I finally figured it out. Ever since Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said fans should be prepared for some suffering, I was trying to figure out exactly what that suffering would entail.
I think the first day of the NHL free agency signing period was one of those moments of suffering Regier had in mind.
This was the hockey equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. It felt like a day where a number of teams, including most of the ones in the Sabres division next season, were making moves to get better while the Sabres were doing what you and I did. Checking out the internet to see who signed where, and thinking "I wish we could have gotten him".
Don't get me wrong. I was not expecting big things like the Sabres handing out a large chunk of Terry Pegula's money to the biggest names on the market like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson. But complete inactivity? In both the free agent and trade markets?
Actually that isn't true. While watching the Mets game last night with my son Jonathan, he told me the Sabres had finally signed some one. There were just a few seconds of hope before he mentioned the name of Drew Bagnall. I quickly resumed my deep depression over the state of the franchise that resides in "Hockey Heaven".
Its not a good day when at the end of it you are left thinking the trade deadline day years ago when the "biggest" move Regier made was acquiring Bob Corkum, would actually have been more exciting than this.
Its not for lack of salary cap space. According to capgeek.com, the Sabres have some $15.2 million in room with 18 players under contract.
We can't blame a lack of resources since the owner has plenty of money and is more than willing to spend it on his hockey team.
It can't be due to lack of a plan since the Sabres have plenty of organizational meetings to plot out their strategies.
Yet, yesterday was all about watching players go elsewhere and seeing assets on the Sabres roster that have yet to be traded as part of the ongoing rebuilding effort.
There were a handful of players who found new homes who I thought would have been a good fit with the Sabres for one reason or another.
Perhaps a veteran forward like Matt Cullen, who the Sabres pursued three years ago, only to see him sign in his native state, with the Minnesota Wild. Cullen ended up in that hockey hotbed, Nashville for a very affordable $7 million over 2 years.
What about adding a gritty, third line, shutdown type of forward with playoff experience like Matt Hendricks? He also chose Nashville for a mere pittance in hockey salary terms, $7.4 million over 4 years.
The Sabres are young on defense after trading away Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold last season so how about adding a veteran along the blue line like Andrew Ferrence who would bring some toughness and a resume that includes three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals? Ferrence signed with Edmonton(his hometown team) for 4 years/$13 million.
Despite the constant barrage of players signing elsewhere, the dagger in my heart was Ottawa's pickup of Bobby Ryan. The New Jersey native is a combination of grit, ability and playoff experience the Sabres dearly need. The Senators gave up a player projected as a top six forward(Jakob Silfverberg), a prospect( RW Stefan Noesen) and a first round pick in the 2014 draft.
Anaheim Ducks G-M Bob Murrary said he took the best "hockey offer" that was on the table. Couldn't the Sabres have beaten that? Its bad enough they couldn't get Ryan, rumored to have been on the market for the last year or two, but he ends up in the division on top of it.
Give credit to Ottawa by the way. The Senators take an upper cut to the jaw when they lose the face of their franchise, Daniel Alfredsson, to now division rival Detroit but Ottawa G-M Bryan Murray gets up off the canvas and pulls off the Ryan deal.
The day was also frustrating because it felt like everyone in the division was making moves to improve while the Sabres were paralyzed by fear. Both Pegula and Sabres President Ted Black have publicly stated that Regier has been told "don't be afraid to swing and miss" yet day one of the free agency signing period, much like the weekend of the draft, was all about Regier standing at home plate and acting like the take sign is always on.
Ottawa gets Ryan after seeing Alfredsson leave. Boston ends up getting the guy they wanted at the trade deadline, Jarome Iginla. Toronto signed one of the top free agents on the market in David Clarkson. New division member Tampa Bay lands Valtteri Filppula and another transplant, Detroit, wraps up deals with Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Montreal had previously signed Daniel Briere. Hey, at least the Florida Panthers didn't do anything!
So what is the plan? I got a tweet from someone who said the plan is to tank next season and get the top pick. If that was the case, what are Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford still doing on the roster?
One of my other frustrating moments of the day on Friday was reading the tweet from ESPN/TSN's Pierre LeBrun which said the Sabres and Blues were talking about Miller but the asking price was too high. He probably got that from a Blues source or perhaps Miller's agent and it further cemented the notion that Regier constantly overplays his hand and expects too much value for his players.
I have no idea what the Blues were offering but short of a bag of broken sticks, I'd take just about anything at this point. Between draft weekend and Friday, the market for goalies is quickly drying up and I fear Regier has diminished what he could have gotten in return for Miller.
Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the New York Islanders were all in the market for a number one goalie and all four teams have addressed that need. The Leafs traded for Jonathan Bernier. The Devils dealt for Cory Schneider. The Flyers signed Ray Emery in free agency and the Islanders re-signed Evgeni Nabokov.
St. Louis still might be a possibility since they are reportedly trying to trade Jaroslav Halak but its looking more and more like Miller will still be here come opening night. Which means the ever cautious Regier has bought himself more time as he tries to convince Miller to stay beyond next season. Failing that, Regier will be left with his last option which is to move the Michigan native by the trade deadline.
Who knows what the return will be and which, if any, teams will be interested. Miller will be a rental player since he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. How many teams trade for a number one goalie as a rental player at the trade deadline?
Odds are, if you are firmly in a playoff spot, it is in part due to solid goaltending and the one piece to your Stanley Cup puzzle that remains to be placed is not a net minder. Perhaps there were will a Cup contender that is worried about its starting goalie and decides to bring in Miller just for a playoff run but the odds of that seem to be small and perhaps they'd be worried that Miller last won a playoff series in 2007.
Wait...stop the presses...or in this case the internet. As I am writing this article, I see an email in my inbox from the Buffalo Sabres. Take that skeptical Sabres fans, the team just re-signed Alexander Sulzer. I'm sorry but I can't write anymore. Its hard to concentrate during the wild party that has just broken out.