Terry Pegula has better things to do, but it would be nice if he emerged from the shadows and addressed the current state of his hockey team. He hasn’t spoken publicly since the beginning of the season, making him the only Sabres fan who hasn’t offered his two cents about another season circling the drain.
Then again, what could he say that would soothe the masses at this stage? The results speak for themselves. The Sabres are a mess. In the past two years, he’s lost credibility among many who believed in him. His bold speech about winning the Stanley Cup within three years, once grounds for hope, has become a source of embarrassment.
Clearly, there’s been a major change in plans.
What’s the plan now, Terry?
Darcy Regier has turned his attention to the future after trading away three defensemen in recent weeks and stockpiling draft picks. We’ll see what Regier has up his sleeve leading into today’s NHL trade deadline. I’m sure he’ll convince Pegula & Co., that he has the answers moving forward even though his team has gone backward.
Barring a miracle, the Sabres will miss the playoffs for the second time in two full seasons under Pegula and the fourth time in six years overall. They had the eighth-highest payroll in the NHL but were 26th overall before playing the Penguins. It’s not working. Forget contending for a title. The Sabres making the playoffs is laughable.
It was evident long before he traded Robyn Regehr. The veteran defenseman was once considered such a valuable commodity that Pegula traveled to Calgary and talked him into waiving his no-trade clause and climbing aboard. In less than two years, with unrestricted free agency looming, he became disposable.
“We’re really going to look toward building this team not just to move it into the playoffs but to go deep into the playoffs,” Regier said. “No one is quite sure of the time line, but we’re certainly going to focus on next season.”
If the Sabres are planning a major rebuild, the first step should be finding someone who knows how to construct a team. Regier can’t be trusted to push them in the right direction. Many in the organization lost faith in him long ago. Pegula should be demanding nothing short of the best. Right now, he might have the worst.
Based on his comments and rumblings around the organization, it doesn’t sound like Regier is going anywhere. He has his bosses snowed into thinking he can fill all the holes he created. It’s the only way to explain how he continued making personnel decisions going into the trade deadline.
Franchise goalie Ryan Miller seemed perplexed last week when trying to figure out what was in store for the future. Thomas Vanek was baffled, too, before acknowledging he wasn’t interested in a long-term rebuild. After a while, you get the sense that nobody understands what Regier is doing.
The reason: Regier doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Miller and Vanek sounded prepared for a trade, but maximizing their value before 3 p.m. could be difficult. Playoff contenders already have good goalies. Vanek’s injury problems and streaky scoring are enough to make teams think twice before giving up major assets for him.
Jason Pominville is a different beast. He’s a top-line winger here, but he would be a supplemental player on a Cup contender. He’s a very good penalty killer, has a booming shot and plenty of experience. If a team thinks he can push them over the top this year, and stay through next season, he’s worth a gamble.
Anyone can trade rentals for draft picks. The Sabres need someone who has intelligence and stomach to acquire the right bodies under pressure. Regier has a reputation in some circles, mainly among his apologists, for making great trades. If anything, he has missed out on trades because he fears making mistakes.
Regier hasn’t exactly blown away people with his work under Pegula, which is the only time line that interests upper management.
His first, for Brad Boyes, was a disaster. He was conned into taking Ales Kotalik, and his $3 million salary, in the deal that landed Regehr. Getting a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad and a fourth-rounder was good. Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian looks fine now, but the swap can’t be properly assessed until both have matured. Steve Ott for Derek Roy helped chemistry but didn’t make a difference overall.
Look at the results.
Regier isn’t kidding anyone … other than Pegula, of course. He continues to make his owner look foolish for keeping him around in 2011, when Pegula bought the franchise and refused to make the right changes. He wanted to see how Regier worked without financial restraints, he said. Lindy Ruff wasn’t going anywhere, he said.
This mess falls largely on Regier, who spent more and won less. In essence, he was given a Rolls Royce when Pegula took over the franchise and wrapped it around a tree. Anyone else would have had the keys taken away, but it looks like Regier will survive without a scratch. And that falls on Pegula for allowing it to happen.
Pegula has been good for the community, but he’s over his head in hockey. Top advisor Ken Sawyer believes Regier is a genius. President Ted Black’s strength is daily operations, not hockey operations. Regier has them drinking the company Kool Aid and believing the problem is anything but him when the problem is precisely him.
It must have been humbling for Pegula and his cronies from Pittsburgh to see the Penguins atop the standings before the game Tuesday. The Pens made the playoffs last season without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal for long stretches. Staal was traded away. The Pens are back on top largely because Ray Shero, one of the best GMs around, has been wheeling and dealing.
Not much will change in Buffalo until Pegula comes to his senses, fires Regier and gets good people around him. I’m not sure who they should hire. Maybe it’s Rick Dudley or maybe it’s somebody else. I do know who shouldn’t be running the operation if the goal, as Pegula claimed, was winning it all.
The goal in management is preserving jobs and convincing Pegula that they’re headed in the right direction even when the facts show otherwise. They talk about keeping players accountable, but they never hold the people accountable for putting together an overpaid, underachieving roster.
Instead, they reach deep into the bag of excuses to satisfy the owner and pacify the masses. For years, they blamed finances and competing in a small market. When that didn’t work, they blamed injuries or bad bounces or the schedule. I’m told that last week, internally, they pointed toward the media as a source of their problems.
Funny, but I don’t recall participating on the power play, playing terrible defense or getting beat 5-hole. I do recall the Sabres being desperate for help down the middle and signing Jochen Hecht. I also recall them signing Regier to an extension after he missed the playoffs for the third time in five years.
What’s your take, Terry?