Buffalo Sabres play-by-play legend Rick Jeanneret originally planned on working 74 games in the upcoming 2013-14 season and then most likely calling it a career.
But Sabres management convinced him to go into oooooovertime.
The National Hockey League team changed the 71-year-old’s mind by offering him a new three-year deal with a diminishing workload each season before he exits the booth at the end of the 2015-16 season and stays with the team in an honorary capacity.
“Like everybody else, when you hit 70 you start slowing down,” said Jeanneret in a telephone interview. “This is a nice, soft landing spot for me. They were so very gracious to offer it to me. I’m delighted. I don’t know if you’d call it a golden parachute, but I couldn’t be happier.”
He also is very familiar with his eventual replacement, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ radio play-by-play man Dan Dunleavy. After working the games that Jeanneret will miss over the next three seasons, Dunleavy will become the Sabres’ full-time play-by-play man starting with the 2016-17 season.
“Dan went to Niagara (Ontario) College with my son Chris,” said Jeanneret. “I have known him for years and admired his work on the Leafs games that I could hear. He’s a great fit, and I’m looking forward to working together with him.”
Under the Sabres’ play-by-play succession plan, Jeanneret plans to work 57 games this season, 47 games next season and half the games in his final season.
If those figures remain constant, Dunleavy will do play-by-play on 25 games this season, 35 games next season and 41 games in Jeanneret’s final season before he takes over full time. The Sabres said he also will be on Sabres pregame and postgame broadcasts and have “a substantial presence” on Sabres.com.
Jeanneret and Dunleavy will both work with Rob Ray, who is returning as the color analyst on all games. The team also announced that Brian Duff will return as pregame, postgame and intermission host.
Dunleavy’s resume is extensive. He spent 19 years at Sportsnet Radio and The Fan 590 Toronto, and did play-by-play for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for men’s and women’s hockey, the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Halifax and Quebec City, the OHL’s Mississauga Majors, and Canadian Hockey League and American Hockey League games on Rogers Sportnet. He also has done play-by-play on professional soccer and lacrosse games.
Of course, Dunleavy won’t have it easy replacing a legend like Jeanneret, who will be entering his 42nd season doing Sabres play-by-play this season.
“It’s not going to be an easy chore,” conceded Jeanneret before turning self-deprecating. “It’s not because I am any good or bad. It’s because I’ve been here for generations.”
Dunleavy knows following a legend won’t be easy.
“I don’t think you can look at it that way,” said Dunleavy in a telephone interview. “There is no replacing a legend like Rick Jeanneret. Over the next three years, fans can get to know me a little bit.”
A native of Southern Ontario, Dunleavy said he grew up listening to Ted Darling, the Sabres’ late play-by-play man, before hearing Jeanneret. Jeanneret started doing Sabres play-by-play on radio when the legendary Darling worked the telecasts.
“I have no thoughts of filling his shoes or replacing him in any way,” said Dunleavy, who met Jeanneret when Jeanneret’s son brought him to the family home.
“I was introduced and said, ‘Oh, you’re THAT Jeanneret,” recalled Dunleavy.
Dunleavy is leaving a much bigger TV and radio market, but he realizes that there are only 30 No. 1 play-by-play jobs in the NHL and that it is worth the three-year wait to get the Sabres job. In Toronto, Joe Bowen does TV play-by-play, and Dunleavy figured Bowen could continue in that role for 10-15 years.
“Growing up in Southern Ontario, the Sabres always have been a team I followed when I was growing up and I always had an interest in,” said Dunleavy.
He said he was thinking about the possibility of applying for the Sabres job if it became available after he worked a few games filling in for Jeanneret during the 2010-11 season.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great when the day comes for Rick to hang them up to take over?’ ” said Dunleavy. “So when this opportunity came up, I couldn’t say no.”
He said he feels it is an exciting time for the Sabres, who will have numerous young players out to prove themselves in what is expected to be a rebuilding season.
“I have to prove myself, too,” said Dunleavy. “I like having to prove myself on a daily basis.”
He figured he already passed his first Sabres test a few seasons back when the team went into overtime against Ottawa in one of the two games he subbed for Jeanneret.
“You know whose voice was in my head?” asked Dunleavy. “Rick Jeanneret’s. I had to make sure I didn’t say oooooovertime like he does. I had to stop myself from being someone else and just be myself.”
Just being yourself certainly is a good philosophy for replacing a legend. After all, most fans know that there can only be one Rick Jeanneret.