I freely admit that I tend to be a pretty positive and optimistic Sabres fan. Maybe even stupidly so. A lot of this has to do with a quiet resignation to the fact that I don't have a real role in making them a better team - other than cheering my balls off every game, and hoping that those cheers can push them over the brink towards the ultimate goal of a Stanely Cup. One of the things that I've really loved about the Pegula era thus far is that the franchise finally seems to be putting us fans in our place, as it asks us simply to believe, to love the team and cheer and help them keep motivated, and to trust that they're getting shit done. It's certainly not the easiest thing to ask of us, but it is the most realistic and the most cognizant of the true and limited role that fans have in shaping the success of a team.
Since Pegula has taken over, we've been treated to actual, concrete evidence that the decision-makers working for the Sabres are actually deserving of our trust. . Pegula has overhauled the mission of the Buffalo Sabres, and has done so in a way that applies to all levels of the organization. The idealist in me really believes that this shift in priorities - the focus on drawing players to Buffalo by turning Buffalo into the hockey heaven that we fans have dreamed of - will create on-ice successes that we have not seen in some time. I don't mean '05-'06 success, and I certainly don't mean '06-'07 "success." Indeed, I have bought into the Pegulamania and have chosen to trust that this crazy billionaire and his plan for a Cup will materialize into some pretty remarkable moments over the next few years and beyond.
THIS IS SOMETHING NEW AND SCARY AND REAL AND I KNOW WE DON'T ALL WANT TO BELIEVE IT. DON'' T WORRY, WE'LL ALL BE FINE.
I hear a lot of folks, like the Scizz for instance, say that they'd be more comfortable with a $3-3.5 million deal, and I know there's an argument that it's a little high. But, apart from my general gut feeling that we shouldn't be squabbling over a half million dollars when the only reason to dislike it is the cap hit (since, after all, our owner is filthy rich and surfs on mountains of gold coins for fun), I'm mainly just happy that the team was able to pull the trigger and show the players that they were serious about rewarding great play with good money. For reasons similar to those explained by Phil in his post over at Black & Blue & Gold, this contract ensures that Buffalo will continue to shed its reputation for undervaluing the top producers from its lineup. This is exactly the reputation that Sabres fans have been bemoaning over the past four years, so I can't see this as anything other than exactly the kind of deal that we had been asking for. Letting Stafford's negotiations - after he consistently showed up and produced all season - would have sent exactly the wrong kind of message to our boys. And, frankly, it was super important to get this all done now, before July 1st, when he would have surely gotten some absurd offer sheet from this year's version of Kevin Lowe. And then where the fuck would we be? This $4 million could very well be a steal in comparison.
Sabres fans are still a jaded bunch, and I can certainly appreciate the following two opinions being tossed around the twitterverse, blogs and Buff News stories that have been kicking around: (1) that Stafford's contract year play was a fluke, motivated by his desire for a good long-term deal, and that we should have waited for that offer sheet to come and then just taken it and the draft picks it would have brought; and (2) that the deal really should've been for less and, by implication, that management is at it again with a colossally boneheaded off-season deal. Some of us are still smarting from the Vanek RFA offer sheet, and the juiced-up deal it caused - not to mention the stressed-out forward it seemed to create - so I certainly get that some want the team to be cautious and frugal above all else.
But the biggest reason I'm cool with this deal is because - again - I trust that T-Pegs and Ted and Darcy have their shit together. I trust that if Stafford ends up being the bust that some of us fear he will be - which, as Sabres fans, we must, to varying degrees - the team will figure out a way forward, never losing sight of the ultimate goal. After all, say he does suck hard in '11-'12, and say the Sabres can't find a way to trade his contract, the team can always buy him out and cut their losses. Sure, they still have a cap hit going into the future - a $1.3 million hit over six years under that buyout scenario, according to Cap Geek - but that's the risk Pegula seems willing to take for a guy coming off of a career year and who, it's reasonable to hope, is still getting better.
After watching Stafford rack up hat tricks this year, I'm just happy he's coming back. The Sabres aren't done with their off-season, and I know they have a long way to go before they have the squad that will bring a Cup to Buffalo, but - for now - I'm just happy being a fan and being able to trust that these big issues will get worked out.
God I love this time of year. Let's Go Buffalo.
And the DGWU Crew @DGWUSports