This post is dedicated to everyone who thinks I'm the biggest Sabres apologist in the world. Enjoy! :P
I think passing on Ilya Kovalchuk was the right thing for the Sabres to do. The one thing I haven't seen anyone mention in the whole "THE DEVILS DID IT WHY CAN'T WE?!?!" argument is that the Sabres and Devils are in very different places as organizations right now. With all due respect to Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, both of whom I would gladly steal, the heart of the Devils right now is still Martin Brodeur. When he plays well, the Devils win. When his play dips, the Devils lose. (See his numbers in the first round of the playoffs the last few years for proof of that.) By the time this year's Stanley Cup is awarded, Brodeur will be 38-years-old. If the Devils play it cautious and give any prospects in their system two or three years to develop, Brodeur is now 40 or older. While it certainly seems sometimes that the Devils could roll him into net in a wheelchair well into his 80s, the window for the Brodeur-led Devils is probably closing.
The Sabres are in a completely different place. Putting the top six aside for now (I'll get to those d-bags in a few minutes, I promise), the Sabres have a lot of young talent on the roster or just about ready to make the roster AND they have a goalie who's arguably just entering the best years of his career. Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Tyler Myers, and Andrej Sekera* are already up and should continue to improve and Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, and Mike Weber are all close with Luke Adam and Zack Kassian making some noise. Even if it takes those guys let's say three years to all get to the Sabres and make an impact (and I realize the odds of all of them staying in the system and making an impact are slim but I think a number of them will), Ryan is still in his early 30s. The window for the Miller-led Sabres is still open and should be open for a while yet.
So I think the Devils were probably right to make a play for Kovalchuk. But I think the Sabres were also probably right not to. The right move for one team is not automatically the right thing for another team.
Here's the thing. I understand wanting to feel like the Sabres are in it to win it. I wouldn't mind a little less caution at all. There are players on the team who I would definitely be okay moving out. But the bottom line is not every team has a real chance to win every season and sometimes an organization is smart to look at the lay of the land for the next couple of years. I'm not convinced this year's Sabres team is good enough to win it all even with the addition of a big rental, and I'd be uncomfortable with them giving up too much of the near future for something that probably won't work. If the Sabres brass is looking at the current roster and coming to the same conclusion, well, they're being realistic. It sucks but there it is. I get the feeling they think the Sabres are still a couple years away from putting together their best team.
So I'm fine with passing on Kovalchuk. And I'm fine on passing on any other rental out there. And I'm excited about some of the young talent in the Sabres organization. But the one thing I will scrap with the Sabres about is the top six. When Darcy Regier talks about improvements coming from within maybe he's talking about Gerbe and/or Ennis pushing some bodies out, but anyone who thinks the top six as it is right now is going to magically improve is crazy. That was a fine attitude three years ago when they were in their early-to-mid twenties and hadn't been in the NHL for very long, but now I think they are what they are. This is them for better or for worse. I'm pretty disappointed in that because I thought they'd be better, but I think that's the only conclusion you can come to at this point. They are what they are right now. And that's not good enough.
* I missed a lot of the game last night but Sekera's defensive play was getting criticized pretty hard in some places. He needs to be playing and playing regularly. No young d-man ever got better sitting in the press box and it's driving me crazy that he's spending so much time there.
Okay, back the history essay I told Mark I was writing. Heh.