The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 06/29/16 at 08:39 AM ET
A big and shiny new hockey-themed complex attached to the arena. A remodeled locker room and training facilities. As good a selection of local restaurants as you'll find just about anywhere.
And on top of all of that, a hockey-crazed city with a young and promising team, led by a teenage phenom already drawing predictions that he'll eventually be considered the greatest player in franchise history.
Wooing a big fish like Steven Stamkos into this hockey utopia should be as easy as finding a tasty chicken wing downtown, right?
The day when the narrative of "but it's Buffalo" becomes an obsolete hot take could be here soon, but we're just not quite there. Not yet.
As much as we love our 19-year-old franchise superstar and have visions of free agents clamoring to get here to be on his team, the "Eichel Effect" is missing one key component: wins. It's easy to say the Sabres will be a perennial contender, but we really don't know how soon or to what extent.
Neither do unrestricted free agents, and that can be a problem when winning a Stanley Cup as soon as possible is a major motivating factor when choosing a destination.
Does Stamkos think Buffalo is closer to a championship than Detroit, the Rangers or Montreal? Not likely. Who knows -- he may not even think we're any closer than Toronto.
The harsh reality is that using Eichel as the selling point isn't a strong enough move on its own to reel in an A-list elite player like Stamkos, simply because there isn't enough evidence at the moment that the just-completed rebuild is going to reap huge benefits. Stamkos could very well choose a team like the Red Wings and have another budding superstar in Dylan Larkin playing wing on the same line.
But there is a man who can swing the odds in Buffalo's favor, and his name is Terry Pegula.
If reports that the Sabres are willing to go as high as $12 million per year are accurate, then there's a fighting chance. To detract Stamkos from going home to join the Leafs, or from becoming the main man in Detroit, they may have to go even higher.
These kinds of numbers have scared off some Sabres fans who are concerned the payroll will take too much of a hit. But Tim Murray said you can fit a player with that salary on your team, and I firmly believe him.
The cap isn't $50 million anymore. Salaries are increasing but the cap hits of contracts aren't going up proportionally at the same rate as the payroll ceiling. Would anyone be shocked if the cap reached $90 million during the course of Stamkos' next contract? They shouldn't. If you go by historical data, it's practically a mathematical certainty.
But most other teams -- maybe all of them -- won't be willing to go all-in to the extent Buffalo will to get Stamkos. It is admittedly an aggressive and risky move, and many in Buffalo -- this writer included -- are ready for their filthy rich owner to play the high risk / high reward game.
Pegula is the man who will have to pull out all the stops to get this done. He'll need the helicopter, the charming personality with the elevator pitch, and -- most importantly -- a lot more money than any other team is willing to pay. And there's a good chance that even all of that won't be enough.
When and if the time comes where the Sabres are an annual visitor to the later rounds of the playoffs, you won't hear about how less of a city Buffalo is when their team is in pursuit of free agents. Many great players will look at the chance to be a champion, and the Eichel Effect will yield much greater power.
But until that time comes, Buffalo should be thankful for an owner who has the wherewithal to make things happen and, when the biggest fish is there for the taking, give his team at least a fighting chance at landing him.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]