Darcy Regier has his flaws, but one thing I admire about him is his ability to disregard public sentiment. Right or wrong, he has a habit of making decisions without external influence or worries about popularity.
To his credit, Regier refused to make excuses for the Sabres' failures during an interview last week on WGR 550. Admitting failure doesn't absolve one from failure, however. Despite his newfound financial freedom, he has done almost nothing to prove he's capable of moving the Sabres forward let alone win a Stanley Cup.
If Quinnipiac University took a poll, his approval rating in Buffalo, taking into account the usual 3.5 percent margin of error, would be – what? – about 25 percent? OK, that's an exaggeration.
It would be close to zero.
Terry Pegula owns the only vote that matters, of course, but it has become increasingly evident that he's not sure how to proceed, either. It's no crime. He wouldn't assign a third-line forward to oversee his gas wells, so nobody should expect him to be qualified to run a hockey franchise just because he bought one.
Pegula has good intentions and could become a very good owner, but he needs a reliable advisor. Whatever homework he claimed to have completed on Regier and Lindy Ruff has since been returned for corrections. The guy needs a tutor, preferably one who doesn't view Regier as a hockey genius the way Ken Sawyer does.
What to do? Hire a team of them.
Pegula could stay true to his affinity for ex-Sabres, upgrade his hockey department and breathe some fresh air through his organization and the community. There are enough former Sabres, if placed in the right positions, who could improve personnel, boost confidence, generate momentum and maybe even win a championship.
President Ted Black has been running daily business operations, but he's not a hockey guy. Pegula needs hockey minds making hockey decisions. It starts with picking up the telephone and finding out who would join him. I would imagine several former Sabres would be interested in changing the culture and turning around the franchise.
Need help? Let's examine the possibilities. Pegula would find he doesn't have enough jobs for all the former Sabres who could help him.
• Pat LaFontaine, president of hockey. The former captain is an easy sell, but don't let his infectious personality fool you. He's cold-blooded when it comes to hockey. He's bright, knows what it takes to build a winner, works well with others and is a natural leader. Hiring him alone would improve the organization. Former Bruins great Cam Neely has worked wonders in the same capacity in Boston.
• Rick Dudley, general manager. How many times has this suggestion been made, a dozen? Look at the results. He played a major role in building the Lightning and Blackhawks into Cup winners. He started the Jets' rebuild. He contributed to the Leafs' improvement. He helped the Canadiens last summer. Check the standings, stop resisting and hire the guy. His expertise is personnel, not public relations. LaFontaine can handle PR.
• Larry Carriere, assistant GM. He's qualified to be the GM, too. Dudley has an edge in experience. Carriere knows talent. Last year, he took over as coach in Montreal to gain a better understanding of his players, then helped Marc Bergevin with his summer weeding project. He spent much of his professional life with the Sabres before being pushed out during Regier's regime. It was one of his many mistakes.
• Jason Botterill, assistant GM. He played only 35 games for the Sabres before pursuing a career in management. As an assistant GM in Pittsburgh under Ray Shero, he's been learning from one of the best. Botterill, who earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan, is widely considered a top up-and-comer. He could learn under Dudley and eventually replace him.
• Don Luce and Terry Martin, vice presidents of pro scouting. They could run the department together and contribute to personnel decisions. Both could be a GM, but somebody needs to evaluate players on other teams and manage scouts sprinkled across the league. Scouts would report to them, and they would report to Dudley.
• Michael Peca, player development. It depends on where LaFontaine and Dudley would want him, but he also belongs in the organization in some capacity. The same goes for Chris Drury and Mike Grier. Make them scouts, consultants, coaches, leadership teachers, ice scrapers, bartenders, whatever. Find them a gig. They know how to win.
• Jim Schoenfeld, consultant. He's currently serving as assistant GM of player personnel for the Rangers while running operations in AHL Connecticut. He can do anything, but it doesn't mean he needs to do everything. He can serve as a roaming advisor and help where he's needed between Buffalo and Rochester.
• Craig Ramsay, head coach. The longtime assistant won the Cup in Tampa Bay under John Tortorella. He had a 16-8-1 record in Philadelphia and took the Flyers to the 2000 conference finals. Bobby Clarke fired him the next season, a mistake. He was a head coach in Atlanta under Dudley, which was poor timing for both.
• Don Lever, assistant head coach. The Sabres missed the playoffs twice between 1992-93 and 2001-02, when he was an assistant coach and associate coach. He was on Ruff's staff when Buffalo reached the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. He had one losing season in six years as an AHL head coach. He deserves a chance as head coach in the NHL.
• Mike Ramsey, assistant coach. He was an assistant for three years in Buffalo and another 10 years in Minnesota before leaving the game while his kids were in high school. His son, the youngest, graduates this year. Any chance you'll come back, Rammer? If not, try Doug Houda.
• James Patrick, assistant coach. Patrick has had a rough ride with his defensemen this season in Buffalo, but Brian Campbell, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman are among many who praised him for his work. Having good players helps.
• Scott Arniel, specials teams coach. The Sabres were third on the power play and second on the penalty kill in 2005-06, his last year under Ruff. They won the Presidents' Trophy without him the following year but dropped to 17th on the PP and 20th on the PK.
• Dwayne Roloson, goaltending coach. Roloson played for six different teams and learned from every coach along the way. He's now a consultant for the Ducks. He'll eventually be an NHL goaltending coach. Why not here and now?
• Randy Cunneyworth, Americans head coach. He did a very good job between 1999-2008 before jumping to the NHL as an assistant. Last season, he was thrust into a difficult situation after taking over as head coach in Montreal.
Remember, the aforementioned are ex-Sabres. Imagine what Pegula could find if he opened the doors to everyone.
Gonchar comes through
Sergei Gonchar looked old, slow, disinterested and overpaid when the season began, but the veteran defenseman has since turned into one of the Ottawa Senators' most valuable players. His teammates have given the 38-year-old a new nickname: Benjamin Button.
Gonchar was tagged with the moniker after the movie character who was born old and became younger over time. It fits. He played more than 24 minutes in six straight games during one stretch. He also took over the team scoring lead. All this after the Senators failed to dump his $5.5 million salary during the offseason.
His resurgence started after star defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered an Achilles injury that will likely end his season. Gonchar was given more responsibilities and made the most of his ice time. The Sens are now thinking about re-signing him.
“He's been the go-to guy, to set up offensively and just overall be in right positions, making smart plays all the time,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “He's got that experience and poise. With the extra ice time and responsibilities, I think he really relishes that.”
Switch helping Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin is showing signs he can rediscover the ability that once made him one of the NHL's most dominant players. Still getting accustomed to his new surroundings on the right wing, he scored in four straight games last week.
Rookie coach Adam Oates moved him to the right side after the once-electric winger became predictable. He had a habit of flying down the wing, cutting to the middle and shooting with his forehand. It allowed defensemen to squat on his route.
Ovechkin had a career-worst 65 points last season, the second straight year with fewer than 100 points. He had 15 goals and 29 points in 31 games. He had six goals and nine points in six after scoring twice against Winnipeg on Friday night.
“I'm still learning,” said Ovechkin, who was tied for 22nd in NHL scoring going into Saturday's games. “It's the kind of position where you have to have belief that it will work, trust in it. If it can help my team win, I have to do everything I can.”
Rinaldo making no friends
Flyers troublemaker Zac Rinaldo was added to the Lightning's hit list last week after he knocked Ryan Malone and Victor Hedman out of the same game. Malone was facing shoulder surgery after taking a clean hit. Hedman was shaken up but was back in the lineup for the following game.
“He's actually a good hitter,” Tampa Bay forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie said. “It's just that sometimes he doesn't think. At some point he has to pay for his bad behavior.”
The Bolts are still steaming after Rinaldo punched B.J. Crombeen during a fight even though Crombeen was on his knees. Crombeen asked Rinaldo to fight last week, but Rinaldo declined.
“Obviously, when he's hurting players you want him to be accountable for his actions,” Crombeen said. “There's always a time and place for it. It will come. You just have to wait for it.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz after seeing Sergei Kostitsyn make a line change that led to a shorthanded goal in the Oilers' 3-2 victory: “I can't give you a logical explanation for an illogical event.”
Around the boards
• Brendan Shanahan did little to help his war against cheap shots by allowing Rick Nash to skate after the Rangers winger nailed Tomas Kopecky with a high hit from behind. Did he make initial contact with his head? Was it an elbow? Sheriff Shanny uses video to explain suspensions. He needed to show why Nash escaped further punishment.
• Calgary is dreaming if it thinks it can get a top-four defense prospect, a first-round pick and another player from Pittsburgh for Jarome Iginla. The Penguins will turn their attention to Brenden Morrow with the idea he can play with Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh also is looking a defenseman who can help the PP. Jordan Leopold?
• The Coyotes' five-game losing streak was no surprise considering they played 245 minutes, 33 seconds without scoring a goal before netting two in a loss last week to the Kings. At one point, they failed to score in four consecutive road games. It hasn't happened since 1967-68, when the Oakland Seals were shut out for four straight contests.
• Ilya Kovalchuk, after Martin Brodeur was given credit for his third NHL goal when Eric Staal's errant pass bounced off the boards and landed in an empty net: “I should've gotten an assist because I turned the puck over, I let the guy beat me one-on-one and then [Marek Zidlicky] tripped him, so their goalie left the net.”