Much has been made recently about the lengthy tenure of the Ruff/ Regier, and failure to win the cup. Amidst the current period of poor play, critics have taken exception to the contract extension recently given to Regier. While I don't think the extension was necessary, I do believe that Regier criticism of it is overblown. He has amassed an impressive amount of organizational talent in recent years, and unless you think he is utterly incompetent, it should be evident that he is actively pursing transactions to reshape his assets in a way that will pay of on the ice both immediately and for the long term.
Regier is a shrewd GM. He has made a living assembling competitive teams without any true financial wherewithal. He has had to do with less, and that has made him a savy and disciplined manager. I am not saying he has been perfect, but the Leino contract stands as the only glaring reach that has really hurt the franchise. This move was certainly out of character and with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Pegula transition, it is not a stretch to think that Darcy was more than encouraged by ownership to solve the problem at center by throwing big time money at a player, which he himself saw as a big risk.
Blogs and radio shows have been jammed with fans bemoaning the lack of faceoff wins and overall level of compete. Who is the sabres best defensive centerman? This question has been a toss up in a bad way ever since the Gaustad trade. Darcy knows this more than anyone. It is no secret to him that his team need help in the dot, and a serious infusion of the kind of toughness that transcends punching people in the face. He had to have know this before he traded Goose, but the value was just too good to pass up for a 3rd line faceoff specialist with an expiring contract. We all hope that Girgensons will be the next Ron Francis, but Darcy knew that he couldnt rely on on the young Latvian... even if he was ready to play at his ripe young age. Zemgus could have just as easily chosen to play at UVM this year. We all wanted the Sabres to sure up the center of the ice in the offseason, but instead we got the Steve Ott trade. Thats all well and good, but again, not exactly the blockbuster we all were waiting for. As Darcy would probably say himself, in order to make trades, you need to have a partner. Not what a fan wants to hear. I get that. But I also can appreciate that Darcy is going to wait until the right deal presents itself, and with the CBA hanging in the balance, the market was as cold as ever. As a fan interested in the long term health of the Sabres, I respect that. Simply put, winning a cup is going to take as much avoiding bad contracts (leino) as it will having good ones.
Darcy has proven in the past that he understands how to build a team. Coming out of the last lockout, he set the curve for building a contender. Things have changed. Size and toughness matter again. He gets that. That is the direction he is going. It takes time.
Getting back to the title... I have to think that Darcy has to have a full court press on for Ryan O'Reilly. He ticks all the boxes of what Ruff loves and the Sabres need. Win faceoffs? Check. Provide secondary scoring? Check. Strong on the puck, check. Grit, Leadership? check. PK? Check. Youth?, Check etc., etc. The kid is a stud, and thanks to Darcy adding value to the organization in small doses ever since the Drury/ Briere mess, the Sabres are in a position to go get him. Being an RFA makes the situation a little harder, but in a way it could be a good thing. Darcy has a lot of flexibility in the pursuit of O'Reilly. He has the organizational depth (thanks to the gaustad trade) to offer sheet O'Reilly in the 5 year $25 Mil range, and not cripple the franchise's future. Alternatively, Darcy could orchistrate a trade (say Ennis, Sekera, and a 2nd rd. pick or any 2 defenseman not named Myers or Ehrhoff) that meets the Av's organizational needs. A "signature" deal like this would make an underachieving Sabres team instantly more competitive, and set up to be a contender in that magic window while Vanek, Pomer, and Miller are still in their prime, and the young guns are seasoned up a bit.
Maybe they don't get O'Reilly. Maybe the Avs make room for the kid. Maybe he signs elsewhere. These are factors outside of Darcy's control. I am optimistic however that if its not O'Reilly, it will be someone else at some point soon.