyers' deep pockets took Danny Briere away from the Sabres not that long ago.
Still, I can't imagine the Flyers would have given Leino the 6-year, $27 million in the way the Sabres structured it; $6 million for each of the next two seasons. Still, Leino's cap hit is a very reasonable $4.5 million, and I say reasonable IF Leino continues his upward trend.
No, the Sabres didn't even take a swing at Brad Richards, but if Leino can play center the way the Sabres think he can, then they have some cap freedom they wouldn't have had. I really like Richards, and I suspect the Sabres did too, so we'll have to see how things go for him with the Rangers before we know if the Sabres erred by going after Leino instead.
Still, even after all this, and throw in the terrific move of buying the Rochester Amerks to become reunited with the perfect team, I don't think Pegula and gm Darcy Regier are finished retooling this team.
We know Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers are untouchable, and probably Thomas Vanek although he would bring value for value if Regier and his folks see somebody else out there they like even better, but you can't expect meaningful trades without giving up meaningful players.
Are Sabres fans ok with that?
My hunch is they are just fine with that. Regier, who has always had his detractors here, did acquire Briere when Phoenix had cooled on his future production, and Chris Drury had his best seasons as a pro after Regier acquired him. It wasn't Regier's fault, which is pretty clear now, that Briere and Drury went elsewhere when they become unrestricted free agents.
There are many great aspects to having an owner like Pegula with deep pockets, but one of the true advantages is that decisions now don't have to be based on a business model for five years down the road. Tom Golisano liked winning, but he was more concerned about running a good business, and that's fine.
Now though, the Sabres can afford to go after quality free agents without worrying about a few years down the road. Maybe they'll have to eat a contract or two as these players age and decline, but they can afford to do that and replenish the well with still more talent. Obivously, the draft still has to be strong, but Pegula is already spending quality dollars to make sure his scouting staff is as good as anybody's out there.
So the Sabres plan is to win a Stanley Cup or two or more, and if somebody else gets a bit bent over how it's done, it somehow seems only fair that now it's Buffalo's turn.