Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why not Arnott?

The last time a team won a Stanley Cup without a previous Cup-winning player on it was the Calgary Flames.

The Buffalo Sabres have had one Cup-winning player on the team since Chris Drury left five years ago--Rob Neidermayer. They went to the playoffs that year taking Philadelphia to seven games before bowing out.

In the other four seasons, they made the playoffs once, having missed last season.

So, why is there not a focus upon bringing in that type of leadership? Is there an aversion to bringing in these types of players? Or do those types of players have an aversion to Buffalo?

Probably more of the latter, as Buffalo is still struggling to get respect, but then again, we never even hear of the Sabres going after players like that.

The Vancouver Canucks came within one win of the Stanley Cup two years ago, they have respect, and they're said to be interested in Jason Arnott as a Plan-B should they not land free agent Shane Doan.

Last night they wined and dined (literally) Doan, looking to add the top free agent left on the market. By the way, Doan does not have a Buffalo visit on agenda.

The 'Nucks owner, Francisco Aquilini, along with GM Mike Gillis, and assistant GM Laurence Gilman made their pitch to Doan over some Italian food (paired with some fine Italian Wine, one would assume) at a local restaurant.

Vancouver is a quality team, in a quality metropolitan city with a rabid (sometimes too rabid) fan base. It's also an area that Doan and his wife are familiar with. In fact it would be a very good destination for him and his family should Phoenix falter on the ownership issue and they decide to move.

But, they also have a Plan-B in place should it not work out.

"One way or another," says Luke Fox of, "the Vancouver Canucks are determined to add a skilled veteran presence to their core of forwards for 2012/13."
Fox goes on to mention that the team has already had preliminary discussions with Arnott, the 37 year old veteran, Cup-winning center.

Ben Kuzma of The Province in Vancouver leads off his piece by saying "the riddle in the middle might be solved by Arnott."

With Cody Hodgson being traded to Buffalo last season, the Canucks need a third-line center. In fact, the #2 center spot will be open while Ryan Kessler recovers from surgery and they have Arnott in their "crosshairs."

Arnott's agent, and brother Wade, knows the deal when it comes to players at this stage of their career. Both he and Jason are prepared for a series of one-year deals to finish his career, and they still believe he has a lot to offer.

Of course, as an agent, he says that his brother "is probably one of the most fit clients we've had," and will point to Jason's 17 goals/17 assist with St. Louis last season as a testament to his abilities.

Unlike Doan, though, Arnott is not a top-line player putting up strong numbers. But, like Doan, he brings "the intangibles."

"He brings exactly what the team needs," Wade said of his possible Vancouver destination. "Part of his role (on St. Louis last year) was to be a leader and bring the experience and he really taught the young core what it takes to be a pro. That's why we've looked around because he still wants to do that and he still wants to win."

The Buffalo Sabres, for their part, have a new core rising in players like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno and Nathan Gerbe.

Unfortunately, their introduction into the National Hockey League was with "the Rochester Guys" as their mentors.

"The Rochester Guys" are the old core which were brought up post-lockout, had success in secondary roles, but who floundered in primary leadership roles. Their individual stats may have been up there, but they've had average, at best, team success.

Two of the old core are now gone as Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy were both traded in the last five months. Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and captain Jason Pominville are the remaining "core" members. All three have acquitted themselves well over the last five years and it would seem as if they'll continue to be a part of the team near-term.

The Sabres, as everyone knows, are weak down the middle and their top-two centers--Ennis and Hodgson--are 22 yrs. old. They have options at the fourth-line center spot with the likes of Cody McCormick and have two youngsters in 2012 first round draft picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons who could be knocking at the door this year. But, even with the trade for Hodgson and the drafting of those two centers, they're still looking to add to the center position.

Why not Arnott? He's a bottom-six center who can still produce. Yet we don't here his name being mentioned in Sabres circles.

It begs the question, why not?

Is it a case of the team not wanting him? Or is it a case of Arnott not looking at Buffalo as a destination this year?

As for the former, rumor has it that the team thinks he's too slow. One would hope that's not the case. We've seen what all that speed and skill has done for the team. Neidermayer was slow, yet the team made the playoffs the only year he was here. And in the playoffs he was exactly what they needed.

Buffalo, like Vancouver, has a void at the #3 spot, yet Canucks don't feel as if he's too slow. Or maybe they know it, but don't care because he brings other traits that the team is lacking.

Are the Sabres so much better than the Canucks that they feel it unnecessary to make overtures to a veteran like Arnott? Is GM Darcy Regier smarter than 'Nucks GM Mike Gillis?

Don't put it past Regier. Back in 2007 he believed that "the Rochester Guys" would grow into their new found leadership roles after the departures of Drury and Briere. They didn't. So eschewing a vet like Arnott would be a sure sign of hubris, but not all that far-fetched for Regier.

As for the latter, would a player like Arnott, who's in the sunset of his career, want to come to Buffalo? A team considered merely a playoff contender?

There are other options for the player, like Vancouver, which would obviously be a better fit. Although, if that falls through, he'll be out there looking for another destination.

Buffalo is probably down the list of potential destinations for a number of reasons, but how does they overcome these recruiting hurdles?

For unrestricted free agents it often times comes down to salary and term.

One would think that a pay raise and maybe even a two-year contract, would help tilt the balance in Buffalo's favor. If Arnott and his agent are looking at a 1yr./$2.5M offer from another team, how much more attractive would a 2yr./$6M be? Or maybe a little more.

We know how much the Sabers threw at Ville Leino. And it's rumored that Buffalo made a 4yr./$30M pitch to Doan.

Would they overpay for the type of Cup-winning, veteran leadership that Arnott brings?

They should. Last season the St. Louis Blues won the Central Division with Arnott making significant contributions. One must also keep in mind that although the Sabres are not considered Stanley Cup contenders, the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup as an 8th seed last year, so the "just get in and anything can happen" scenario does have a precedent. By the way, the Kings had three Cup-winning players on their team.

The Sabres have about $8M in cap-space right now with only Ennis to re-sign. Even if he gets $3M that still leaves them with a $5M cushion. More than enough to overpay for Arnott.

If they're willing to shell out ridiculous contracts for skill, which got them no where last season, why not overpay for the intangibles that have been missing most of the last five seasons?

The team needs a bottom-six center. They need veteran leadership up front. They need a Cup-winner to teach the new core "what it takes to be a pro."

The Sabres need a guy like Arnott. Even if they need to overpay to get him.

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