on April 30, 2013 - 12:01 AM
, updated April 30, 2013 at 10:39 AM
You see, this is why we encourage the Sabres to conduct these end-of-season news conferences. No matter how grim the circumstances, they always manage to find fun, creative ways to spin failure as progress.
Larry Quinn set a pretty high bar when he asked fans to give the team a “mulligan” after missing the playoffs a few years back. Last year, in lieu of an actual media gathering, team president and mouthpiece Ted Black told us that “sometimes, winning and success aren’t necessarily the same thing.”
On Monday, Darcy Regier celebrated his retention as general manager by telling Sabres fans that it was time to get ready for some “suffering.” He uttered the suffering theme several times in the 45-minute session, as if he were a preacher getting his followers fired up to accept their just penance.
“I’d like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win the Stanley Cup,” Regier said. “I’m willing to do it. I believe our fan base is willing to do it.”
How reassuring it must be for fans to know that Regier is ready to suffer for the cause. Come on, people. Do your part. You can start by reviewing game films of the home losses to the Canadiens and Rangers earlier this month.
Of course, the more critical fans would suggest that they have suffered quite enough. What do you call missing the playoffs four times in the last six years? The days of wine and roses?
And to think, the fans get to pay more for the privilege! Last week, on Fan Appreciation Night, the customers received letters informing them that the average price of tickets was going up by roughly 4 percent next season.
The Sabres blamed the price hike on the new collective-bargaining agreement, informing ticket-holders that teams needed to produce more ticket revenue to “keep the stability of the league and its franchises strong.”
Black defended the decision Monday, saying that the Sabres needed to raise prices again to qualify for revenue-sharing (though it’s not actually required). Someone said that with the NHL salary cap dropping by an estimated $6 million next year after two straight non-playoff seasons, the Sabres should drop ticket prices.
“The obligation to grow the league as a whole still exists,” Black said. “It’s not a written obligation, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”
So much for Terry Pegula’s declaration that the team’s sole reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup. The ticket price hike is an insult to the fans. The notion that Pegula needs the revenue-sharing to keep the franchise viable is a joke. Having the letters show up in mailboxes on Fan Appreciation Night was a flat outrage.
Black, who had a few testy exchanges with the media, actually talked about life after Pegula in trying to justify the price increases. He said it was his obligation to do all he can to “preserve the value of this franchise for multiple owners and multiple team presidents after I’m not here.”
When did Pegula’s long-term prospects as owner become an issue? He has been here a little over two years. When he arrived, he said he expected the team to remain in his family beyond his lifetime. He pointed to his children. Suddenly, he’s Ralph Wilson?
Black was reminded that when Pegula bought the team, he insisted that money would not be an issue. Pegula joked that if he needed more money, he would drill another natural gas well. Black said there were no guarantees. He even made an oblique reference to the financial collapse of former owner John Rigas.
These guys can spin anything. Two years after vowing to make a run at the Stanley Cup, they’re suddenly in an all-out rebuilding. Their strategy couldn’t have been more obvious Monday. Time and again, they referred to last year’s trade deadline as the moment when the franchise began to rebuild.
It was an attempt to revisit history and make Regier look like some kind of visionary. The 2012 trade deadline was Regier’s one shining moment in a run of failure. He was universally praised for prying a first-round pick out of Nashville for Paul Gaustad and trading Zack Kassian to the Canucks for Cody Hodgson.
The Sabres want the public to judge that Darcy, not the GM whose team missed the playoffs seven times in 11 years and has never drafted a player who finished better than 15th in the NHL in scoring. Unwilling to find a better man to run the hockey department, they want people to buy the fiction that Regier was a gifted personnel man whose hands were tied during Tom Golisano’s regime.
But if Regier truly decided to rebuild 14 months ago, why did he stop there? Why wasn’t he more aggressive during the offseason, when his more marketable assets (Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville) might have fetched more in return? Why trade Derek Roy for a 30-year-old Steve Ott?
Regier said the Sabres will no longer be one of those teams that aspires to simply make the playoffs. They’re going to shoot for the Cup, even if it means being terrible in the short term. Is it me, or does this sound like a convenient way to justify the fact that they’ve gone backward since Pegula arrived and had everyone starry-eyed about the Stanley Cup?
There certainly seemed to be an agenda at work Monday. It seemed Black was sparring with the media to deflect attention from the fact that Regier was here to stay, the architect of a master rebuilding plan. Don’t be surprised if Ron Rolston gets the coaching gig, too.
On the day Pegula took over, I said he should bring in a respected outside hockey guy to oversee Regier, if not fire him. That has not happened. It’s evident that Regier is still totally in charge, the unchallenged ruler of his hockey domain.
It reminds me of the Bills after Tom Donahoe left. Fearful of another outsider, Wilson handed the GM job to Marv Levy. It set them back years. This feels the same way, like an organization that has grown too insular, that lets Regier remain because it doesn’t know who else to trust.
Pegula doesn’t understand that he’s insulting his own customers. There’s a waiting list for tickets, so he must believe the Buffalo public has a bottomless reserve of good will. Keep the GM. Raise the prices. Tell the people to be patient and keep buying. The suffering will all be worth it.
If the rebuilding is ahead of schedule and they sneak into the playoffs, Darcy’s guys will be hailed as overachievers. It’s genius, I tell you, pure genius.