It’s nearly August, for hockey gods’ sake. Does anyone want to tell Sabres GM Darcy Regier and his Capitals counterpart George McPhee? Both are doing their best statue impersonations at a time in each team’s history that cries out for at least a modicum of change. Yet with their near-total absence of action, both are making the case that the rosters that failed so spectacularly somehow deserve another chance.
Sorry, but I’m not buying, leasing, renting or timesharing that argument, not for a single second. It’s one thing to dance with them what brung you; it’s something else entirely when them what brung you are insisting on dancing like nobody’s watching and/or paying them to dance. Loyalty is admirable to a degree, but eventually that attitude turns into organizational inertia and that’s what puts teams in a competitive death spiral.
I’m not advocating for a massive turnover of talent in Buffalo and Washington. There are players in the Caps and Sabres’ systems worth hanging onto. But even teams that suffered significant disappointment in previous years knew the status quo wasn’t an option: the Ottawa Senators bottomed out in 2010-11 and dealt Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu. That same season, the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96 and GM Lou Lamoriello traded longtime stalwarts Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott.
In fairness to McPhee and Regier, they did make a few moves during the 2012-13 campaign. Washington dealt highly touted prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville for veteran winger Martin Erat, while Buffalo shipped out blueliners Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold as well as former captain Jason Pominville. But since then, there have been virtually no changes for either team. The Sabres brought back Henrik Tallinder to serve as a ‘P.E.D.’ (Performance-Enhancing Defenseman) for his former and once-again-current blueline partner Tyler Myers, and swapped Andrej Sekera to Carolina for Jamie McBain. The Caps allowed No. 2 center Mike Ribeiro to depart for Phoenix via unrestricted free agency and have yet to replace him.
Considering the Sabres haven’t won a playoff round since 2007 and the Capitals haven’t made it out of the second round since 1998, their devotion to their respective cores is more than a little curious. It’s bordering on pathological and getting closer to crossing that border with every day of transactional inactivity.
I mean, are we really supposed to believe a Capitals team whose second line is currently Brooks Laich centering Erat and Troy Brouwer is going to make noise this season? Maybe the noise of a slowly deflating balloon, but that’s about it. With diminishing returns like this, how long is it before we hear whispers of Alex Ovechkin following countryman Ilya Kovalchuk back to Russia via “retirement”? The question still seems somewhat far-fetched, but considering how the Caps look primed to take a step back it’s less preposterous to ask the question now than it was in January.
And if you’re the Sabres and you saw what happened to Jarome Iginla’s trade value in Calgary last season – think the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 – how can you even consider holding on to Ryan Miller? The star goalie needs a new challenge that Buffalo can’t provide, yet part of his value right now is the fact he’s signed for this season. If you wait until the trade deadline, that value vanishes and you’ll likely only receive a decent draft pick or prospect in return. That would be unforgivable given what Miller has meant to this franchise.
Nobody is saying the Caps or Sabres should make a deal just to make headlines. But these two teams have no business standing pat. As Stars GM Jim Nill quickly demonstrated after his move to Dallas, change can be effected swiftly and in a positive manner.
The status quo is acceptable for the team that wins the Stanley Cup. For every other team, it’s a harbinger of dark days and regretful-toned press releases to come. And there’s simply no justification for it.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.