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Vanek, Miller should be moved to complete culture change

By Tom Gallagher
On May 2, 2013

 

Despite popular belief, Darcy Regier has done a pretty good job lately.
 
Trading Jason Pominville spearheaded a necessary culture change in the Buffalo locker room earlier this
month. Adding a plethora of picks for aging defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold was gravy on
a statement-making deadline day.
 
And that statement should become a full-blown monologue this summer.
 
Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, set to enter their final year in a Buffalo uniform, are the last remaining
pieces of a core that has defined a mediocre Buffalo club since co-captains Danny Briere and Chris Drury
split town in 2007.
 
Regier, clearly given the vote of confidence from Terry Pegula to orchestrate a roster rebuild, should
cleanse his hands of both players.
 
Vanek's a one-dimensional winger who has been inconsistent since he entered the league. Miller has
been average ever since his Vezina campaign in 2010. Neither player is in their prime, and if the last
seven seasons are any indication, neither is winning a thing in blue and gold.
 
The two are unquestionably Buffalo's best players, but they're the best on a squad that hasn't won a
playoff series since they were handed the reins of the team in 2007. Buffalo's 8-4 loss to the Rangers
two weeks ago in a must-win, do-or-die game was a nice synopsis of Vanek and Miller's time in Buffalo.
They're the leaders of a team that consistently fails in big moments and never gets the job done.
 
Trading Miller, a supposed franchise goaltender in NHL circles, may set them back a bit. But for a team
in transition, does that really matter? Is investing $7 million on a goalie who hasn't led the Sabres to a
playoff series win since the slug jerseys were introduced smart for maintaining a balanced salary cap
structure?
 
Miller's not even an elite goalie. His numbers have been average to below average since 2006. His
Vezina campaign was an anomaly and he's had a knack for coming up short in big games since his rookie
year.
 
Building from the net out has become an archaic credo. There isn't a disparity between the upper and
middle echelons of netminders in the league anymore because the league's top goalies can't will an
average team to a championship like they once could.
 
Regier should ride Jhonas Enroth and Matt Hackett in net next year or see what he has in Amerks MVP
David Leggio. The team probably won't be competitive regardless of who's in goal, so going with a
young, cheap tandem and returning a solid asset for Miller is the way to go.
 
Losing Vanek has its downside from a goal scoring perspective. The winger has climbed to sixth on
Buffalo's all-time goals scored list. He's the purest scorer the Sabres have drafted in years.
 
But Buffalo managed a winning record without him in the lineup this year (5-2-3). Correlation may not
imply causation. But he's annually playing hurt, rendering his game ineffective much of the time.
 
In the team's end-of-season press conference Monday, Regier said that Sabres fans might have to
endure some suffering before the team contends for a Cup. It almost sounded as though the departure
or both Vanek and Miller was inevitable in his eyes, as it should be.
 
A new leadership core will step forward. It's a natural result of roster turnover. But it needs to be
comprised of players that are mentally mature and able to handle the rigors an 82-game season and
two-month playoff run present.
 
Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Mike Weber and Mark Pysyk captained their respective junior squads.
Even newcomer Brian Flynn, a pleasant surprise this year, donned the 'C' playing at the University of
Maine. Coupling that youth movement with veterans like Steve Ott and Christian Ehrhoff should make
for a more-than-capable leadership group taking over the dressing room.
 
Trading away the final pieces of a failed core of players - a group that once included Pominville, Vanek,
Miller, Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad - would put an exclamation point on an organization-wide shift in
culture and playing style.
 
Regier has already added hungrier players in Ott, Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson by trading away
members of the post-2007 core. He's targeted players who hate losing puck battles and are physically
engaged in all facets of the game - players that will help the Sabres into and through the playoffs.
 
He's added players that are the antithesis of the Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller-led Sabres.
 
And he can't stop now.
 
Tom Gallagher can be reached by email at gallagher.record@live.com or on twitter @gallagt01.

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