The Sabres rang in the New Year with a 7-6 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins in HSBC Arena on Saturday night, moving them into 11th place in the Eastern Conference. Drew Stafford had another hat trick in a game so wide open that Rob Niedermayer almost scored.
In honor of the late, great Jim Kelley, who was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame before the game, we bring you what his career was all about: the news.
Billionaire businessman Terry Pegula is a diehard Penn State football fan, but he skipped the Nittany Lions' victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl and attended the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. He spent Friday night schmoozing -- unofficially, of course -- with NHL officials at the league's New Year's Eve party.
Sabres owner Tom Golisano reportedly will announce, after counting his profits from the 2011 World Junior Championships, that he's selling the team. OK, so you've known that for weeks. The accuracy of the WGRZ-TV report could not be confirmed, but it's safe to assume a pigeon from Golisano's political circles has been chirping.
Golisano hasn't returned calls for years, presumably out of spite, after he was criticized for ruining a Stanley Cup contender. He stands to make about $100 million from Pegula, who hasn't returned calls for weeks because he's smart. He's not going to speak publicly about buying the Sabres for $175 million until it's safe.
Managing partner Larry Quinn, who left town this weekend to catch up on some rest, last week refuted a report saying a letter of intent was signed. NHL sources -- we're not talking about beer and popcorn vendors, as one Sabres' employee had the audacity to suggest last week -- continued to insist otherwise.
Regardless, Pegula is moving toward a purchase. His accountants and lawyers were performing due diligence. Two vehicles recently parked in a reserved area behind HSBC Arena were registered to engineers from Erie, Pa. Just a coincidence or were they inspecting the arena in preparation for an ownership change?
I'll check with my beer and popcorn sources.
The time frame for completing the deal remained unclear Saturday. This is just a guess -- and really only a guess -- but nobody should be surprised if the parade to Pegulaville begins marching with his introduction later this month during All-Star Game festivities in Raleigh, N.C. He could assume control next month.
OK, then what? As you can imagine, the expected ownership change has led to several questions regarding the Sabres' future. Here are the answers, to the best of my knowledge, on 1/1 /11. Note: They are subject to change on 1/2 /11.
>What's his first move?
Pegula does not have a reputation of a man who would walk into town with guns blazing. He'll likely perform an extensive evaluation over several months before determining who sticks around. The toughest part will be sifting through individual agendas and finding people who will tell him the truth about the good, the bad and the ugly within the organization.
Folks, that's some heavy lifting.
The Sabres already have many good people in place. There also are people who should be fired. And there are good people in the wrong places who could be reassigned.
Darcy Regier is a prime candidate. The Sabres need a new set of eyes at the top of the hockey department after 13 years of mixed results and recent failure. This season alone is grounds for removal. Pegula needs to find out if Regier can help the team win in another capacity before kicking him to the curb.
Regier, a good man and a loyal employee, is in the last year of his contract. Could his sound organization skills be suited for another department within the organization, such as scouting? Maybe. Nothing should be ruled out, so long as he doesn't continue as the GM.
Pegula holds Lindy Ruff in high regard, but that doesn't mean the coach is guaranteed to survive a third ownership change. The buzz lately had the next GM, assuming Regier is replaced, making the call on Ruff. Ruff has a say in the matter because his contract also expires after the season.
>What happens with Quinn?
It's not exactly clear, but it appears his only move is selling his percentage of the team and walking away while he can with an estimated $12 million to $15 million. Not a bad score considering his investment was time, not money. Minority partner Dan DiPofi landed in a similar situation and stands to make about $5 million from the sale.
Where do I sign up?
Legal sources last week said they should sell and skedaddle because whatever percentage they own would be worthless after Pegula takes over and puts his own people in charge. Pegula is well aware that Quinn isn't the most popular man in town and understands keeping him would come at the expense of his own credibility. It's a major issue.
>Who are the prospective GMs?
Thrashers GM Rick Dudley is one of the best personnel men in the business and turned around a struggling team in one summer. The Thrashers must sign him to a new contract or he can leave. He keeps a home in Lewiston, knows what needs to be done, knows how to get it done and has ties to the organization.
Don Luce was sent packing when the Sabres trimmed their scouting department in lieu of video. The video scouting has produced good results, but Luce would give them another sound hockey man capable of making bold decisions. He's been a key to Philadelphia's success as the director of player development.
Craig Patrick spent 17 years in Pittsburgh and was largely responsible for putting together the Pens before GM Ray Shero took over. Just ask Shero, the first in line to praise his predecessor. Patrick has been out of hockey but keeps up with the league, remains sharp and wants to get back in the game.
Jim Benning also was fired in the Sabres' scouting department shakeup, became GM Peter Chiarelli's top aide in Boston and helped the Bruins grow into one of the better NHL teams. He's plenty qualified to run his own team and knows the people who can help him make it work.
Claude Loiselle has been working under Leafs GM Brian Burke in Toronto. Loiselle isn't well known to fans, but he's admired in NHL circles for his intelligence and eye for talent. As one agent said, "They're certainly happy with the management up there, but they brought him in out of respect for him and his work."
Others include Pierre McGuire, the analyst for TSN and NBC, who knows the business and players inside and out. Amherst native Mike Mudd is running operations for the San Jose Sharks in Worcester, Mass., and is considered a rising star. Former Sabres prospect Jason Botterill is assistant GM under Shero.
>What about the players?
Since the lockout, the eighth-place team has averaged about 90 points in the standings. If that holds true, the Sabres would need to post a 24-14-6 record or better over their final 44 games to slip into the final spot.
Buffalo is without leading scorer Derek Roy until next season and has a seven-game road trip in March. They're not going to the playoffs without assistance from the hockey gods and, realistically, should start planning for a new era. They don't need to blow up the roster so much as add gamers who are committed to winning.
The goal now should be clearing the books and creating as much salary cap space as possible for the next regime. Tim Connolly and his $4.5 million should be gone along with Craig Rivet and his $3.5 million. Mike Grier and Niedermayer would free up another $2.55 million after this season.
Jochen Hecht has another season at $3 million left on his deal, and Shaone Morrisonn has $2.075 million remaining on his. Any chance they could be bought out? It would mean freeing up more than $15.5 million in dead weight. The money could be spent on better players.
In no time, the Sabres' fan base would be re-energized. Pegula knows as much, too. After all, he's one of their biggest fans.