A little over two years ago on February 8th 2011, Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula burst onto the Western New York scene similar to how former Hall of Fame Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly did in 1986, he took the sports scene by storm, created a new excitement, a new beginning.
This was going to be a special time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan.
Pegula said all the right things that struck the positive sports nerves of Buffalo Sabres fans everywhere. ‘Money Is No Object’ ‘The only objective is to win Stanley Cups’ and ‘I don’t care if I lose money, if I need more money, Ill drill for more oil’ are some of the loosely used catchphrases that resonated throughout Western New York.
Even beyond that, he shed tears at his press conference. Mr. Pegula showed the emotion and passion that embodied the very fan base of the team he now owns.
Most, including myself thought that finally, the Buffalo Sabres have been saved from the doldrums. Former Sabres owners Tom Golisano and John Rigas will just be afterthoughts. Welcome to Pegulaville: the population growing by the second.
Wild thoughts abound from the Sabres fan-base: From the thought of seeing the Sabres hoist that elusive Stanley Cup., to even becoming the new Hockey Town of the USA. The sky is the limit.
It seemed that everything Pegula was doing to better the franchise was a hit. Remodeling the arena, upgrading the facilities, being aggressive in both the trade, FA and draft markets. Pegula can do no wrong.
And now here we are two years later, and the Sabres are still selling tickets like wildfire despite the lockout. Life is grand for Pegula.
But is it? Is there more to the story in Buffalo then meets the eye? Buffalo News writer Bucky Gleason sure seems to think so and brought out some very interesting comments from ‘sources regarding Pegula and his handling of General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff.
Gleason mentioned that another Eastern Conference GM is happy Regier and Ruff are still here because that means they can ‘scratch off a team from their list’ of contenders. Of course these sources cannot be named, and I understand Gleason’s reasoning for that. Gleason has gone now where no Buffalo sports reporter has dared to venture: Take on Saint Pegula.
And Gleason might of nailed it, and the denial from some Sabres fans is evident.
Let’s rewind back to what Pegula said in 2011 about the ‘only reason we are in existence is to win Stanley Cups’. Hundreds of Head Coaches and dozens and dozens of GM’s have come and gone, and yet Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier have persevered. Heck, Regier ever got a contract extension from Pegula. For what exactly- mastering the technique of finishing 9th in the conference?
Is this to say everything Regier has done has been a failure? No. The Danny Briere trade was a stroke of genius and revitalized the franchise on their way to two straight Eastern Conference Finals. The Cody Hodgson for Zach Kassian trade was one that just about any NHL person will say benefited both teams.
But is it fair to say almost any GM that has reigned over a team for this long will hit pay-dirt every so often? Has Regier lived off of 3-4 stellar seasons, causing management and ownership to overlook 6-7 years of falling short of expectations? Yes.
Can the same even be said for Lindy Ruff? Absolutely.
Ruff has had some great moments as a coach: Four Eastern Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup appearance in 1999. But his teams of late have disappointed more then overachieved and the patterns are annual now: Slow starts to the season, and trying to win like gangbusters at the end of the season, fall short, give false hopes, rinse, and repeat.
Lindy Ruff is the Andy Reid of the National Hockey League: Very good coach with some excellent moments. But like in Philadelphia with the Eagles, it was time for Reid and the Eagles to part ways. The same has to be said for Ruff and Buffalo. Lindy will surely land somewhere else and be a very good coach. I like Lindy. But it is apparent the mix just isn’t right now.
A new voice is needed, and the time is now.
So now the onus is squarely on Terry Pegula. Is he meddling too much? Is his passion a detriment to the franchise? Is his loyalty working against him?
Time will tell on that front. But one thing is for certain: The lovely Honeymoon period for Pegulaville is over, now it is marriage time. Let the nagging commence.