Panthers and Sabres - Getty ImagesIt's downright inexplicable, really, how low the Buffalo Sabres have fallen. A second-tier contender last season, you'd have thought the offseason spending spree would have put them over the top, not into the basement.
But, as of this writing, Buffalo's tied for last place in points in the East (with two games in-hand). They're a disaster.
So who is at fault for the Sabres' dismal season? While defending Brad Boyes, owner Terry Pegula blamed injuries:
"I don't want to single out Brad," Pegula said. "Look who he plays with every night. It changes a lot. He's another guy [who was injured]. ... I have to believe we're a better hockey team than we were last year. We just didn't have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody's place in the organization. How do you evaluate what's going on?"
Meanwhile, our own Ryan Lambert recently asked why Pegula himself was escaping blame.
For the record, while I love me some Lambert, blaming Terry Pegula for this is a little like suing your father-in-law after you injure yourself on a honeymoon that he paid for.
That said, the major difference in Buffalo between this year and last year is the new money.
The Sabres have become the Great Gatsby of the NHL, and their extravagant spending is now being held up as the latest example of what not to do in free agency.
Here's Eric Duhatschek from the Globe and Mail:
It's a mess and cleaning it up is going to be a challenge because of a lesson that every GM with money to burn eventually realizes - the free-agent premiums you pay to sign players on July 1 will come back to haunt you eventually. Strange how roles reverse. The Sabres' New York state rivals, the Rangers, finally figured that out. They now operate the way the Detroit Red Wings do - with judicious free-agent buys (Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik) supplemented by a whole lot of homegrown talent (just about everybody else on their NHL roster). The Sabres, meanwhile, take a page out of the Rangers' old operating manual and it blows up in their faces.
But, in fairness to spending without restraint, don't let "the liberal media" claim it's a crime to have money. Despite what the Muppets would have you believe, the rich guy isn't always the bad guy.
While the Sabres are becoming a cautionary tale, this season has also yielded an extravagant success story.
Back in December, after all, the Florida Panthers were being hailed as one of the surprises of the season's first three months, and they were just as busy as Buffalo in the summer, if not moreso. However, because things are going well for them, the organization is being praised for the exact same thing many claim Buffalo did wrong. From the Miami Herald:
These Panthers got thrown together with a free agency spending spree and a few trades. So much so that Washington goalie Tomas Vokoun, the No. 1 goalie the past four seasons, said there's "only five guys I played with" still on the Panthers.
"Although we have a lot of new guys, it was done with a purpose, not just random pieces hoping it was going to work," Weiss said. "There was thought put into it, a plan in mind to bring in character people who wanted to turn it around."
So what do we make of these contradictory outcomes?
I'm of the mind that that relying on free agency is a big gamble because you never quite know how a player will adjust to a new environment, not to mention how they'll change it.
But it's not always the wrong move.
Sure, in Buffalo's case, the tactic appears to have thrown the team chemistry into disarray. In Florida, however, the core was solidified.
In short, at the risk of sounding like an American propagandist, let's not sour completely on extravagant spending just yet. If we do that, the terrorists win.