Sabres Back to the Future

Oh, hello there from October, 2011! A Sabres fan you say? Well I just so happen to have some information about the Buffalo Sabres 2011 off-season that you will surely enjoy. Here, take a look, crystal ball style!

Mid May – Anticipating increased expenditures in arena development, scouting and player salaries, Ted Black announces on WGR that the Sabres will increase ticket prices by 5%. This ticket price increase is met with mild disdain from a bulk majority of fans, though those who call into radio talk-shows or live-and-die based on the words of Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan stage a brief but fiery moment of outrage. Lower Bowl season ticket holders, many of whom sell their tickets to Maple Leafs fans, prepare to increase their prices on Stub Hub.

Mid May – As the Sabres off-season begins to lull, Ted Black and Darcy Regier file separate announcements that the Sabres have approximately $41 million dollars devoted to salary next year, leaving them what Black refers to as “significant room” for changes, and what Regier cautiously advises is “tight” based on “the state of the market, the number of players in restricted free agency, and the long-term contracts that will need to be introduced from existing players in the near future”. Bucky Gleason begins to wonder aloud if a rift is beginning to develop between Regier and the new regime, based on the crossed signals.

Late May – Major redevelopment efforts for the HSBC arena are underway, starting with a continued overhaul of the locker room and the removal of the “slug” logos from the scoreboard and other areas in the arena. A promotional design with the phrase “Hockey Heaven” is made on billboards and arena signs, but not yet introduced to the viewing public in anticipation of it being part of the Sabres 2011-12 marketing campaign. The NHL, meanwhile, announces that it anticipates the Salary Cap to grow between 2 and 6.5 million dollars based on television revenue and the new television contract. Sabres fans once weary at the idea of a league where more money can be spent rejoice.

Late May – After being told by the Sabres that they did not intend to offer him a new contract and he would be released into Unrestricted Free Agency in July, Mike Grier announces his retirement. Rob Niedermayer is given the same notice by Buffalo, but he does not announce his retirement. Grier is signed as a player consultant and development coach and assigned internally.

Late May – Talks with Steve Montador break down as rumors circulate that Montador will not go below the $2.25 million dollar mark, something that the Sabres are vehemently against paying considering Montador’s declining performance toward the end of the year.

Late May – At essentially the same time, talks begin to reach an impasse with restricted free agent Andrej Sekera. Sekera is requesting a salary over twice as much as his current salary. Worries about inconsistency and injury problems bring the Sabres pause, and arbitration looks inevitable.

Late May – With the threat of losing two defensemen possible, the Sabres avoid arbitration by resigning restricted free agent Chris Butler to a 3 year, $1.75 million per year deal. A day later, RFA Mike Weber asks and receives the same deal. The Sabres cap number rises from $41 million to $44.5 million.

Early June  – Following in the wake of Weber and Butler’s resigning, RFA defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani receives a pay-raise as well, with a 2 year, $1.00 million per year deal. The Sabres cap number rises to $45.5 million.

Early June – The paint job at HSBC Arena is complete, and the neutral rose color that haunted the building is now replaced with Blue and Gold. New murals and arena art that more intimately celebrates the teams history are placed into the arena. Select media members are given an opportunity to walk through as a first look at the “incomplete” project. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks prepare to square off in the Stanley Cup Final.

Early June – A TSN news item piggy-backed by The Buffalo News reveals that former Sabres owner Tom Golisano had nearly reached a deal with Hamilton-based billionaire Jim Balsille to sell the team on condition that it would be moved after the 2011-2012 season to its new Hamilton location. Balsille had offered over twice the Pegula purchase price to acquire the team, and according to multiple anonymous sources within the news report, the deal broke down when Golisano held out of a “couple of million dollars in assurances”. Golisano, found counting his gold in a Floridian mansion, declined comment.

Early June – During a question-and-answer seminar with Sabres fans, Ted Black proudly announces a few new changes to “Hockey Heaven”. The first is a radical overhaul of the Sabres Store in attempts to make it one of the most state of the art fan stores in the NHL. Secondly, per popular demand, internet services (including those to the media) would be improved over the summer within the arena. Suites/Luxury Boxes were getting a makeover and all new services would be available for them for the new season. Next, Black announced the date and other details of the retirement of Dominik Hasek’s #39. Finally, Black announces plans for the beginning of construction of a “Hall of Heroes”, a partially indoor-outdoor courtyard with player statues and a small Sabres museum. Construction was set to start in August and would be complete hopefully by the start of the 2012-2013 season.

Mid June – In a WGR interview with Mike Schopp and the Bulldog, Darcy Regier notes that it is “very unlikely” that the Sabres would come to terms with defenseman Steve Montador. Regier would not comment on “ongoing negotiations” with Center Tim Connolly, but did admit that per the request of Mark Mancari, the team and Mancari would part ways. 

Mid June
– The Sabres announce they have resigned Matt Ellis to a two year, $800K per year deal. Their cap number rises to $46.3 million.

Mid June – Despite the Bruins physical domination of the series, the talented Vancouver Canucks pull out the series and claim a Stanley Cup championship in six games. Three of their wins come in overtime.

Mid June – Fallout from the Golisano-Balsille controversy leads Golisano and Quinn to begin the process of removing themselves from any remaining waterfront investments. The Pegula family denies any interest in any of the waterfront issues, stating, “I came here to buy my favorite hockey team and win a Stanley Cup, nothing more.”

Mid June – A news article regarding the waterfront and the potential of a “Wal Mart Village” is printed in the Buffalo News. Wal Mart Village’s are a new idea by Wal Mart to expand on their shopping super centers into “community shopping districts” with various Wal Mart owned merchants staged as local shops. Wal Mart Villages plan to buy property in metropolitan areas across the country and roll them out over the next few years.  Protests begin immediately, though local lawmakers say they would listen to such proposals.

Late June – Regier and the Sabres happily announce they’ve reached terms with RFA forward Nathan Gerbe on a 3 year deal, worth $2.5 million per year. The Sabres cap rises to $48.8 million. Gerbe jersey sales skyrocket.

Late June – Frustrated and perhaps bored, one of the Pegula daughters begins to complain about the “greediness” of one of the Sabres players and notes that “If I played like they did, I wouldn’t be asking for that much”. Over a long series of tweets, it becomes evident that the Pegula daughters are referring to Tim Connolly. Though the negotiations initially seemed to be going well between Regier and Connolly’s representatives, everyone begins to assume that the relationship is destined to end as a result of what the Pegula daughters implied. The Buffalo News publishes a few speculative pieces, based mostly off of the Pegular daughters tweets and rumors they could gather, that Connolly and the Sabres are very far off in their negotiations.

Late June – Wal Mart officials announce in a press release that they have begun negotiations with the City of Buffalo officials and other investors about purchasing large portions of waterfront property for what they called, “social, cultural and economic development to better the city and bring great brands and prices into the Western New York metro area.” The half-hearted physical protects screech to a halt, though the topic is still the hottest amongst the talk radio circles.

Late June – While WGR announces that it’s nightly highlight shows and ESPN drop-ins would be replaced by syndicated paid programming, WECK announces it will expand its local shows by 90 minutes per day starting in July.

Late June – upcoming UFA Cody McCormick inks a 2year, $850K per year deal. The Sabres cap number rises to $49.65 million. Later on the same day, upcoming UFA Mark Parrish is signed to a 1 year, $600K deal. The Sabres cap number rises to $50.25 million.

Late June – A Buffalo News report states Jason Pominville has had some training set backs in his rehab and may not be ready for the start of the 2011-12 season.

Late June – Nearing their self-mandated arbitration deadline, the Sabres and Drew Stafford come to terms on a 4 year, 4.75 million cap hit deal, with a graduated salary increase. The Sabres salary cap rises to $55 million.

Late June – A rumor emerges that the Sabres and Sharks are in trade talks. Displeased with another questionable playoff performance, several reports tie San Jose and Buffalo together in a deal involving Sharks forward Patrick Marleau and a 2nd round draft pick. The rumors all seem to state that the Sabres would move Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam. WGR spends two days dissecting the rumored deal, finally concluding that Regier would be crazy and ought to be fired if he decided to go through with it. Simultaneously, they criticize him for being married to his players. Regier and the Sabres deny being involved with talks with San Jose over Marleau.

Late June – The NHL announces that the 2011-12 NHL salary cap would be $62.5 million, a raise of $3.1 million over last year’s cap. The number is somewhat lower than some teams had hoped with the new television deal, though was higher than the guaranteed minimum raise of $2 million that the NHL promised would occur.

Late June – The Buffalo News reports that they have obtained the “untouchables” list that was frequently mentioned during the Golisano/Pegula sale. The list included Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, and, surprisingly, Paul Gaustad.

Late June – Heading into unrestricted free agency, the Sabres have $55 million committed to salary, with major RFA Andrej Sekera heading to arbitration. Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer will not be resigned. Tim Connolly remains unsigned and it appears that he will not be resigned. Steve Montador will not be resigned. The Salary Cap has been established at $62.5 million, leaving the Sabres with roughly $7.25 million to play with. Local media sources begin to downplay the possibility of signing Brad Richards.