Get Off My Lawn, and Other Things I’m Here to Yell About
The Sabres activities – or more accurately – their private activities on Wednesday included signing Rasmus Dahlin and doing… well… something… with Jack Eichel.
I’d love to tell you the captain failed his physical and I could then elaborate on that issue, but the Sabres elected to make player physical day closed to the media despite the fact that it has always been open to the media in recent years. It’s officially unknown as of this posting if Eichel failed his team physical. The reason for the privacy is obvious: they didn’t want anyone to talk to Jack Eichel, or look at Jack Eichel, or ask any of the other players on the team about Jack Eichel. Don’t even think about Jack Eichel.
It appears that saying Jack Eichel’s name out loud at KeyBank center is akin to uttering Lord Voldemort’s name at Hogwarts.
Physical day in the recent past has also been one of the more fun times to listen to Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet as they talked to the incoming Sabres players on The Instigators on WGR550. For all the grief those two got for their style of interview, Peters has a very disarming personality that gets players to loosen up and attempt to be a little bit human instead of being a hockey robot. In case you haven’t heard the news yet, Peters and Rivet opted not to renew their contract with Pegula Sports and Entertainment this week.
PSE had recently cut their show to an hour, and they also trimmed the three-hour “One Bills Live” show with Chris Brown and Steve Tasker down to two hours. Cost cutting measures during the pandemic are expected and frankly a necessary reality in the sports entertainment business so it’s hard to criticize the Pegulas for trying to trim a few bucks off the bottom line by shortening their five-hour block of Sabres and Bills programing into a 3-hour block.
The optics of losing two more alumni off their payroll is not a good look, though.
The organization took a lot of heat last year when they trimmed back on the number of Sabres and Bills alumni they employed to speak publicly on behalf of the team, and this only exacerbates that negative energy. The timing of The Instigators’ departure allowed the team to pull off the sneaky maneuver of banning media from Wednesday’s activities without having to ban Peters and Rivet from hosting perhaps their best annual show.
Secrecy in the Sabres organization has become de facto policy in recent years as the external pressure has mounted on the organization as a result of the team’s continuing and worsening failures. Rather than address underlying structural issues in the organization, such as hiring a Vice-President of Hockey Operations, the team has largely shunned the outside world and shrunk into itself. They circled the wagons and kept any prying eyes as far as possible away from the team. Leaks from inside the team are rare as there is now a trusted inner circle led by General Manager Kevyn Adams who has been groomed as Terry Pegula’s protégé.
Would it have been a public relations disaster to have the media there for Eichel’s arrival today? Maybe, but if Eichel wants to seek out the media and make his voice heard, he can do so whether-or-not media is present when he shows up to the Harborcenter. He can simply leak out whatever he likes via various NHL insiders if he so chooses. Pretending that Jack Eichel doesn’t exist isn’t the answer to their problem. This is like a dysfunctional family sending a problem child off to boarding school and then leaving the kid out of the Christmas card photo.
One thing the Sabres did announce Wednesday is the signing of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to a three-year, $18m contract which will leave him with one year of restricted free agent eligibility at the end of the deal, with arbitration rights, like the situation they found themselves in with Sam Reinhart over the summer. It’s understandable that Dahlin may not have wanted to go for a long-term deal after a season that saw him flounder under Ralph Krueger, but it’s ponderous that the Sabres weren’t able to sign him to a one-or-two-year deal that would have left them in a better position for the next contract.
Reinhart, of course, used his contractual leverage to muscle his way out of town which left the Sabres in the unenviable position of trying to extract value from a player who could have simply taken a one-year arbitration award and walked to free agency. The Sabres clearly didn’t view that as a serious consideration in the Dahlin negotiation and opted to go the exact same route here.
Finally, I’ve saved up enough energy to also rant about Dahlin a little bit here. After the news dropped that Dahlin had signed his deal, word came out that the Swedish defenseman would not be able to join the team until Friday due to COVID-19 protocol issues. That’s not a great look for a player who just signed an $18m deal. I get it: Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are not skating in Vancouver as they await their deals with the Canucks, so Dahlin surely had no obligation to be in Buffalo as he awaited his. Still, there was undoubtedly a sense that a deal was close, and it would have behooved the young man to make a flight into Buffalo in advance of Wednesday’s festivities (such as they were) to skate on his own in one of the many area rinks.
Dahlin is a central piece of the organization’s future, a fact which was acknowledged as the Sabres committed a sizable financial investment in him. Not being available to participate in team activities when the phone call came that there was a deal in place is unfortunate, although thankfully for team chemistry’s sake, it’ll only be a short window of practice time that he’ll miss.
It was a bad day all around for the Sabres. The team that can’t get out of its own way keeps inventing new ways to trip all over themselves while they also try to stifle coverage of a team that is bleeding fans by the day. I’m not sure anyone at KeyBank Center knows how this whole thing is supposed to work.
Quick programming note here: I’m camping for the weekend starting today so there will be no blog until Monday unless something big happens. It looks like I could use a vacation based on the ranting above.