Sabres GM deserves credit

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

During the time Darcy Regier has been general manager of the Buffalo Sabres and Lindy Ruff has been his coach, the Florida Panthers have employed five different general managers and six different coaches.

Over the same nine years, the Leafs have had three general managers and are about to hire their third head coach.

"Change, more often than not, destabilizes your franchise rather than stabilizes it," said Regier, the general manager nobody knows or at least notices.

"I think if you miss the playoffs three years in a row and blow everything up, you're more likely to miss the playoffs seven years in a row. We got lucky here. We didn't get fired. The team was sold. We could have been fired. Ownership gave us a chance."

And here they are, in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in a playoff matchup that is almost unfair. It's too early for either the Sabres or the Ottawa Senators to lose. Not the way they play the game. Not the way they have fit in to the new National Hockey League.

Last summer, after Regier was asked to fill in for David Poile on the NHL's competition committee, he had a sense things were about to look up for the struggling Sabres. That feeling increased after Ruff came back from a meeting with league vice-president Colin Campbell on what was then termed an "open dialogue" on hockey.

"We knew what our team was," Regier said. "We knew what the league was trying to do. We just didn't how how it would turn out."

It would easy now for Regier to take some bows and call himself a hockey visionary for building a team that was all about speed. It would be easy if it was someone other than Regier, who doesn't have a low profile around the league -- he has no profile.

For nine years -- longer than any GM except Lou Lamoriello, Bob Clarke, Pierre Lacroix and Jimmy Rutherford -- he has been calling the shots for the Sabres. The team went bankrupt once or twice. A previous owner went to jail. Regier didn't change or even change coaches.

"It's my preference (to not be noticed)," he said.

"I don't want to speak for Lindy, but it's probably his preference, too. The way I look at it sometimes, we're lucky to have these jobs. The luckiest thing we had going for us is ownership gave us another chance."

There are all kinds of misconceptions about the newfound success of the Sabres and Regier doesn't mind, so long as the team is winning.

Misconception 1: The Sabres had to bottom out, miss the playoffs three times, to build this speedy team through the draft.

The reality: "We're a combination team," he said.

"We've made some admirable trades (for Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht, their four leading playoff scorers). Did some drafting and signed some free agents ... I think you have to do a little of everything. Sometimes you get lucky. We wanted Doug Gilmour (from Chicago) and we got Dumont, too."

The only player on the Sabres current roster drafted in the past three years is winger Thomas Vanek.

The hot rookie goalie, Ryan Miller, was a draft pick seven years ago. Jay McKee and Martin Biron were first-round picks taken by John Muckler 11 years ago.

"Like I said, you have to be patient sometimes and you have to have some good fortune," Regier said.

Misconception 2: The Sabres were intentionally built for the new NHL.

Reality: Regier wanted to build a team that could skate. He admits that, for the most part, he had no idea what the "new NHL" was going to look like.

"We were pretty honest about what our team is and was. We didn't realize this was going to happen. We had a good skating club. What became clear when we started playing was, mobility was going to be at the forefront of our game and we have benefitted from that.

"Part of that is good fortunate, part of that is just luck."

Regier grew up playing for Al Arbour with the Islanders, learning the hockey business from Bill Torrey.

"I once asked Al, what's the secret to building a team? He said no secret, it's not complicated, get good players."

The GM traded for Briere, Connolly, Drury, Dumont, Hecht, Mike Grier and Toni Lydman and almost all of them flew under the hockey radar.

The Darcy Regier way.

WILLIAMS WATCH

Why aren't the Argos being more pro-active in their quest to sign Ricky Williams? If I was them, I'd have Pinball Clemons on a plane to Miami ready to meet with Dolphins boss Nick Saban and explain the Argos plan for the suspended running back.

If one meeting with Pinball couldn't convince Saban to let Williams play, nothing will.

BATTLE THAT WASN'T

Has there ever been a worse Game 7 played than the pathetic Calgary Flames at home against Anaheim?

Did they win a battle for a loose puck? Did they actually have a chance to score?

Full credit to the Mighty Ducks for their series win -- but didn't you expect a whole lot more from the Flames?

MORE MARSDEN

One last Pat Marsden story, if you don't mind. Marsden moved back to Toronto from Florida and wanted to become Dr. Ron Taylor's patient again. Taylor made one demand on Marsden. Pat figured he was going to be ordered to give up either smoking or drinking. Instead, Taylor said: "I'll be your doctor. But you just have to promise you won't tell anybody."


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