Let’s just say the early luster of Terry Pegula’s ownership of the Buffalo Sabres has been wiped clean. The same, stuck-in-the-mud, crappy product that’s been peddled since July 1st, 2007 remains intact. No matter how much money you throw at the team, it’s the same, stale product. The culture of the franchise needed to be changed. The removal of the entire front office and coaching staff needed to take place this past summer. It didn’t, and all of a sudden, the Terry Pegula era is quickly resembling Sabres’ ownership periods of the past decade.
What did happen instead was a lot of talk… the reference of making the Sabres organization “Hockey Heaven”, whatever that means. Buzzwords and things of that nature are shallow, “feel good” phrases. It’s easier to create a level of “harmony”, fake or otherwise, than to make actual, concrete changes to a vanilla, tired franchise like the Sabres.
It’s one thing to purchase a sports franchise, it’s a whole different thing when you cannot see the changes needed to be made, or are unwilling to set your own foundation and your own direction, instead of simply inheriting a mediocre entity from the previous owner.
Instead of changing the current, entrenched regime, Pegula gave Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier his seal of approval. When approached after the February press conference of the purchase of the team, Pegula stated (paraphrasing), “I didn’t hear anything negative about him”, in reference to Regier. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of your general manager.
Regier was like a kid in a candy store, with all sorts of money to use on bringing in free agents. One glaring error was made in the acquisition of Ville Leino. Just when the Sabres finally rid themselves of Tim Connolly, they go and bring in a player making less of an impact than Connolly, and they did it for a 6-year term. Acquiring Leino is one move they should be regretting at this point.
The franchise has also retained its coddled nature, where accountability is still not part of the modus operandi in the day-to-day operations. It’s difficult to be accountable when there’s no fear for one’s job security. If fledgling defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani can’t be sent to the press box for his nightly miscues, then nobody needs to fear for their job security.
This is why, if the Sabres can’t change their ways this season and at least win one round in the playoffs, Pegula, Ted Black and Ken Sawyer should put together lists of individuals who would become the new general manager and new head coach of the team. New front office and coaching hires wouldn’t be indebted to the tired core of Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad, et al. The era of the lack of accountability would be pushed aside, finally.
Terry Pegula purchased a hockey franchise that he has been a fan of for over 30 years. He inherited the previous ownership’s front office and most of the coaching staff. He was handed the remnants of 14 years of inconsistent results overseen by Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff. Pegula shouldn’t feel indebted to retaining the duo if things don’t improve, in the same light that a new general manager and coach would make player personnel changes, because they wouldn’t be indebted to the current, listless roster.
Pegula, despite his usually congenial personality, let loose after the recent 8-3 debacle in Pittsburgh. Going by what the mainstream media said, Pegula basically wondered if his aspiring tennis star daughter could have provided better goaltending than Ryan Miller. Miller and Jason Pominville provided nonchalant responses. The responses are not surprising coming from a team that plays and communicates with the media in a very aloof fashion.
The Sabres are indeed a franchise in need of a culture change. I don’t expect major changes during this season, but another early playoff exit or a non-appearance in the postseason should seal the fates of Regier and Ruff and then the Sabres franchise can begin to truly change the culture and direction of the team.