Over the past few years, the Buffalo Sabres have continually let go of their star players, starting in 2001 with the loss of Michael Peca, an all-star forward who won a gold medal with Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics and went on to lead the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
Peca and the Sabres had a contract dispute before he was traded for Tim Connolly. Connolly has been a good player for the Sabres, but there is one major difference between him and Peca: Connolly has a career plus/minus of -53 while Peca has a career plus/minus of +72.
More recently, after the 2006-2007 season, in which the Sabres led the NHL in wins, star players Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were set to become free agents. Instead of offering them contract extensions to keep them in Buffalo, the Sabres let them sign with conference rivals the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
In the following season, the Sabres saw their win total drop by 14, as they failed to make the playoffs while the Rangers and Flyers both did.
At the end of the 2007-2008 season, the Sabres' perennial all-star defenseman Brian Campbell was to be a free agent again, and instead of negotiating an extension, the Sabres traded him to the San Jose Sharks in the middle of the season. The Sharks went on to win the Pacific Division while the Sabres missed the playoffs.
Yet again, after last season, the Sabres failed to sign any top free agents. Their only moves were trading for defenseman Craig Rivet and signing a mediocre Matt Ellis. Ellis has a grand total of three goals and five assists in 75 career NHL games. The Sabres need to do better than this to be competitive.
They could have pursued highly touted free agent Marian Hossa, who helped lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals and has scored over 30 goals in every full season he has played since 1999.
Instead, Hossa signed with the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup last season. The Red Wings remain one of the top teams in the NHL every year because, unlike the Sabres, they keep their star players and sign top players in free agency. The Red Wings have won seven consecutive Central Division titles and have not missed the playoffs since 1990.
The current Red Wings roster consists of many great players they have gotten through free agency: Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson (who won an Olympic Gold Medal with Sweden in 2006), Dan Cleary (who has scored 20 goals in each of the last two seasons), all-star defenseman Brian Rafalski, and four-time all-star and three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Chris Osgood.
The Red Wings have been consistently successful-unlike the Sabres-because the Red Wings are willing to spend money to get good players. This year, expect the Red Wings to win the Central Division again and be a Stanley Cup contender while the Sabres sit at home during the playoffs.