Derek Roy broke onto the Sabres scene during the 2003-04 campaign with a modest 49 games and 19 points. Then came the lockout. Players struggled to find places to play hockey, but Roy was merely delegated back to spending the 2004-05 season with the Rochester Americans. He put up another good season with the Amerks scoring 61 points in 67 games. With the return from the lockout and the start of the 05-06 season Derek Roy was fortunate to not have any pressure placed squarely on his shoulders. He was a young player on a team full of veterans that included Mike Grier, JP Dumont, Chris Drury and Danny Briere who were expected to do most of the heavy lifting. Roy played a significant amount of that season with Chris Drury and Mike Grier on what became a line that consistently matched up against the opposing team’s top line. They were not expected to do the bulk of the scoring but Roy managed 46 points in 70 games for his first full season.
With the departure of JP Dumont, Mike Grier and others after that season there was an expectation that some of the Sabres younger talent would emerge, including Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Roy. Roy has a fantastic year during the 2006-07 season, during which he saw a return back to the middle and registered 63 points in 75 games and an astounding +37 rating. Roy was the benefactor of still being on the team’s third line nestled behind Chris Drury and Danny Briere. He was able to out skate most team’s third lines which in many instances are a checking line used to raise energy. Often they didn’t match Roy’s skill level. By the end of the 2007 NHL playoffs there was an overwhelming optimism about the Sabres. Fans were pretty certain that Chris Drury OR Danny Briere would exit, but that Roy would then make his move up to one of the top two lines to complement the returning player.
It seems to go without reason that any blog post about the Sabres recently can’t go without mentioning 7/1/07, however when the Sabres failed to re-sign both Danny Briere and Chris Drury the immediate backlash of expectations fell squarely on Roy’s shoulders. Roy was the newly anointed #1 center on a team that had come over back-to-back conference finals runs and seen essentially every veteran leader from those two seasons leave town. Darcy Reiger anointed both Roy and Tim Connolly as two of the top 20 centers in the league and that the Sabres were on solid ground with the center position.
Much like Thomas Vanek, the contract Derek Roy became inflated by the pressure the front office felt after letting their two captains walk out the door. Roy received a six year contract for$24m and the heightened expectations had arrived.
The Sabres struggled during the 07-08 and 08-09 seasons and missed the playoffs both times. Roy however, did not struggle as much registering 81 points in 78 games in 07-08. His total would fall in the following season but still marked his second best season. The 2009-10 season saw his point total dip a single point, but the Sabres returned to the playoffs. During the playoffs however, Roy only registered 2 assists in the six game series against the Bruins and rumblings began. In the ensuing offseason fans began to question whether Roy and Tim Connolly were good enough to carry this team like their predecessors.
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season Derek Roy proved he belonged. He proved the worth of his contract and was the Sabres best player. He averaged 1 point per game while registering 10 goals and 25 assists before being injured. The problem for Roy was he was the best player on the worst team in the league. He had no help. Tyler Myers had entered the season on a sophomore slump and Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford were non-existent through those opening months of the season. After Roy’s injury the sentiment was that the season was a wash and that the front office needed to oversee wholesale changes to the lineup and position themselves for 7/1/2011. It was then that the team went on a remarkable post January 1st run that saw them post the 2nd best record in the league and make the playoffs as a six seed. The series battled for six games and the Sabres became decimated by injuries. The prevailing thought was that if the Sabres had advanced to the 2nd round that Roy would be in a position to return. Instead his hard work and determination to return was bumped up 1 game. Roy returned, but was not in game shape nor in position to carry the team offensively and defensively with the absences of Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly. The season was over, but the questions lingered.
Here and Now
Due to the remarkable second half run, fans began to question Roy’s value to the team and what he was actually contributing. People questioned whether he was a team player or merely looking to fill his stat sheet at the expense of the team. Fans wondered if his $4m cap hit was justified and whether he should be part of the team going forward. As we approach July 1st, those questions are going to weigh heavily on the minds of fans while waiting on news of what prized free agents Darcy Regier can attain or what trades he can swindle. The fact remains though that Derek Roy has incredible value to this team going forward in a multitude of ways. First, he’s a player that has averaged 0.82 points per game for his career (Danny Briere’s is 0.80) and that at $4m per year is a relative bargain as a potential top two center. Secondly, if the Sabres decide to pursue a center through the trade market, Derek Roy may need to be a key ingredient to achieve that. Teams are most likely going to be reluctant if not, unwilling to part with a top center or top center prospect without receiving someone to fill that spot in the roster.
The Sabres would be best served by keeping Roy if possible and preserving his spot on the team and still trying to land a top tier center. Depth down the middle is paramount in this league and if Derek Roy and say Brad Richards/Paul Stastny/whoever are the Sabres first and second line centers, I think it makes them a much more formidable opponent not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs. The talent pool of younger NHLers and AHLers is extremely deep for the Sabres organization and its time that Darcy starts playing some of his poker chips for the here and now of the organization rather than hedging his bets.
Brian Bund is a Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills fan currently residing with his family in Syracuse, New York. He is a contributing writer at Hockey Heaven, Buffalo Wins and the author of the The Buffalo Sports Fan blog. You can reach him on Twitter at: @brianbund