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With Tyler Myers, Sabres finally spend the money to keep their own

9/15/2011

On July 1, Tyler Myers will wake up to find a check for $10 million sitting next to his bedside table.

That sizeable fortune represents a signing bonus that is part of a seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension the former rookie of the year signed Thursday morning.

That kind of money will buy you a lot of suicide wings at Duff's or the Anchor Bar.

It's also the kind of money that folks in Buffalo got used to reading about other teams spending, not the hometown Sabres.

It's not a new story, but the Myers contract extension is another indication of just how dramatically the landscape has changed in one of the most passionate hockey markets in the United States.

Even though the Buffalo Sabres roared out of the post-lockout gate with two straight final four appearances, any fan will tell you the past six seasons have been marked just as much by ownership's inability or reluctance to play with the big boys when it came to spending money.

Everyone knows dollars spent don't necessarily translate into playoff games won, but there is a direct relationship between key players departing and stunted development, which has been the case in Buffalo.

Management failed to lock up co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, both of whom were key to the Sabres' success in 2006 and 2007, and the team never recovered. They missed the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 and were bounced in the first round the past two springs. They couldn't or wouldn't pay Brian Campbell what the smooth-skating defenseman wanted, and he went on to win a Cup in Chicago. Jay McKee left, as did Mike Grier, J.P. Dumont, Maxim Afinogenov and the list goes on.

For years, the Sabres have used the trade deadline as a time of unloading instead of loading up. But all that changed when longtime Buffalo fan Terry Pegula bought the team midway through last season.

GM Darcy Regier went out and added sniper Brad Boyes at the 2011 trade deadline. Then Regier did his best drunken sailor impersonation in the offseason, acquiring veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr and his hefty contract from Calgary before signing Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff to whopper deals.

Prior to the lockout and the introduction of a salary cap, the Sabres' payroll would routinely be between one-third and a quarter what the big boys in Toronto, Detroit and Colorado were spending. As of Thursday morning, according to CapGeek.com, the Sabres were almost $3.6 million over the salary cap and had spent more money than any other NHL team.

The Myers deal, which kicks in next season, reinforces to Sabres fans and the rest of the hockey world that Buffalo is not just adding pieces but keeping its own.

No one will be delivering an offer sheet on Myers, as the Edmonton Oilers did with Thomas Vanek in the summer of 2007 in hopes that the cash-strapped Sabres would buckle.

Myers, 21, is locked down. Let the chicken wings flow.

The lanky young man -- he stands 6-foot-8 -- who wowed fans and critics two years ago with his smooth transition from junior hockey to the NHL game represents the way of the future for big-money deals.

In the past, GMs opened the vault for players with thick resumes, and often those resumes were sadly disproportionate to what the players brought to the ice.

How many players earned how many millions of dollars from the New York Rangers based on deeds long past as opposed to actual value on the ice over the life of those deals?

And the Rangers weren't the only ones.

Now teams are opening the vault for what might happen, for the deeds they believe they can foresee these young players producing.

But, the gamble is no less risky.

Washington's fine center Nicklas Backstrom struggled through an abysmal regular season last year, the first of a monster 10-year, $67 million contract extension. The slick center then followed that with an even worse turn in the playoffs.

That said, Backstrom is 23 and one assumes there are better days ahead.

Even Myers' early NHL career has not been without its stutter-steps. After winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2010, Myers and the Sabres struggled early in the season. In an interview with ESPN.com last week, Myers acknowledged that he'd tried to do too much and his game suffered as a result.

By the end of the year, Myers seemed to be back in his groove. He had six points in the last three games of the Sabres' first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, while playing between 21 and 28 minutes a night in the series.

Will a contract that's going to keep Myers in wings and hot sauce for the next seven years guarantee the Sabres will uncork some Stanley Cup champagne along the way? Of course not. But it does guarantee that the Sabres' dynamic new identity is now firmly entrenched in the hockey world.