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.