New York Islanders, 1995
Buffalo Sabres, 1997-present
President’s Trophy, 2006-2007
Northeast Division Titles, 2006-2007, 2009-2010
Playoff Appearances: 1998-2001, 2006-2007, 2010-2011
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance: 1999
Darcy Regier is the longest serving general manager in Buffalo Sabres history (not bad when you consider that Punch Imlach and Scotty Bowman also served as general manager as well) and is tied with Detroit’s Ken Holland and Washington’s George McPhee as the third longest tenured GM in the NHL today (only New Jersey’s Lou Lamoriello and Carolina’s Jim Rutherford have served longer for one team).
According to my rating system Regier ranks 13th among all active NHL general managers in career value (between Chicago’s Stan Bowman and Calgary’s Jay Feaster) and 15th in Average Seasonal Rating (between Nashville’s David Poile and Ottawa’s Bryan Murray).
Although he ranks among the top fifty of all time Regier has never been a dominating presence in terms of managerial team accomplishment. He ranks 23rd among all NHL GMs who served during the 21st Century; 14th during the 2010s; and lower still (25th) during the 2000s.
During his tenure, Regier’s Buffalo Sabres have become a team that is borderline successful with occasional spasms of excellence and futility.
Darcy Regier was a defenceman who was drafted in 1976 by the now defunct California Golden Seals (who promptly relocated to Cleveland). Regier had brief cups of coffee with the doomed Cleveland Barons and, later, the New York Islanders but spent most of his playing career in the minors. One of the minor league teams he played were the Indianapolis Checkers who happened to be managed by Jim Devellano—a man who inspired Regier to pursue a career in hockey team management.
When his playing career ended he immediately found work in the Islander front office working under the legendary Bill Torrey—who taught Jim Devellano everything he knew). Regier learned the ins and outs of hockey management by serving in a wide spectrum of front office activities: director administration, assistant director of hockey operations, assistant coach (for the Hartford Whalers for one season), and assistant general manager.
For a brief shining moment Regier was interim GM of the Islanders for ten days after Don Maloney had been fired in 1995 and keeping the seat warm until Mike Milbury took Maloney’s place. (The Islanders should have kept Regier as manager because Mike Milbury’s record as a GM was even more pathetic than Don Maloney’s).
Regier’s time came in 1997 when the Sabres hired him to replace John Muckler. One month after he took over, Regier hired Lindy Ruff to become the Sabres head coach. Together they have led the Sabres through seasons of plenty and seasons of want. Ruff, like Regier, ranks among the top fifty hockey coaches of all time.
As GM, Regier began practicing what his mentors Bill Torrey and Jim Devellano taught him long ago: build through the amateur draft. During his years in Buffalo, Regier has shown a keen eye for talent: Henrik Tallinder and Maxim Afinogenov in 1997; Ales Kotalik in 1998; 2010 Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in 1999; Paul Gaustad in 2000; Derek Roy and Jason Pominville in 2001; Daniel Paille in 2002; Thomas Vanek in 2003; and Tyler Myers in 2008. At times nearly 60% of the Sabres roster has featured home-grown talent.
Regier adopted this policy for a reason. The Sabres performed well during his first four seasons; reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1999 but after 2001 the team suffered a three period of financial hardship which required Regier to unload talent. The departure of Dominik Hasek is a prime example of this.
The Sabres endured three losing seasons (Regier earned 19 of his 25 minus points during this time period). After the 2004/05 lockout ended Buffalo had re-honed its cutting edge; reaching the conference finals in 2006 and 2007; and winning the President’s Trophy during the 2006/07 season.
Since then, however, the team has slowed down: failing to reach the playoffs three out of the last five seasons. Again talent was traded away or lost to free-agency (the loss of Danny Briere to Philadelphia for instance).
This past July Darcy Regier traded away Derek Roy to Dallas for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. Now that play will resume the Sabres are standing at the crossroads. As a team they need to rise out of the muck they’ve fallen into; overcome the stagnation that has reduced Regier’s (and Lindy Ruff’s) value as an NHL GM (and NHL head coach).
For 14 seasons Darcy Regier has had to manage within himself. What’s needed now is a Season of going above and beyond; a season of pushing the envelope into a newer territory where the team can acquire a newer, greater strength as a franchise.
(My next column will feature Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.)