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Stars and Sabres seeking identity

When a team doesn't make the playoffs, count on one thing: Change is coming.

It can't be cosmetic. It has to be significant in tone, so much so that it sends a clear signal that better days are ahead to the players still in the room and to fans who are getting tired of digging too deep into their wallets for too little entertainment.

Which is why the deal that saw the Sabres ship Derek Roy to Dallas in exchange for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy is so interesting.

Both the Sabres and Stars have been on the outside looking in for too long. It's been four years since Dallas last saw playoff action. In Buffalo, it's been three DNQs over the last five years, mixed in with two one-and-dones.

Each team has obvious holes in its lineup. More to the point, each faces something of an identity crisis. It's how they are addressing them that's telling.

It's been a curious couple of days for Dallas. The decision to deal aging center Mike Ribeiro to Washington for young center Cody Eakin appeared to signal a much-needed commitment to rebuilding...until the Stars' free agent signing of Ray Whitney and the deal for Roy this week suggested the opposite.

GM Joe Nieuwendyk no doubt took a look at Roy and saw a buy-low opportunity. In theory, that's the smart approach... but sometimes there's a good reason an asset has been devalued. In Roy's case, it was more than just a few dings and dents that led to the mark-down.

To be fair to Roy, he was miscast in Buffalo, where the bungled handling of free agents Chris Drury and Danny Briere years ago had never been properly addressed. A player better suited for a lesser role was forced into the responsibilities that come with playing on the first line.

You can't blame Roy or any other player for failing under those circumstances.

But you can't overlook his lack of attention to defensive detail or his slow shift changes, either. Nor his reputation for being a me-first guy that came to a head when he publicly blasted coach Lindy Ruff this spring.

As one Sabres' staffer put it after being asked about Roy's departure, "That's addition by subtraction there."

Roy had gotten stale in Buffalo, so maybe a change of pace is exactly what he needs to get back to his best hockey. Playing behind a star like Jamie Benn should be a more comfortable fit for him than a lead role.

And maybe he'll get back to the 60-point range and add some zip to a dreadful power play. It might even lead to a few more wins next season... but to what end? At 29, and with a year to go before UFA status, Roy looks like another finger in the dike. And what does that mean for the Stars? Another year or two of being in the hunt, only to fall short? Another first rounder in the 10-15 range?

Nieuwendyk is regarded as a smart man around the league. So smart that it's worth wondering whether he's getting input from above on these deals. They sure don't feel like they're coming from a unified vision.

The Sabres, on the other hand, are approaching their own sea change with a clear goal in mind.

GM Darcy Regier doesn't seem too concerned by the hole at center that was created by Roy's departure. Nor should he be. Roy wasn't part of the solution to the Sabres' problems, so moving him makes sense.

So does adding Ott.

The Sabres of the last few years have been an unbalanced lot, too high on the skill, too low on the will. Anyone who saw five guys in blue shuffling their feet after Milan Lucic plowed over Ryan Miller knows that all too well.

This was a team that desperately needed a bit more spit and vinegar in the lineup. There may be no one who brings more of that than Ott, a guy who takes pride in how hated he is around the league.

His offensive upside doesn't come close to matching what Roy can bring at his best, but he should score 12-15 goals in a third line role. He'll be an elite penalty killer. He'll be a tremendous leader in a locker room that could use one. He'll bang and snarl and crash and do whatever it takes to win.

And he won't stand there looking at his skates if someone takes liberties with a teammate.

Will Ott take the occasional badly timed penalty? Yep, but that's a decent trade-off for a guy so dedicated to his team that he tweeted a picture of himself in a Buffalo sweater just hours after the deal went down.

The Sabres needed an attitude adjustment. Ott gives them exactly that.

Give Regeir credit. His model didn't work, so he's tearing it down and rebuilding it with players like Ott and Marcus Foligno and draft pick Zemgus Girgensons.

It'll take time, but at least it's taking shape.

That's why it's not so much about who won or lost this exchange of players, but about which team has a better handle on what it wants to be.

And that would be the Sabres.

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