I’m going to go ahead and say it. The Buffalo Sabres decision to wave and buyout Tim Kennedy’s one million dollar arbitration award was the right move. If the team adds another winger, a move I hope is in the works, it would have made Kennedy a million dollars of press box fodder. He’s not more dangerous offensively than Tyler Ennis. He’s not a better two way player than Jochen Hecht and he’s not a better energy player than Cody McCormick. The last thing you want as a fan or an owner is seeing that much money tied up in guys who aren’t being paid to play. The team’s initial offer, a two way contract, reflected this. Kennedy thought he was worth a more concrete deal, something his initiation of arbitration clearly reflects. But his demands were higher than his production and unfortunately for Tim, he moved towards the hearing with little in the way of leverage.
In his one and only season in the league, he scored ten goals and twenty six points, fine totals for a rookie, but not something worth going to court over. He was aware that depending on the arbitrator’s ruling, the Sabres could walk away from the award, or put him on waivers and buy out the deal, a fact Regier has explicitly stated. He pursued arbitration anyway, asking for more money than both Patrick Kaleta’s new deal and Mike Grier’s old one, despite being less important than either forward. Maybe Kennedy thought he was a bigger fish than he actually was, or he thought his hometown might give him a little more sway within the organization. He found out the hard way that was not the case.
Pretty much the only reason I’ll disapprove of the Sabres walking away from Kennedy is if Drew Stafford is being penciled into a healthy opening day lineup.
So why has a shrewd hockey move turned into a PR disaster? Look no further than the Sabres’ front office’s handling of the situation.
For starters, it was a move that came with no forewarning. There were no reports saying that the Sabres might tell him to hit the road if they didn’t like the award the way there have been with other failed arbitrations. Even when the million dollar ruling was made public, Regier’s comments were interpreted as “the award’s a bit high, but he’s a good player so we’re going with it.”
Three days later, Kennedy’s on waivers.
Had there been a single cautionary sound bite about competition for the team’s final roster spot up front and not wanting to pay players who won’t be day in day out guys, the move wouldn’t have been such a shock.
Secondly, saying that Kennedy would have put the team over budget was the worst excuse ever. They just signed their eighth (!) NHL ready defenseman to a deal that was twice as long and twice as expensive as what Kennedy got in arbitration.
If the team really wanted to keep him, they would have made the room to do so.
Honesty was the best policy here, and throwing up the budget smokescreen when the team is several million under the cap just served to give fans another reason to question ownership and management’s commitment to winning. Had Regier simply said they didn’t think Kennedy would be an 82 game guy and they didn’t want to pay him like one, the GM would have stifled criticism. Instead, Darcy opened up another can of worms by bringing up finances.
Finally, there’s the rumors abound about how the decision came from the top and the rampant speculation that the move was a big fat “don’t mess with us, peons” from ownership. Regier tried the best he could for damage control there by repeating “there’s no room for being vindictive,” but it was not to be. Flimsy excuses (the budget) and ridiculous analogies (comparing the Sabres’ “budget issues” to the Blackhawk’s cap troubles) doomed his interviews on the subject to be picked apart by bloggers and used as fodder for disgruntled fans.
All in all, it just goes to show that honesty and being up front with fans is the best policy, something the Sabres’ front office has yet to learn.
PS- I like the Shaone Morrisonn signing. I think he still has a little upside left and can be a dependable top four defenseman who will make the team harder to play against even though he isn’t a devastating open ice hitter. I’d predict a bigger Lydman with a few less hand-grenade moments.