Shame on me.
Really, I should have known better. I should have been more suspicious when Terry Pegula purchased the Sabres and started talking about winning the Stanley Cup. I should have watched and waited before listening and believing. I should have been more skeptical. I should have realized he was too good to be true.
It was about this time two years ago in which several people from Pegula's inner circle fawned over him and insisted the Sabres would change for the better. He would clean up this mess, I was told. He was obsessed with bringing the city a championship, I was told. Actually, it was championships, plural, I was told.
Not a single person, not one in dozens of interviews, had a negative word to say about the guy. In most cases, they were right. He's a warm and generous man, like they said. He's humble and carries himself like he doesn't have a dime in his pocket, like they said. He cares deeply about Buffalo, like they said.
They also said he would restore credibility.
And they were wrong.
High-ranking people from across the league are laughing at the Sabres, just as they did last year after the season turned ugly. What people, you ask? Sorry, but their names will remain private. It's an unfortunate but necessary aspect of the media that many don't understand, but with anonymity comes unfiltered opinions.
And the general opinion from a wide range of hockey minds – general managers, scouts, agents, league officials, former players – is that Pegula's success in the real world means almost nothing in the sports world. Most are stunned Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have survived when common sense called for their dismissal long ago.
The general message: It's incredible.
That, of course, is the opposite of credible.
One general manager hopes Buffalo keeps Regier and Ruff because it leaves one fewer team to worry about. Another executive criticized Regier for giving Tyler Myers a contract that included $12 million for this season. It could ruin the defenseman, he said. Others are left shaking their heads or snickering or both.
The Sabres missed the playoffs six times in 14 seasons under Regier and Ruff, matching the DNQ total for Buffalo in all other seasons combined. They've missed three times in five years. They skated into Saturday's game against the Islanders in second-last place in the conference after a 2-6-1 stretch that was 1.9 seconds from being worse.
Pegulaville was supposed to be where hope turned into winning, but it looks more like Palookaville with its collection of lost souls. Several supporters who showered Pegula with praise before he arrived are now questioning his judgment. Advisers who told him to clean house are wondering why he has enabled problems he promised to fix.
Note to self: listen less to what's said and pay attention more to what's accomplished. The record almost always speaks for itself in professional sports. Nobody has definitive answers to the Sabres' problems, but it has become clear what hasn't worked for a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 2007. That, alone, is grounds for dismissal.
Ultimately, it reflects the man at the top. It always does.
Pegula can hire and fire whomever he pleases, but he's not convincing anyone that the reason for the Sabres existence is to win the Stanley Cup. Forget what he says and examine what he does. His message has become hollow the longer he sticks with a hockey hierarchy that has missed the postseason with disturbing regularity.
Looking back, it was easy to embrace Pegula as a hockey-loving fanatic rather than a shrewd businessman. He was the direct opposite of former owner Tom Golisano, who upon his arrival couldn't explain icing and upon his departure acknowledged his primary concern was the bottom line.
Pegula was an easy sell. It seemed he had the ideal combination of wealth and passion. He wasn't just a billionaire but a billionaire three times over. He wasn't just a Sabres' fan but a former season-ticket holder who drove an hour to listen to games while living in Pennsylvania and running a major company. The mere sight of the French Connection moved him to tears.
In truth, his affection for the Sabres, while admirable, has worked against him. They needed a cold, distant evaluation that would have revealed changes were in order. Members of his inner circle told him to clean house. Instead, he became smitten with Regier and Ruff. He embraced status quo and, with that, accepted mediocrity.
It's not how Stanley Cups are won.
And it's not how credibility is built.
The real kicker was Regier's contract extension, a reward for years of failure, before the season. I wonder which side approached the other. Was Pegula worried about some team stealing his general manager? Did Regier have the audacity to approach them about a new deal? Pegula has declined all interview requests since the start of the season.
Clearly, he's buying whatever Regier is selling. President Ted Black is on board, too, much to the amusement of some in the Penguins organization. Black extended Regier himself or failed to guide Pegula in the right direction. Obviously, they're convinced Regier holds the secret to winning the Cup. Otherwise, he would be gone.
It trickles down from there. Regier has refused to fire Ruff, who over time or repetition lost his voice. He might have reinvented himself again, but his players are getting coached by the same man with a message from the same lips. Players see the coach and general manager keep their jobs, and mediocrity becomes acceptable.
For the most part, the big picture looks the same.
The Sabres can continue putting an inferior product on the ice, and I'll keep writing that their product is inferior. I'm not going anywhere. Pegula isn't going anywhere. Regier isn't going anywhere. Ruff isn't going anywhere. Until changes are made, it doesn't appear the Sabres are going anywhere, either.
Shame on them.
Stamkos in good company
What's more surprising, that Steven Stamkos has scored 186 goals in his career or that he turned 23 years old last week? He's already had a full career.
Stamkos is ranked fourth all-time in goal for players on their 23rd birthday. The other three no-names were Wayne Gretzky (329), Dale Hawerchuk (220) and Mario Lemieux (215). He leads all active players. Sidney Crosby had 186 and Alex Ovechkin 163 at the same age.
“It's pretty surreal when you think about it,” Stamkos said. “It's something that you work hard towards. It's not something that you set as a goal. It's an accomplishment to be up with guys like that.”
Flyers buy insurance
The Flyers handed defenseman Kimmo Timonen a one-year contract extension worth $6 million partly as an insurance policy going into the summer. Last year, they pursued Ryan Suter and signed Shea Weber to an offer sheet and came away empty.
Timonen is 37 years old and has had been slowed by injuries, including surgery to his back and hip, knee problems and a blood clot in his leg. He's still a great skater and passer, which makes him a valuable asset. Now, they have one fewer headache.
“He's a strong little guy,” GM Paul Holmgren said. “He has been through a lot, but he also plays through a lot. That's part of being a good pro, you just tie your skates up and get out there and play even though you might be dealing with something nagging.”
Caps have problems
Washington's problems getting out of the gate start with goaltending, but they end with their penalty kill. The Capitals have been atrocious in both areas, which explains how a talented team can plummet to the bottom of the conference.
The Capitals thought they had two solid goalies in Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, but neither has played well. Neuvirth had a 1-4-1 record in seven starts with a 3.05 GAA and .889 save percentage. Holtby, who was spectacular in the postseason last year, was 1-4-0 with a 4.74 GAA and .857 save percentage.
“Neuvirth is a good solid goaltender,” GM George McPhee said. “Holtby played really well in the playoffs. It's time for these two guys to play. Give them lots of games and see how they do. And right now it's not going the way they had hoped.”
The Caps were not interested in Roberto Luongo, as was rumored. The Caps were scared off by Luongo's contract, but their position could change if their goaltending does not.
Raffi answers bell
Coyotes forward Raffi Torres wasted little time making himself available to Blackhawks tough guy Jamal Mayers, who was intent on settling an old score.
Torres traded punches with Mayers on his first shift in a blowout loss to Chicago. The fight was in response to Torres' filthy hit on Marian Hossa last season in the playoffs. Torres ended up getting suspended for the final 21 games.
“I understand that if I'm going to go out there and run around and give some hits, then I'm going to have to answer the bell sometimes,” Torres said. “That's a perfect example.”
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen on the torrid pace that comes with a short season: “Pitchers and catchers are going to spring training. I saw a commercial for the Masters the other day. My clock is all messed up. Things are happening fast and furious.”
Around the boards
• In case you lost track, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review counted 52,142 fountain drinks, 33,289 nachos, 26,633 pretzels, 22,258 hot dogs, 22,118 chicken sandwiches and 20,380 hamburgers were given away in the Penguins' first four home games. Another 8,680 jerseys, 18,950 T-shirts and 8,776 hats were sold at half-price.
• The Devils plan to honor longtime goaltending coach Jacques Caron, who played a big role in shaping Martin Brodeur, next month. “He's so positive and such a good hockey person,” Brodeur said. “He survived all the turmoil of 11 coaches and always stayed around with me. He definitely made my life easier.”
• Kings winger Dustin Penner has been a healthy scratch four times in nine games this season, leading to questions he could be going elsewhere. He's a former 30-goal scorer with size, but his reputation for being lazy is a turnoff for many teams.
• Nashville took a four-game winning streak into Minnesota after outscoring their opponents, 9-0, at even strength. Goalie Pekka Rinne is off to a great start with a 1.81 GAA and .933 save percentage. They could be a brutal team to play against if they can find consistent scoring.
• Injuries have left the Oilers thin down the middle, which could lead to defenseman Ryan Whitney getting shipped out. Last week, he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. He was smoked by Jaromir Jagr for the deciding goal against Dallas and was minus-6 despite getting limited ice time .