As the Buffalo Sabres made the change to fire head coach Lindy Ruff, one thing that has been disappointing is the feel that not a lot has really changed with the organization. The promotion of Rochester Americans Head Coach, Ron Rolston to the head job in Buffalo just feels to status quo for me. Darcy Regier is still here calling the personnel shots in Buffalo, and that makes me a little nervous looking back at his hit miss record in the NHL draft, in free agency, and on the trade market.
If Buffalo ends up picking in the top five of next year's NHL draft, then I want someone different calling the shots and making that all important selection. Talent evaluation has been a major issue right now in Buffalo ever since former Director of Amateur Scouting Jim Benning departed to Boston in 2004, and key scout Don Luce departed for Philadelphia in 2006, both due to previous owner Tom Golisano's front office cuts. But even when those two guys were here, there were still plenty of draft misses within the first two rounds from 1997 to 2009.
From 1997 to 2009 of the 13 first rounders taken, it's possible that the only successes have been Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, and Tyler Ennis. So Darcy has hit on 4 first rounders in 13 tries from '97 to 2009. This team also doesnt find good players in the 2nd round and beyond anymore like they used to, and that is where the scouting department led by Jim Benning and Don Luce come into play. The latter rounds of the NHL draft is all about the scouts. From 1998 to 2004, they drafted Ryan Miller, Brian Campbell, Henrik Tallinder, Max Afinogenov, Paul Gaustad, Dennis Wideman, Clarke MacArthur, Patrick Kaleta and Andrej Sekera, all beyond the first two rounds. Dennis Wideman and Clarke MacArthur would eventually develop into good players for other teams.
The best guy taken since 2004 in the later rounds has probably Brayden McNabb, and thats only based on his upside, and then Marcus Foligno. Thats a testament to the GM Darcy Regier and the scouts that are currently here, and particularly Kevin Devine, the current Amateur Scouting Director.A big drop off from when Jim Benning and Don Luce were here heading up the scouting department. The guys that Darcy Regier and Kevin Devine have selected lately from the last 5 years who've made the NHL from 2007 beyond have all been pretty lackluster or underachieving so far. Lets take a look at some of these guys:
Zack Kassian: Came out on fire in January with Vancouver w/ 5 goals but since then...3 assists and a demotion in ice time. Hasn't really looked good this year, or any other year for the most part.
Mikhail Grigorenko: Normally I wouldnt criticize a guy so young for struggling, but since everyone in Buffalo was convinced he'd make an impact and be a solid player right away, I think it's worth some criticism. Grigorenko has not lived up to the hype for a guy people considered as talented as Nail Yakupov. Being on a bad team, he should be good enough to standout and be noticed from this group of players. Im sorry but if you're not good enough to be top six and log in more than 10 minutes per game on this team, then I dont have much hope for you as a player.
Marcus Foligno: I dont find 1 goal and 7 assists and a -5, with secondary PP time and no time killing penalties a smashing success. He's been disappointing thus far, but think he has a place in the NHL. He'll be a second, or third liner at worst.
Tyler Myers: He's been largely inconsistent since his rookie year and hasn't done anything special since. He's not overly physical for his size . Personally I think he's Jay Bouwmeester's clone, and there is nothing wrong with that, Bouwmeester is an ok player who's also inconsistent, but that's not good enough for Tyler Myer's contract and expectations. We have been hoping he'd develop into Chara or Pronger but instead we've gotten the Calagry version of Bouwmeester. People who love Myers dont like to hear this, but there were better players that were drafted after Myers such as: Erik Karlsson, Jordan Eberle, and Michael Del Zotto.
Tyler Ennis: In my opinion, Ennis is by far the best player so far of the five guys Darcy's drafted who's been in the NHL so far.
As for the future: Joel Armia, Mark Pysyk, Zemgus Girgensens, Brayden MacNabb, all that can be said is we'll see how far they go or don't go. McNabb and Girgensens both have the highest probablility for success based on their size and skillsets alone. For McNabb, will he be a top pair defenseman, or a bottom pair defenseman? For Gigensens, will he be a top 6 power foward who can net 20 to 25 goals and play Selke Trophy calliber defense, or will he be regulated to the 3rd and 4th lines? As for Joel Armia, can he take his goal scoring and make the transition to the NHL, and most importantly can he learn how to play defense? Mark Pysyk might have the toughest transition to the NHL as becoming a big minute, puck moving defenseman is no easy task at hand.
Talent evaluation and decision making are the major reasons why Darcy should be gone, especially with evaluating first round prospects. They have both been in question of late. To further evaluate Darcy Regier, you can't go wrong to compare him with two of his 1997 GM hire counterparts, David Poile and Ken Holland. It's really frustrating to continually see Poile and Holland find solid players at will. Ken Holland does it often without having a first round pick most of the time.
The Red Wings bring players along slower than the Sabres, but their prospects and kids from 2005 to 2009 are all finally starting to get their chances in the NHL, and doing well. Tomas Tatar is outperforming Mikhail Grigorenko in the NHL, and with similar amounts of ice time. Even Joakim Andersson is outperforming him and looks like a future power forward. 2007 draft pick Brendan Smith has looked like a game changer when he's played, unlike Tyler Myers who only looks like a game changer 25% of the time. Brian Lashoff was undrafted in 2010 is playing well, and earned a contract extention. The future in Detroit looks as bright as a lamp from what's been heard around the NHL of their future prospects not in the NHL yet such as: Gustav Nyquist (4th rnd pick), Petr Mrazek (5th rnd pick), Calle Jarnkrok (2nd rnd pick).
They even get the steal of free agency by signing of the offseason in Damien Brunner who is top 5 in goal scoring, and leads all rookies in scoring. The Red Wings have been doing business like that forever, often finding late round steals and hidden gems in free agency. The Red Wings could be coming to the Sabres' division, we will be getting very familiar with the Red Wings and their kids in the future.
Another counterpart to Darcy Regeir from 1997 is David Poile and the Nashville Predators, who's just as good if not better than Ken Holland and the Red Wings at drafting. The Predators Don't get anywhere near enough credit for the scouting work they do on draft day. Yet, they have had loads of success drafting and in almost every draft class they walk away with a darn good player.
Their first round selections include: Scott Hartnell, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Dave Legwand, Alexander Radulov, Jon Blum, Ryan Ellis and Colin Wilson. Their 2nd round and beyond selections include: Shea Weber, Kevin Klein, and Roman Josi (all three are 2nd round picks), Cody Franson (3rd), Pekka Rinne (8th), Anders Linback (7th), Martin Erat (7th).
Darcy Regier has had seven first round picks in five years and Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers are the best things this team has to show for it? Maybe Mikahil Grigorenko will turn into something, but i'm really not that impressed so far.
As for Regier's trades and free agent signings, his record is pretty hit miss. Overall, solid talent evaluation and drafting are ultimately what make or break an NHL team, not who you sign in free agency, or who you trade for. If that were the case, the New York Rangers would win the cup every year. This team needs a better talent evaluating GM who can assemble a great scouting staff around him and find great in the draft, something this team has had a very difficult time with.
As for a replacement, Former Rochester American and Penguins Assistant GM Jason Botterill would be an excellent canidate. Red Wings Executive Advisor to GM Ken Holland, Chris Chelios who is in Steve Yzerman's old post before he accepted Tampa's GM job is a good choice. Nashville Predators Assistant GM, Paul Fenton is another hot name. Former Cup Winning GM of the Dallas Stars and Ex-Habs GM Bob Gainey is available. Lastly, Ron Hextall, Assistant GM of the LA Kings is also a great choice.