I certainly don’t envy Sabres general manager Darcy Regier right now. His team’s Stanley Cup hopes are rapidly fading and he is handcuffed by the salary cap. Within the past week, second-leading scorer Maxim Afinogenov (wrist, six weeks or more), key defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (wrist, three weeks or more) and gritty role players Paul Gaustad (ankle, remainder of season) and Jiri Novotny (ankle, two weeks or more) have suffered injuries that will sideline them for extended periods of time.
Afinogenov, Spacek and Novotny have already missed several weeks this season with other ailments. Three other key players (Derek Roy, Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder) have missed at least two weeks and top line center Tim Connolly has not played since last May due to post-concussion syndrome; he was originally expected back in October or November.
Throughout the season, the Sabres have teetered on the brink of the salary cap. It has been so bad at times that Buffalo has sent players to the minors in-between games, only to save a few thousand dollars. For financial and injury reasons, several prospects (Daniel Paille, Nathan Paetsch, Drew Stafford, among others) have been forced into significant NHL duty. Their roles are likely to grow as the injury list expands, the playoffs grow closer and Buffalo’s salary cap woes leave Regier with few other options.
One of Regier’s limited options is to trade backup goaltender Martin Biron for immediate help at forward. Biron is expected to leave as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but if he is traded soon, the burden will fall squarely on No. 1 netminder Ryan Miller’s shoulders the rest of the way. If Miller were to get hurt, Buffalo would be forced to use a minor leaguer in a crucial situation. A potential trade would also have to be an even swap in terms of player salaries.
The news only gets worse for Regier and the Sabres at the end of the season when two of Buffalo’s top four scorers, Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, will both become unrestricted free agents. Regier thinks that he can keep both players, but the price tag could be prohibitive. At the very least, it would make the Sabres’ roster very top-heavy.
This year was looking like Buffalo’s year to hoist the Stanley Cup, the year to restore glory to a franchise that has many long-term financial questions. It can still be that year, but all of a sudden the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres are likely to bear a strong resemblance to the Rochester Americans (Buffalo’s top minor league affiliate) down the stretch. The Sabres’ margin for error is most certainly gone.
Posted by Ted Rossman at 2/16/2007 8:22:00 AM