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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

Give em enough rope…

Perhaps some level of sanity will reign across the Internet now and into the future after yesterday’s craziness that dealt with Buffalo Sports Daily and a member of the Buffalo Bills.  The story has been quickly squashed by the mainstream media, thanks in part by contacting more appropriate sources, i.e. those in law enforcement.

Some people rambling around in the blogosphere often become trigger-happy trying to “break” a story.  Whether the information they receive is fact or fiction, whether the sources they have are reputable enough, it’s becoming necessary in the minds of some to be the first to break a story.  As is being witnessed now, being the first to break a story can create some unnecessary headaches.

I have worked in the news business for several years.  I know co-workers will go through several different channels to substantiate information / rumors.  They don’t take to reporting that kind of information lightly.  The lack of substantiation that often is associated with online bloggers does more harm and disservice to online media than the perpetrators themselves will care to understand.

Online bloggers need to realize that much of their information and opinions are taken with a grain of salt by the mainstream media.  Sketchy reports and fabrications by bloggers only enhances the disdain that the mainstream media will hold for bloggers.

One of the most important things when breaking a story is that your sources be very reputable and very trustworthy.  Back in January-February 2003, I received information from two different sources that Tom Golisano was going to buy the Buffalo Sabres.  The two sources did not know each other, therefore they couldn’t have collaborated their reports.  I asked for as much information as they had, with the sources going so far as saying the purchase had already taken place and would be announced in a few days.

At that point, I decided to post on the messageboard at this site that Golisano would be purchasing the team.  Three days later the story broke in the mainstream media that Golisano had indeed bought the Sabres franchise.

That is a bit different than what is occurring right now with the Buffalo Bills.  A player’s livelihood is being brought into question.  Bad publicity is being spewed towards a professional sports franchise.  If the information and sources aren’t good, this can become quite ugly.  Why an individual would throw themselves into the fire like this without having the proper and necessary information is outlandish.

This situation is bringing negative and unnecessary attention all because someone wanted to break a story that is quickly becoming a non-story.  It does a disservice to online blogging and brings into question the credibility of online media outlets.  The online community needs to remove itself from the “free-for-all” concept it has adopted in being the first to break a story and then turn around and say “damn the consequences”.

If that childish form of “journalism” continues… well… if you give em enough rope…

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Re-Gearing the Roster with Two Regierehrs

That was my contribution to bad newspaper headlines for the day.  Can a man named Darcy convince a man named Robyn to come to Buffalo? The answer to that question should come today. Yesterday the Buffalo Sabres put an undisclosed offer on the table to the Calgary Flames for veteran defense man Robyn Regehr. Regehr has a no trade clause that Calgary has asked him to waive. Regehr decided to sleep on the decision, he’s married and has one kid. By all accounts he loves living “out West” so it’s doubtless a tough decision to uproot himself and his family to come to Buffalo. The working assumption is the decision has to be made before the draft starts if the Sabres’ first round pick is indeed part of the package.

The Sabres’ offer? Rumors fly, as they often do. Some with grounding, many without. So far on the site we have heard the Sabres offered their 1st round pick (16th overall) and Luke Adam. Another package had Mike Weber and a 3rd in this year’s draft going to Calgary. Another has a package of Ennis and Weber, Ennis and a pick, etc. There are also rumors the Sabres would be willing to take former Sabre Cory Sarich should Regehr say no. The deal is in keeping with what we have always said about Regier, he works under the radar. If you hear a rumor of a trade, discount it. 99.9% of the time it’s not going to happen. Regier is one of the few GM’s in the NHL who has the ability to keep his actions secret, leaks generally tend to come from the other end of a potential deal.

If the Sabres do acquire Regehr today it would signal the start of a re-gearing of the defensive corps.  Regehr is a former first round draft pick, that type of thing has always seemed to appeal to Regier.  Regehr may not be the player he one was but he’s still defensively and physically far better than perhaps every defenseman on the Sabres’ roster with the exception of Tyler Myers. Jordan Leopold and Regehr used to be teammates in Calgary. Regier and the Flames have pulled the trigger on a number of deals in the past: 2000 for Sean McMorrow, 2003 for Chris Drury, draft pick swaps in 2005 as well as another deal for Toni Lydman, more draft pick swaps in 2007.  So Calgary is a team Regier is comfortable dealing with and seems to have something of a track record with.   Regehr is 31 years old, an age when many NHL defensemen are still in the prime of their career.  He has two years left on his current contract at $4.02 million per season.  Regehr is very active in Calgary. He donates $75 for every body check he throws to Calgary’s Impact Foundation and is very active with overseas work to help impoverished children.  He’s reported to be a very active outdoorsman and to love snowmobiling.  Would Buffalo’s winters be too warm for him compared to Calgary?

 

The Sabres are doing their best to convince Regehr to come to Buffalo.  ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday that Regier and Pegula have both called Regehr.  Certainly Ted Black’s assertion of “it’s a million little things” will come into play in an attempt to convince Regehr his prospects on the ice are better in Buffalo than in Calgary.  Regehr is no stranger to trade rumors or speculation.  At this year’s trade deadline he said this about his no trade clause:

“I had to sacrifice certain things to get that. If there’s something I don’t really like, I guess, I wouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of it. That’s something I’ve had to give up certain things for. It’s more of a comfortable feeling to have that. If a team is talking to you about that type of stuff, it might be a good situation to go somewhere else. You never know. It’s a very complex kind of thing and one that I haven’t had to discuss yet.”

 

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Richard Martin Public Memorial

Originally posted 3/24/2011

I had the honor of attending today’s public memorial for Richard Martin at HSBC arena. From the moment I read about it I was determined to attend. I was a kid when Rico tore up the NHL as a Sabre. He was one of my hockey heroes and my oldest sister’s “first official crush”, although I wouldn’t advise accusing her of being a puck bunny, she packs a mean left hook. For reasons of pure nostalgia I decided to talk the old “Aud” walk I took so many times as a kid and teenager. A parking lot used to exist where the PBS building downtown now stands. My father used to park in this lot every time he took us to a game in the Aud. From the lot we’d walk down Terrace under the 190 right to the front of the Aud. The streets today were clogged with yesterday’s snow, I was the only person on the street but it was a walk worth taking. And to be fair to my rusty hometown, it actually was a rather nice sunny day, albeit a bit on the cold side. The Aud site looked oddly peaceful this morning. The big hole that housed the solid mass of the Aud for decades was filled with snow and lined neatly with retaining walls. Alongside it the metro rolled by as I snapped a few photos. I can still see the front facade in my mind, hear the peanut man hawking his wares. Perhaps no place other than my grandparents’ home was the location of more memories for me growing up. The closer I got to HSBC Arena the more people I saw. By the time I walked into the front doors by the Sabres store I was in a small crowd of twenty or so fellow Sabres fans. Some were decked out in jerseys, most were dressed in their work clothes.

Nothing but a snow filled hole where the Aud used to be.

The Aud is gone, all that's left is a giant hole in the ground.

We entered the arena where you would normally go in for a game. Ushers did the usual checks for whatever. I had my camera in my hand and no one seemed to care. There was a line of employees handing out remembrance cards to everyone who entered, the card is much like an over sized trading card. The front is a photo of Rico in his French Connection prime back in the days of thin pads and no helmets. The back lists Rico’s physical stats, birthplace and a brief history of his glorious career. Sections 102-108 of the lower bowl were open for the service. The center two sections were reserved seating for the players, alumni, team officials and most importantly the Martin family. The 200 level had some people in it although the ushers told us it was also restricted; there were a number of media types up there. I ended up sitting in section 108. The center glass had been taken down on both sides of the ice, a large stage had been set up. The backdrop for the stage was a collage of photos that depicted Rico at various stages of his career. Martin’s number 7 banner had been removed from the rafters and hung in front of the backdrop from the scoreboard which was brought down fairly low center ice. A couple podiums were set up, there were some flowers. The ribbon boards were blue with “Martin” and “7″ on them. It was all fairly reserved but very appropriate. I’ve heard on the news that the Sabres estimated at least 2,000 fans attended the memorial.

Stage set up for the Richard Martin Memorial Service

The stage set up for the public memorial service

The memorial itself was a testament to the family that exists around the Sabres, both immediate and extended. The speakers were all Rico’s family and friends, including his brother and son. I have to commend Ed Kilgour, he did an excellent job as master of ceremonies for lack of a better term. He was clearly emotional but moved the memorial along well and set it up with a brief statement that we were all there to celebrate and remember Rico. It was okay to cry. I was okay to laugh. It was a simple statement but well delivered and received. It broke the ice a bit as clearly people weren’t quite sure how to react or respond initially, myself included.

It was interesting to see the players at the memorial. I think today, more than anything, hammered home the fact that this game they play and profit so greatly from has tangible meaning to the fans and the city they play in. It was a move of great class and foresight for Terry Pegula and the Sabres to host the memorial. It was a great way to help the organization, players, alumni and fans come together and share a real, genuine moment together.

RJ received a partial standing ovation when he was introduced; to say the man is beloved is an understatement. In addition to his great ability to call a hockey game, RJ has in the past, as he was today, been called upon to speak. I still tear up when I remember his tearful farewell to the legendary Ted Darling, his good friend. Today, RJ delivered again. While he is the voice of the Sabres, in times of grief or joy, RJ is more accurately the voice of the fans. “Look at the person next to you, left or right, front or back and smile…. consider this… maybe just maybe this earth is a better place for having been inhabited by Richard Lionel Martin”. Did the fans look? Of course we did and we did laugh, giggle and smile. Maybe out of embarrassment, maybe out of appreciation, who knows? But we did look.

Bert and Rene drew a great deal of interest when they were introduced. Even at a memorial service the French Connection holds a power over the fans, has an ability to bring us closer to the edge of our seats. Both he and Rene delivered comments about Rico that ranged from funny to poignant.  As always, they seemed at ease in front of the fans. Rene especially drew a great reaction when he pulled out a Bud and a cigar for Rico. Bert joked that he was bigger so he was going first. But Bert goes first because Bert is first. He is and always will be the cornerstone of the franchise. Anyone who doubts that should see the hold number eleven has over us fans.

Rico’s friends and brother gave us a glimpse of the man off the ice and in retirement. The portrait was a person who loved his family, loved Western New York, loved the Sabres, loved the fans, loved golf and had a great love of beer and cigars. The fact that Rico called his brother Baba Boey was something that greatly amused my friend and I, as both of us have been Howard Stern fans in the past.

Beyond doubt the most special moment of the memorial was the time Corey Martin took to address us about his dad. I am certain it could not have been easy for him to so publicly share the grief he and his family felt. But Corey set a standard for grace and class today that the Sabres will be hard pressed to match again. I simply cannot give voice to the profound respect I feel for him at the moment. Despite the profundity of his loss, Corey reached out to the fans today. He was gracious, sincere and supportive of the communal grief over his dad’s death. Corey said “I was aware from an early age that I shared my father with everybody, he was every body’s family. It’s for that very reason we hold this celebration here today”. Corey told us some of what happened the morning his father died, and how it was to be Rico’s son. It was moving and deeply personal. Corey recounted how he and his dad sat at the table drinking coffee the morning before Rico died, as they had countless other Sunday mornings. We learned how much Rico was energized and optimistic about the Sabres’ future after Terry Pegula took ownership of the franchise. Corey assured us that his father died doing what he loved most and he “got his job down when he was here. He’s up there watching us… he’s got the best seat in the house”. Through Corey, it felt as if the Martin family reached out and embraced the fans, the community and the team. If you consider the magnitude of their loss, it’s simply amazing to me that people can find a way to be so generous and gracious. Ed Kilgour was right – his father must have been very proud of his son today. As fans all we could do was stand and give him an ovation of support and gratitude. Both out of respect for what his father meant to us and what he himself had just given to the community.

I’ve been a fan of the Sabres for four decades now. I’ve seen thousands of games in the Aud, in HSBC and on the road. I have a closet full of jerseys and a mind full of memories. When I go through that internal catalog I think Corey Martin at today’s memorial for his father is the single greatest one I’ve experienced. I wrote when Pegula took over the team that he had given the franchise back its soul. Today at HSBC you could feel it. You could feel that sense of extended family, shared memories and shared emotion that cut across the generations. As the Sabres say; it’s a million little things. On days like today it’s very apparent that winning and losing don’t mean all that much. Those aren’t the things we remember, aren’t the things we truly carry around in our lives. It’s that communal sense of family and being created through a lifetime of coming together to watch a team we all love so much play a game we love equally.

Richard Martin gave us more than a few of those memories. In death he gave us one final one, perhaps the most profound and meaningful one. Rest in peace, Rico.

Consider yourself… part of the family

Originally posted 2/22/2011

Gilbert Perreault is the cornerstone of the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise. As fans we may debate who the greatest player in team history is in terms of skill, but for forty years there has only been one face of the Buffalo Sabres. The man who is often considered the original Sabre. The man who the franchise was built around and who carried it to a Stanley Cup final in just its fifth year of existence. The man who was the ultimate combination of a run away train barreling down the ice and a finely tuned athlete who could turn on a dime and make any defense man or goalie in the NHL look foolish. Gilbert Perreault is the Sabres. Sadly many fans never got to see Bert play. Perreault had skill rarely seen in the NHL. He was the rock Punch Imlach built upon.

Today, fans learned what Perreault means to the Sabres. At today’s press conference, the Buffalo Sabres’ new owner pointed out “the old guys”. He asked where Perreault was and upon seeing Bert was literally reduced to tears. Choking back the tears Pegula stammered out “you are my hero”. That is all younger fans need to know about Gilbert Perreault. It was a nod to the franchise’s tradition and history, things often dismissed or completely ignored. The Sabres have no Cups in their trophy case, but they have a proud and rich history littered with players who can make grown men weep when they think about their playing days.

That is what tradition is, especially with sports teams. It’s recognizing history, embracing it, proving why it matters and handing off the love for the team to the next generation of fans who may not have seen the older players, but who acknowledge their greatness, their place in the team’s tradition. I think back to my childhood and I remember Roger Crozier in net. No Sabre in history ever played in as much pain as Roger Crozier experienced. The man literally played his guts out. As exciting as Bert was, Crozier was the man who made the team respectable in its earliest days. I think of Roger Crozier and I do find the need to tell people I have dust in my eye. I think of Brian Spencer’s demons and that same piece of dust comes into my eye. It’s the same piece of dust that grabs my attention when I see stories of Clint Malarchuk and find myself cheering for him in life as much as I cheered for him when he was in the Sabres’ net. I remember the collective intake of breath when Perreault grabbed the puck behind his own net and tore down the ice with a speed, ferocity and grace that has never reappeared in a Sabres’ jersey.

HSBC’s ice sits on top of Seymour Knox III’s initials. Initials carved while the founder of the franchise was dying. Initials that branded the new arena with the tradition and history of the previous twenty six years. Engraved the memory of Bert, Rico, Robert, Tickets, Luuuuuuuuuce, Ramsay. It’s the memories of playoff wars with the Bruins that resulted in ice tinged red with blood and year after year of disappointment. Say Brad Park to an older Sabres fan and we all shiver in disgust at the memory. What Sabre fan didn’t shout at Rory Fitzpatrick to look down in game seven against Carolina as a plucky, never say die Sabres team finally succumbed to a myriad of injuries? The Earl of Bud, the Peanut Guy in front of the Aud, Lower Gold, Upper Gold, Red, Blue and Orange nosebleeds. Those initials bring back the memory of Punch Imlach pushing Jerry Korab’s button so skillfully that the hulking blue liners smashed the Soviets. Those initials bring back Jim Kelley’s favorite story of my favorite Sabre – Mike Ramsey. As Kelley tells it the Sabres were about to set a franchise record for most losses at home. A badly injured and aging Mike Ramsey played that night. He threw his body in front of shots, he screamed at his team mates on the bench, he showed the leadership, grit and heart that made a kid who saw him win gold at Lake Placid admire him so much. The Sabres won that game. It was a meaningless game in terms of the standings but it was not meaningless to Mike Ramsey. Kelley said when he asked Ramsey about why he played that night, why he hurt himself so badly to win a meaningless game Ramsey looked at him and asked if a loss tonight would have set a Sabres record for losing at home. Kelley confirmed the fact. Ramsey then simply said “we’re not setting that kind of record, not on my watch”. Sadly we’ve lost Jim Kelley and those SHK initials bring back the memories of his stories told on the radio and those he published for decades on the sport we all love so much.

There are those who will snicker at the sappiness of such emotions. Fair enough. If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. As a sports fan frankly I live for those sappy moments. Moments when I turn to a stranger next to me and hug them in sheer joy. Moments at a bar when we all shout with joy when the team scores or scream encouragement on the rare occasion a fight breaks out on the ice. Those initials carry the love for the city of Buffalo that Seymour Knox had and his family still has. Those initials carry the love for the team that seems to find more spectacular and heart breaking ways to lose. Those initials carry the appreciation one of the city’s true patriarchs had for fans. So while I do wonder if Terry Pegula will back up his words with actions, I also think about the meaning of tradition and how important it is to anyone, especially to fans of a team.

The Pegula honeymoon period will eventually wear out. In time he’ll hear the usual complaints from fans about general managers, coaches, players, “game presentation”, parking, etc. But today, even more than hope, Pegula gave Sabres fans a rare gift. The man who owns “our” team is “one of us”. He’s a fan. He looks at Perreault and the memories invoked by the man bring him to tears. That was the predominate thought in my head during the press conference and one that has been with me all day since. Terry Pegula paid the ultimate tribute to the team’s tradition. He dug up the franchise’s cornerstone and held it up for all of us to see. This is Gilbert Perreault. He was a great player. He meant something to us, he meant a lot to us. As a Sabres fan isn’t there one player who brings that kind of emotion out of you? The Sabres are truly something only money can buy and money can sustain. But without fans a franchise dies. Without a soul, a franchise merely exists, it doesn’t live. Today Terry Pegula gave the Sabres’ franchise back its soul.

Gee, Did I Do That?

originally posted 2/3/2011

Today’s press conference with Tom Golisano, Larry Quinn and Dan Dipofi highlighted why the Golisano regime has driven many Sabres fans to new heights of frustrations. Tom Golisano opened the press conference with a rambling defense of the Sabres’ accomplishments during his ownership. To be certain there are many things that Golisano should and does take great pride in. As some may be aware, Golisano “saved” the Sabres. A fact that some are often very quick to point out…. often. Larry Quinn termed Golisano one of the great entrepreneurs in America and of that there is absolutely no doubt. Golisano purchased the bankrupt Sabres for pennies on the dollar and gave them instant financial credibility and most importantly credit. Golisano took a franchise that was on its death bed and revived it, breathed new life into it. As Quinn and Golisano pointed out today, Golisano took a risky investment, added value to it, ran it smartly from a financial perspective and is now reaping the rewards from the sale to Terry Pegula. Sabres fans understand that, they have thanked Golisano for it many times and it would be nice if we could remember the “white knight” (as Gary Bettman called him) as just that, the man who saved the franchise and handed it off to another owner completely dedicated to keeping the team in Buffalo. But Golisano’s legacy is muddied by failures, secrecy and fan frustration.

Remember that while Golisano saved the franchise, there would be no franchise if not for the fans and the Knox family. It is the passion of hockey fans in Western New York and Southern Ontario who create the possibility for the existence of the team. It’s the fans spending their hard earned money on overpriced merchandise and tickets that mask a clever price gouging scheme that can out price a fan’s ability to see the more attractive teams in the NHL. Golisano mentioned the fans’ passion and support but while people will point out there are some who don’t get enough credit for what happened during the Golisano era it’s worth noting that the top of that list should start with Sabres fans who are far more hockey savvy, loyal and dedicated than most fan bases in the NHL. And while we’re handing out thank you’s and pats on the back, it was kind of sad to hear the Knoxes mentioned only once. So thank you for that Dan Dipofi.

Was there closure today? No. Golisano’s rambling list of team accomplishments at times was on the money. Back to back conference final appearances is something few teams ever do and something he should justly be proud of. Golisano made several mentions that handing the players their president trophies was the proudest moment of his ownership. Of course he wasn’t so proud that he could retain the two key players who drove that team but more on that shortly. While a president’s trophy is nice, it is meaningless. So are division titles. So is win percentage. Golisano seemed overly defensive during the press conference, too quick to pull out absurd facts that hockey fans know don’t mean anything. Golisano wasn’t a hockey fan before he purchased the Sabres and today he really came off as someone who can appreciate the game but doesn’t seem to get it. He was bottom lining things, reading numbers and charts. Things he’s made over a billion dollars doing, and doing better than most people in the world (no exaggeration). But it’s not what a hockey person does. Tim Connolly will bring us sixty points. Great but he has led us nowhere. Mike Peca may not have gotten points but the man led a team. There are intangibles that fans laugh at and intangibles that actually mean something. And it’s that category of intangibles that hockey people get and non-hockey people don’t. It’s why winning percentage, division titles, etc. just don’t mean all that much.

When Drury and Briere were brought up the Sabres’ ruling triumvirate were visibly uncomfortable and defensive. Golisano defended not signing Drury and Briere as a value judgment. Golisano even went on to claim the Sabres made the right decision based on a statiscal analysis between the production of Briere and Drury the past three seasons and Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. Of course this defense completely ignores the fact that the team that was led by Drury and Briere accomplished many of the things Golisano claimed as the team’s top accomplishments and delivered Golisano’s proudest moment in team history. Larry Quinn was quick to leap to Golisano’s defense citing that player transactions are two way streets. Indeed they are Mr. Quinn. No argument. Unfortunately both Briere and Drury indicated in 2007 they had agreed to stay and even agreed to terms with the Sabres. Drury said his agreement came early in the season and the Sabres never called him back. Briere told a similar story. Rumors have circulated that Golisano himself voided the deals and this gave rise to the infamous “he’s been handcuffed” defense of Darcy Regier’s incompetence over the seasons. When asked about the fans’ perception that Golisano took a President’s trophy team and basically ran them into the ground Golisano sarcastically replied “Gee, did I do that?”. When pressed Golisano claimed he made no decisions, he gave no direction to the team other than “running at or near break even”. When asked further if that mean it was Quinn and Regier who made bad hockey decisions Golisano claimed he didn’t say that and once more made the value judgment decision. If Golisano wasn’t canceling contracts wouldn’t that place the blame squarely on Regier and Quinn? And completely destroy the Regier is handcuffed defense?

So perhaps its fitting to make a value judgment on the Golisano era. The Sabres are better off without him. During his tenure the Sabres seem to recapture some of the duplicitious, secretive, poisoness atmosphere that existed in the late 1990′s as the Knoxes were getting out and feuds erupted off ice between Muckler, Nolan, Hasek, et. al. Under Golisano players who were absolutely crucial to the team’s success were cut loose while the team played victim and did their best to cast the players as the bad guys. In their place younger, cheaper players were kept and the team was shaped into a great impression of the 1980′s era teams (they also had their share of meaningless regular season titles and win percentage). The Sabres got lucky to some degree after the lockout. They had a roster that was pathetic before the lockout but tailored for it after thanks to a coach who was four steps ahead of the entire league. Then it was just pissed away over value judgments from poor hockey minds. This is something Golisano never seemed to appreciate. Sports isn’t about the bottom line. Regier has proven that assembling skill doesn’t work, it’s not how to build a hockey team. A hockey team needs hockey players and Golisano’s group didn’t seem to appreciate hockey players. They took the fans’ passion for the team as a constant knowing they could pretty much do what they wanted and we fans would still show up. We can’t help ourselves, we love this team. We breathe this team. We’re part of the team. We don’t brag and whine about driving two hundred times to see a game. True fans live to do things like that, we barely take note of it.

I wish today could have ended with a collective handshake and a “good luck to you”. But ownership’s actions and arrogance over the years just leave a bitter taste in the mouth. It’s time to turn the page. Terry Pegula seems to have all the traits Golisano lacks. He’s giving the fan base hope again. The Sabres and their fans are trading up. So thank you for that Tom Golisano. But it’s time for you to go.

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