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Darcy Drops The Ball On Day One

06/26/10
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I don’t typically criticize Darcy Regier. He’s hailed as a smart-drafting GM and I agree with that assessment, especially after the grand slam he hit in the 2008 draft’s first round. But last night (with some help this morning from my friend Adam) I had an epiphany and it’s none too good.

As I sat with my friends at the Pearl St Grill watching the prospects get picked one after another, we started to formulate who we wanted the Sabres to take based on talent and need. When the #23 selection came up, I narrowed it down to Emerson Etem, my buddy Jay wanted Jon Merrill, and my other friend Jim wanted Tyler Pitlick. Some quick research of those names reveals that we all chose forwards to supplement the organization’s lack of depth up front. Unanimously, we agreed that none of us wanted Mark Pysyk not because of a lack of talent but because the organization has enough depth at defense – to the tune of five eventual NHL defensemen in Portland and more in the pipeline. Who does Darcy take? Mark Pysyk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to indict Pysyk for being picked. He’s a good kid and will be a serviceable enough defenseman in his time, but he just isn’t what the team needs. What the Pysyk drafting does reveal is a disturbing behavioral pattern of Darcy’s – he’s a wimp when it comes to pulling the trigger. Of course, a strong opinion will run into opposition, so let’s have a look at a couple of debate points I’ve already encountered.

“But Phil, Darcy has always been conservative as a general manager.”
Indeed he has and I’ve loved that patience he displays, but there reaches a point where if you talk about making big changes in the off-season and then lose one of your prime opportunities to take advantage of a rabid market, criticism needs to be laid down. Of course, I should’ve seen his lackadaisical nature coming when he said the Sabres have two of the top 20 centers in the league (Darcy-speak for “I’m not effing with the centers). If he had the cojones to shake it up, he could’ve had Jason Spezza or Marc Savard centering the top line here. What would it have taken? Among other things, the #23 pick for sure.

“But Phil, it’s only the #23 pick – he’s not gonna impact the team for a couple of years yet.”
I have no delusions of an Emerson Etem or Jon Merrill stepping onto NHL ice as an 18-year-old. The kids available at 23 would undoubtedly need development, but that’s the point – the organizations lacks forwards of talent down the pipeline. After Luke Adam and Jacob Lagace, the level of forwards drops off. That’s where the aforementioned teenagers would come in, filling the void and prepping the team for years to come. Instead, an already crowded rearguard pipeline becomes even more stuffed.

This morning while I was talking to my friend Adam, he brought up a good point – Darcy can build a team but he lacks that last ounce of chutzpah to really put them over the top, ie Philly acquiring the veteran defensive (and team) leader they needed in Chris Pronger. In fact, the last time Darcy displayed his killer instinct was in 2000 when he accosted officials for the John LeClair phantom goal call. It’s the one thing he’s missing to become a truly great GM. Give him that killer instinct and say he drafts that dynamic forward, makes that blockbuster trade, or throws the bank at a FA to finally give the Sabres that winning edge.

Some day it might happen, but the chances are getting slimmer and slimmer every year his teflon tenure endures.

*Disclaimer: This post aside, I have generally been happy with Darcy’s habits in the front office. He’s been good to very good at times, but he’s just missing that last little trait to build a Stanley Cup winner. However, if he doesn’t do anything to change the culture of the team and bring in hard-working players via free agency or a trade following July 1st, you’ll see a real acid-tongued post about him. Probably.

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