We can comfortably say it's going to be a fun weekend, and of course the plot really thickens on July 1, when the NHL's elite unrestricted free agents—also known as "Brad Richards"—hit the open market.
I'm assuming we'll discover shortly whether Thursday afternoon's multiple reports that had Calagary Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr becoming a Sabre are legit. Unaccustomed to being a "player" for sought-after players, we are waiting impariently to see whether Regehr is as keen on Buffalo as we are on him.
No doubt, the guy's a major piece of the puzzle on the blueline, where the Sabres allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to enter their zone with an E-Z Pass in April's first-round playoff ouster. Rottweilers like Regehr reject this kind of wanton trespassing.
With 6'4" and a plentiful supply of sandpaper, Regehr could be what Craig Rivet ought to have been. Yes, paying him upwards of $4 million-plus per season might make you think twice, however we've been led to believe the team's new ownership won't let sticker shock get the best of them. With the salary cap going up $4.6 million next season, why not roll the dice on a rugged player whom you could really use?
My money's on Regehr accepting the trade. Western New York gets a lot of bad press, sure, but players should appreciate a true "hockey" town, and by the way, Buffalo's multimillionaires live just as comfortably as Calgary's. If he says no, so be it. At least we know ownership is clearly forcing players and other franchises to acknowledge that Buffalo is, at long last, serious about this whole Stanley Cup thing.
What will be just as interesting is what the Flames receive for their trouble. Andrej Sekera? Chris Butler? Perhaps a young forward like Nathan Gerbe or Tyler Ennis? How about the 16th overall pick in this weekend's entry draft?
I'm curious to see who Darcy Regier and the hockey department feel they could do without. More importantly, though, is the signal that the Pegula Regime is coming through on its promise to aggressively build a Cup champion. Maybe Regehr is viewed as the first piece of many in that dazzling puzzle. The second piece is a true No. 1 center; a whirlwind, scoring pivot who can carry the offense's top line.
I don't expect it to happen via unrestricted free agency, nor do I wish it to. The spending smorgasbord has cooled off a little since the crazy summers of 2007 and 2008, but some team's general manager is just itching to pounce on the Dallas Stars' Richards, and will gladly overpay to sign him. It could be the Philadelphia Flyers, who spent Friday gutting the team of core players, including Jeff Carter and their own Richards, Mike.
Let them. It shouldn't be the Sabres. Richards is a prize, indeed, however the tread on his tire has diminished with age and injuries, and he's simply not worth the $7 million-'n-some his future team pays him. None of the other UFAs seem like first-line center material, and the restricted free agents? Most NHL executives—Regier most certainly included—see it as uncouth and unbecoming of the GM's seat in hockey's first class.
Draft day could be a possibility. Buffalo has the 16th overall pick, and if the right guy becomes available, Regier might be compelled to go for it. Of course, it could be a total surprise. Just ask suddenly ex-Flyers Carter, Richards and Versteeg.
There's a long summer ahead. All of July, August and September await before the season begins. If Friday's play for a top-notch player is a preview, it should be supremely entertaining.
John Hakes probably isn't as smart, witty and charming as he believes himself to be. He lives with his wife, Jessica, in Tonawanda.