Wednesday, March 18, 2009

About Lindy and Darcy (In Which I, Heather B., Agree With Bucky Gleason)

I realize I'm one of the few Darcy Regier apologists in Buffalo so the last few days have been rough ones in my world. The current Sabres roster is a mess for sure and a lot of the blame for that lies at Darcy's feet but, as Kate mentioned in the (very interesting) comment thread at her blog yesterday, this idea that he's stockpiling the team with players Lindy Ruff hates is kinda stupid. It's always appeared that Darcy and Lindy have a very unusual GM-head coach relationship and while I'm sure the final personnel decisions are made by Darcy, I don't believe for a second that Lindy doesn't get a lot of input and I don't believe for a second that Darcy doesn't give that input serious weight. I'm sure the two of them have disagreed at times - that happens when you're friends and it happens even more when you're friends who work together - but I seriously doubt there's a player on the team who was signed or extended with Lindy standing by saying, "I hate that guy and don't want him on my team." Yeah, he probably wanted to keep Chris Drury but come on, Darcy did too. According to everyone and their great aunt he had a deal in place and in his first Drury-is-a-Ranger press conference he looked as stunned and disappointed as we all did. I'm sure Lindy hates the way this team has turned out - jeez, who wouldn't? - but it is his team almost as much as it's Darcy's and he bears almost as much responsibility for this debacle as anyone else. Nothing about this team right now says it's well-coached. They're not smart, they're not disciplined, they're not accountable, they collapse at the very first sign of struggle and they've given very few 60 minute efforts all season. Yeah, they have holes and weaknesses but they're still underachieving. This is not the least talented team Lindy has had during his time in Buffalo but they've certainly played like they are.

All that said, I'm hesitant to fire Lindy and even more hesitant to fire Darcy. If we go back to Bucky Gleason's column from a few days ago, he said something I completely agree with (somewhere Bucky just heard claps of thunder and felt the earth shift under his feet):

The Sabres need roster changes, but they also need time. Their core of players still hasn’t hit their primes. They have a good group of young players in the AHL and several very good prospects, including towering defense-man Tyler Myers. I’ll say it again. They should be better across their roster in two years or so, when their kids grow up.

If they’re not significantly better in two years and moving toward contention, it will be time to change the general manager, coach or both.

I know it's easy to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed. Darcy and Lindy have been here forever and look where we are. Nowhere. But I think you have to think more small picture and zero in on the team in front of us right now. That team has really only been around for a few years. For all my complaining about what a chore the Sabres have been to watch and blog about this season, I understand why management decided to leave the team mostly as it was last season. The Sabres finished the 2007-2008 season with 90 points, only 4 points out of the playoffs, and they did it with half a season of good play from two or their best players (Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy) and an entire season of very inconsistent play from their starting goalie. Young players were trying to figure out how to step into different roles on and off the ice. Yeah, some tinkering needed to be done (and was done with the additions of Craig Rivet and Patrick Lalime) but I don't think anything about last season signaled a team that needed to be blown up.

Now it's different. This season I think we're seeing that a lot of the things that were excusable last season are genuine weaknesses and bad habits. Things that aren't going to go away, things that players might not grow out of. Some players might not grow into the roles that management had them pegged for. And if we can see all that, I'm sure Darcy and Lindy are seeing it too and I think you have to give them a chance to make the needed changes. And I think that means giving them at least one off-season. People can grouse about the trade deadline all they want but the deadline was not the time to do the kind of moving the Sabres need to do. Very few long-term impact moves were made anywhere in the league and that's what we need.

With the salary cap most likely staying put and possibly even going down in the next couple of years, I think these off-seasons are going to be very interesting ones. A lot of teams are right up on the cap or close that that it's going to be very difficult to extend some players and a lot of good players - established every day players and youngsters who haven't quite proven themselves - are going to shake lose. It'll be an environment that might favor a GM like Darcy who has a good eye for talent and is used to pinching pennies and making a team fit under a certain number. One thing I think the Sabres did do right is that almost all the contracts players have signed over the last couple years are movable ones. I think the only contract that have that's probably unmovable is Vanek's. Even Miller's isn't bad for a usually very good starting goalie. The opportunity to make some big changes is there if they make it known that certain guys are on the table. Bucky's also right that it's a time when there's potentially a lot of help coming up. There's a handful of players in Portland who have a chance to be everyday players in the NHL and Tylers Myers and Ennis are getting a lot of attention in juniors.

Next off-season if the roster looks pretty much like it does right now then maybe it's time to think about replacing Lindy and/or Darcy. In a couple of years if the team still isn't very competitive then maybe you think about letting one of them or both of them walk when their contracts or up. But for now, I think you let them work. Almost everyone seems to agree that Lindy and Darcy are both good at what they do. Now's the time to let the prove it.


Erin said...

You're so thoughtful and rational. Very nice post.

Katebits said...

Heather, you know I love you, but...well, you know how I feel about Lindy and Darcy right now.

I'll just say this:

There will always be kids in the pipeline coming to save us. Sometimes they'll pan out, but a lot of the times they won't.

If the acceptable timeline for improvement is "in a few years they'll be better" this justification could be used for keeping a coach/GM on any team in almost any situation.

I see your point about giving them time to work this out, but please remember that that's also what we were all writing two years ago following the co-captains debacle.

Vanek's Hair said...

I am very close to wanting a move in either the front office or the head coach. But I don't think that is the best idea. I am willing to give Darcy Regier one final offseason. The reason, as Heather says, is how interesting this offseason is going to be. Stupid teams who lit money on fire the past two years are now going to have to figure out how to work under a dwindling salary cap with bloated contracts. It means lots of players will probably be available for trades. They will be Sabre friendly moves because the contracts will all have been frontloaded, so the cap number will be high, but the real dollars paid (Important to a frugal owner) will not be.

I still think Darcy Regier is due for one of his fleecings. It may not even be a fleecing. Six offseasons ago he traded Rhett Warrener for Chris Drury. It was (GASP!) a trade that actually helped both teams immensly. Warrener helped the Flames reach the Stanley Cup Finals, and a game 7 there. And I think we know what Chris Drury did in Buffalo.

I have to think there is a player on the Sabres roster who is good, attractive in a trade and can bring a solid player in return. I have no idea who that is. Well, I have ideas, but I hate doing trade speculation.

Bottom line, the Sabres need an influx of talent. There is just not enough. There problem is not "hard work" "wanting it more" "leadership" or "(insert another pukey sports cliche here)" It is talent. Talent wins. Most players work hard.

Mark B said...

Even though I'm coming to the point where I want either Lindy or Darcy gone (preferably Darcy), this is a very thoughtful and insightful piece.

I'm willing to give them one more offseason but I sure as hell won't be defending them as I did last summer. I'll be supporting the Sabres until the day I die but I just don't have a lot of faith in the organization at this moment.

Lee Andrew said...

Nooo. You said blow it up so BLOW IT UP!

Heather B. said...

If the acceptable timeline for improvement is "in a few years they'll be better" this justification could be used for keeping a coach/GM on any team in almost any situation.

True. I probably muddied the waters by bringing that in because my main argument for keeping Darcy around another year is how interesting I think this off-season is going to be and how his strengths might be a good fit for the upcoming market. If that weren't the case, I might be thinking more along the same lines as you.

I see your point about giving them time to work this out, but please remember that that's also what we were all writing two years ago following the co-captains debacle.

Also true. But again, I think they thought they had a better team than they have. One of the unfortunate side effects of dealing with a bunch of young players is you're not quite sure what you have. They needed some time to feel things out. Now I think it's more clear what needs to be addressed. I'm probably more patient than some (or more willing to be satisfied with mediocre hockey depending on who you ask) but I really don't think two years is that long to put a team together especially if you want to do it the right way. Now that the needs are glaring, I'll expect them to take action and I'll be more unhappy if they don't.

I really suspect we'd just be very different GMs however, Kate :P

Heather B. said...

I see your point about giving them time to work this out, but please remember that that's also what we were all writing two years ago following the co-captains debacle.

I was thinking about this on the way home from work and I just wanted to elaborate a little bit on what I already said.

I think the Sabres were effed in the 2007 off-season. By the time the dust settled on Briere and Drury, particularly the latter, I think they were kind of stuck with going into the season with the team they had for better or for worse. They were clearly planning on Drury being a part of the team and they didn't have a lot of time to readjust.

The team wasn't AMAZING in 2007 but they were better in the second half. Some players immediately stepped up and played well (Pominville, Hecht) and some players definitely got more comfortable as the year went along (Roy, Vanek). There were some signs of hope. I think anyone who looks back at last off-season and marks it down as a failure is using an awful lot of hindsight because there was no indication that the team was going to go off the rails this season. (And I'm not saying that's what you were saying, Kate. I'm just saying.) This season has been a bit of a debacle so it's this off-season where some serious moves should be made. If they're not made, I'll gladly discuss parting ways with Darcy.

There will always be kids in the pipeline coming to save us. Sometimes they'll pan out, but a lot of the times they won't.

I'm going to muddy the water I already muddied even more by saying this isn't actually always true. There are plenty of franchises who don't have the pipeline of talent that the Sabres have and have consistently had under Regier because they don't draft well and they don't have a good farm system. If you're talking about firing a GM and he's partly responsible for having a pretty consistent pipeline, I think you have to take that into consideration.

You got me thinking a lot about who I would fire if I had to fire someone, Kate, and basically I guess what I'm saying is I'd fire Lindy before Darcy. I'm a little surprised I came down on that side of the fence but hey, someone has to be on Darcy's side :P

Heather B. said...

Oh, and Lee, I still want to blow it up. I just want the current GM handling the explosives.

Katebits said...

I'd be fine with keeping Darcy if he would fire Lindy, but since he apparently won't, so in my opinion, he's got to go too.

I guess I'm not willing to gamble on the chance that this offseason is going to "interesting" and that somehow the Sabres are going to be the beneficiaries. I don't agree that the Sabres are really any more poised to pounce than most other teams (excluding the Rangers and a few other cap-oblivious teams). The trade deadline was pretty dull, and I think there's just as good a chance that the offseason will be slow as there is that it will be interesting.

I just have one more quibble and that is with the idea that Buffalo is a "young" team. According to Mirtle, Buffalo is the 10th oldest team in the league. Granted, Teppo throws it off a bit, but still. These are not kids anymore. The core has been in the league for 4+ years, and they've been through deep playoff runs and deep adversity. These players are extremely experienced. All we're accomplishing now is eating into the their prime production years. I'm not suggesting that some of them aren't going to get better, but I do believe the period of waiting for the team to "grow up" is past. They're grown up now, which is why we need to be getting more out of them NOW.

Also, sadly, this year has been a disaster. This is not a year to be built upon, this is a year to recover from. That's going to take some time too.

I guess I believe Darcy and Lindy have been given a lot of time already. Time is precious.

I'm sorry. I don't know why I can't let it go.

Heather B. said...

Kate, I definitely agree that this team isn't young anymore. I would've left that part of Bucky's quote out but it was right in the middle of what I was trying to pull out. Last season I cut them some slack because even though they weren't babies anymore they were in completely different roles than they'd been in before. This season I think they're old enough to start making making some harsher judgments. Most of them still haven't hit their prime years but I'm not sure we should expect a huge jump from most of them especially with the la-di-dah attitude they seem to share. I do absolutely agree with you there.

The trade deadline was pretty dull, and I think there's just as good a chance that the offseason will be slow as there is that it will be interesting.

In which case a new GM won't do much either. So why bother? :P But seriously, the trade deadline was dull because every single team (okay, not quite) was still in the playoff hunt and no one wanted to part with players that might put them over the top. (But then again, I think trade deadline day is VASTLY overrated as far as how much it usually ends up helping a team.) I do think GMs take a more big picture attitude in the off-season though. They won't just be thinking, "Who's gonna help us in the playoffs?"

I don't know. I think Darcy's a good GM but I'm not going to deny that I just really, really like him as well. There's certainly some emotion involved.