If I ever have the opportunity to be reincarnated, my preference would be to come back as Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.
Having the safest GM job in the National Hockey League seems as if it would be a pretty cushy gig:
— Being rewarded with a contract extension for failing to meet even modest expectations ... unless making only two playoff appearances in six years could be seen as acceptable — assuming this campaign plays out as it appears it will — in a league where 16 of 30 teams (over half) make the post-season .
— Lame excuses galore, starting with the always-popular “limited financial resources,” a crutch that disappeared the moment billionaire Terry Pegula bought the team. So, last year it was injuries. And this disastrous season, first it was coach Lindy Ruff, summarily fired to protect Regier’s position, and now, according to some reports, media negativity gets the blame.
All the while, Regier soldiers on every bit the Teflon General Manager.
He’s been preaching patience for his 16 years on the job ... so slow pulling the trigger on potential deals he’s become a joke among his league peers.
But the real proof of Regier’s invincibility came just before this year’s trade deadline.
He looked at the standings, saw his Sabres near the bottom of the conference, and concluded the flawed team he had assembled at glacial pace, wasn’t the answer.
Suddenly, Regier decided that the squad he put together was clearly going nowhere and opted for a “new” strategy.
First traded was defenseman T.J. Brennan, then fellow defenders Robyn Regeher and Jordan Leopold and, finally, talented winger Jason Pominville.
The general manager who was so reluctant to part with players he had acquired, suddenly became a wheeler-dealer with his job possibly in the crosshairs.
In fairness, he got terrific value for the talented but timid Pominville, but his motive was obvious.
That deal, and two of the other three, were made for one purpose ... to buy time.
Regier’s hope, seemingly, is that rather than answering for his previous dubious decisions, if he declares this a lost (read: rebuilding, though he won’t use that word) season, he can hold off the critics by selling the Sabres as a team in transition.
Basically, he’s saying, “This season is gone ... and don’t expect much next year, we’re a team in flux.”
All the while the rest of the league is laughing at the Sabres whose limitless resources have been so poorly utilized a GM of unsubstantiated credentials.
To DEFEND himself, Regier will allude to the six draft choices — one first, three seconds, two fifths, one of them conditional, while giving up a fourth — he netted in his four deals.
But here’s the thing.
Draft picks are only as good as the players acquired with them (a lesson emphatically made by the Bills annually).
But the results for the Sabres won’t be known for years to come ... keeping Regier bulletproof.
FULL DISCLOSURE, I don’t blame Pegula, a friend of mine for over 30 years, dating back to his days in Olean.
I fully understand the impact of going from being a Sabres’ fans, to one of the country’s richest men, to buying the team that you’ve loved all of your life, to being the boss of men (Regier and Ruff) whom he had idolized over the years.
But the reality is, the Sabres have been worse in Pegula’s two full seasons as owner, than they were in the disorganized tenures of the Rigas family and Tom Golisano.
And an inking as to why Pegula, uncomfortable in press conference settings, is so defensive of his general manager is that he’s insulated by an inner circle of advisers with Penguins’ pedigrees, who incomprehensibly feel that Regier is a “hockey genius.”
SO here’s my advice for Sabres’ fans.
Stop rooting for Buffalo to make the playoffs ... if it does Regier is somewhat vindicated and nothing will change.
Only four playoff misses in six seasons might alter management’s skewed perception of his “expertise,” if only because of the fingers that will also be pointed at upper management after that failure.
And even then, with Regier’s suddenly revised assessment that “rebuilding” is now in order, an ill-considered reprieve for him will likely be in order.
Which leaves the question: How big a body of work does it take to get this guy fired?
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)