Terry Pegula:

Dropping The Hate & Welcome Back

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I know I’m supposed to be mad at the NHL, but quite frankly I’m just glad that hockey’s back.

With all of the online petitions and ire directed at the NHL, the general consensus seemed to be that we had to demand some sort of retribution from the NHL and the various owners. But how can we be mad at an owner the likes of Terry Pegula?

The Pegula clan didn’t want this lockout but they did the best they could with it. They offered a 50% off sale in the Sabres store and Kim Pegula even handed out hot chocolate to fans in line. The Sabres even started a new way to win over Sabres fans at birth by giving newborns a Sabres “We Live Hockey” blanket and a “Future First-Round Pick” certificate.

 Dropping The Hate & Welcome Back

(My original source is this 3 Smartest Things in Buffalo post at Trending Buffalo by BSN’s Scott.  It’s a great read!)

Some have said the Sabres haven’t done enough to “apologize” to fans for the lockout. That other teams have done way more, like Nashville offering 2 for 1 tickets or Toronto extending their 50% off sale into the season.

Whatever. Each team is their own business, or franchise and can handle it how they see fit.

The NHL is a business, as are nearly ALL entertainment outlets that we enjoy. They provide entertainment for a fee. It’s an illusion to think that the NHL exists simply to provide us joy.

We want to believe that sports is pure, that it’s all about the athletes’ heart, the love of the game, that they fight for our city or region. Which, y’know is true to a certain extent, but it is all predicated on the fact that the engine running it needs capitol to sustain itself.

 Dropping The Hate & Welcome Back

That doesn’t mean a major sports league needs to be entirely heartless, but stuff like lockouts and strikes are bound to happen.

I get that people are pissed that hockey seems to have had more than it’s fair share of work stoppages, but… ah well. I just can’t get too worked up about it. The Sabres didn’t want it to happen so I guess my feelings were to just sit back and do something else until the players got back on the ice.

And now that they’re back, it’s amazing and has made me realize exactly how much I love the sport of hockey. Maybe it’s a little “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. In any case it’s awesome, and I’ve dropped any ill will I’ve had towards the NHL. Hell, maybe a 48-game season is better anyway, but that’s a subject for another post.

Welcome back Sabres, and go get ‘em!

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Bills And Sabres Making All The Right Moves

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It’s a pretty great feeling when your favorite sports teams seem to be making all the right moves. As Buffalo sports fans we’ve certainly dealt with a lot of stomach-roiling management over the years and it’s nice to feel like things are finally going well for both the Sabres and the Bills management-wise.

As for the Bills we had to put up with some horrible coaching ever since the Marv Levy days. Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and a brief look at Perry Fewell. Fewell didn’t have enough tenure for us to know much about him but the rest … ugh.

 Bills And Sabres Making All The Right Moves

The “Dick Jauron Face”. Passion-inspiring it is not. We had to put up with THREE YEARS of this.

Chan Gailey is such a breath of fresh air form those guys – especially from Dick Jauron. It’s ridiculous to think back on the fact that he fired his offensive coordinator and had Alex Van Pelt install a no-huddle offense mere weeks from the start of the regular season. “Hey build me an awesome offense quickly. It’s easy, right? Hey, you’ve got Trent Edwards so don’t complain.” Er, yeah.

Mismanagement. We’d dealt with it for over a decade.

Now the Sabres have fans thinking that it’s possible they could pick up any player in the NHL. Rick Nash? Certainly possible. One source said they had $100 million offers in on both Parise and Suter. They’re willing to spend money and do anything – absolutely ANYTHING – that is necessary to make the team better.

The Bills got Mario freaking Williams to come to Buffalo. They’re signing great talent at every position and appear to be on the cusp of better-than-average-ness (I won’t say greatness because it’s been too damn long since we could say that and I don’t want to jinx it.)

There’s a disturbance in the force. Great players are being attracted to Western New York. Maybe it’s the prevalence of chicken wings across the country. Perhaps it’s a decades-long plot finally coming to fruition where scientists figured out a way to inject hot sauce with a mind-controlling substance that calls atheletes home to the wing mecca that is Buffalo.

Whatever the reason for it, it’s awesome. The Bills and Sabres may not reach their expectations this season but it’s still a great feeling to know that the organizations are willing to do the right things. That they’re willing to spend money and be aggressive. That they don’t just follow someone else’s script, but instead blaze trails with their own gameplans.

Another thought is that I used to give bad coaches the benefit of the doubt. After a year of guys like Williams/Mularkey/Jauron I’m usually like, “chill people, let’s give them a couple of years and see what they can do when they’ve established their system”. I used to think that 3 years was what it took for a new coaching regime to get their things going.

That’s bull. A new coach’s presence should be felt immediately. The team might not start winning right away, but you should be able to see their affect on the team. We saw that early on with Chan Gailey. He was willing to switch from Trent Edwards to Fitzpatrick within weeks of the regular season starting. He recognized that Edwards’ brain didn’t work at the game speed required at the NFL level while Fitzy’s did. Chan pulled the trigger and reversed his decision while other coaches (*couch*Jauron*cough*) just stay stuck in the mire of the decision they made in the past.

Thank goodness for Chan, Nix, Lindy, Darcy and perhaps most of all the Pegula clan. They may not make ALL the right moves, but you can’t be perfect. At least they’re sticking to their blueprint for success and being unabashedly aggressive about it. I love it. And it bodes well for an exciting 2012-2013 for both franchises.

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Three Games Left And No Negatives

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I refuse to be negative about the Sabres.

Yes, it’s been a weird year and they haven’t lived up to the hype and expectations. But those expectations were put on them by an external source.

I’m not saying Terry Pegula was wrong to boldly declare we’d be going where no major Buffalo sports franchise has gone before and actually win a championship, but there was going to be some fallout from it and it wasn’t going to happen right away.

Especially after the miracle of last year’s run to the playoffs, then the offseason acquisitions and everyone pegging the Sabres as being a beast of the East and one of the top teams – on paper.

As Ryan Miller said in a recent interview, the Sabres were never that team. They were a young team with talent and tons of upside, but they’d have to gel into Cup contender.

Then they were smacked with the plague of injuries.

To come back from the unfortunate first half of the year like they did is nothing short of astonishing, and all the gems we’ve found along the way (like Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Ennis really coming into his own, etc.) has added to the run.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and make the playoffs yet, or maybe maybe not. Of course, I’d love to get to watch some bonus hockey and see how they do, but I’m not going to let it get me down about the future of this team.

lets go buffalo sabres1 Three Games Left And No Negatives

The Sabres were not going for broke and selling out just to win this year. Over the course of the next 5 years, the Sabres are going to be stacked and could easily dominate their division during that time. This isn’t 2005-2007 where we’re good for a couple of years and then lose our two best guys in Drury and Briere.

The problem is the public perception of the masses. Of course I’m not talking about our educated BSN readership or other hardcore Sabres fans, but the general sporting world is pretty binary: you’re either great or you suck.

The Sabres recently lost 2 close games, one to a stellar Penguins team and the other to an admittedly crappy Leafs squad. But the Sabres were on a tear before that, having won 5 in a row – you can’t win ‘em all. And one could argue that the Leafs will play the Sabres tough whenever, plus they were in their home building.

They’re the same team as they were before they lost those 2 games. Quite frankly, I was surprised they hung in there with the Pens as well as they did.

The Sabres can easily turn this right back around and win their last three games. Maybe two will be all they need, or two and an OT point.

For this season at least, the Sabres have burned their boats behind them and there is no retreat. They can go forward and play their best hockey with their backs to the wall.

There are 3 games left and Washington has left the door open a crack by losing last night. The Sabres play hard and get in, or they don’t. I’m hoping they make it of course, but if they don’t I’m not going to let it affect the positive outlook of where this team is headed. We’ve got at least one more week of Sabres hockey left and I’m going to savor it.

If the Sabres lose tonight however, my tune may change a bit. Ask me how I’m feeling tomorrow…

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The Tease Is Over This Year For Sabres Fans – Now What?

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A tease.

That’s what this year has been.

We were teased with a competitive team after the offseason. Then teased again when the Sabres put together a short winning streak in late January/early February.

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No not that kind of a tease.

After the 7-2 absolute drubbing at the hands of the hated Flyers, we now know there is no hope for this team, this year. Well, of course many of us knew before this, but some of us held out the slightest glimmer of hope. I did.

We were teased last year with the 16-4-4 run to end the season and make the playoffs… only to be crushed at the hands of those very same hated Flyers. Now we know that the run to the playoffs was more flukey than being eliminated in the 1st round and the record the Sabres currently hold (24-27-6).

The combination of the bad record despite the high expectations, the mediocre play on the ice, the Lucic Incident and issues of softness, and the TV problems with Time Warner make this season a difficult pill to swallow for Sabres fans.

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Cleanup was indeed needed after the Sabres D soiled themselves in the 2nd period against the Flyers.

Lindy Ruff’s birthday is today but the celebration of his day has to be marred by where this franchise is at. This was supposed to be a mecca of hockey. A return to greatness. No, not even a return to greatness, but something better than we’d had in the past. Pegula labeled it “Hockey Heaven” – claimed a Stanley Cup was in our future. We got the Amerks back in the fold, got coaches entrenched that could coach Lindy’s “System”, the whole deal.

Pegula, Ted Black and the rest of the Sabres brass has consistently said we need to stay the course, to do nothing drastic.

At this point, even they have to see that something needs to be done. Questions come up about the coaching, about the general manager and about the heart of some of the players.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think we can just stay pat with the cards we’re holding. Perhaps it’s as simple as a trade or two now and build towards next year. Maybe it’s as drastic as firing Lindy Ruff.

After all, the team seems to embody his “nothing is wrong, we’ll get through this” mentality. Yes, it’s good for a coach to keep an even keel, but sometimes you need to light a fire under the guys.

Maybe Lindy does that, I don’t know as I’m not close enough to the team. All I know is that I see some guys on the ice who aren’t giving their all. I know that Lindy has had years of chances with different versions of this team and he hasn’t won a championship. There’s two sides to that coin: a) He’s done well over the years and gotten us deep in the playoffs b) It’s him holding us back from doing better than we could.

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THE ANSWER! Ok, not gonna happen, but it's fun to think about. More likely he'll go NASHville. These captions are horrible, but they're free, so quit yer whining.

In the end, I will have faith that “Pegula knows best”, that Ted Black and the rest of the staff are smart hockey guys and will get this thing figured out. But now we have to turn our attention to trades and a better draft pick and I don’t like that.

Go Sabres. /sigh

[Update: I was remiss not to say this: #DoSomethingDarcy]

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The Most Crucial Road Trip Of The Year For The Sabres

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If this was a story, the Sabres would be at a critical turning point. Could this be the darkest hour for the Sabres, when it looks like things are at their worst?

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Click to embiggen the standings... if you can stomach it.

The Sabres are 7 points back in the Eastern Conference now, in the 11th spot. And just when you think the Sabres are getting healthy, they take some more hits. Vanek took a puck to the jaw requiring him to finish the Islanders game with a full cage. He should still play, but it’s scary. Regehr is likely out for the next four games and Leopold has been battling the flu. Almost as a symbol of the dark times, we also have the MSG/Time Warner cable dispute.

The calls for the Sabres to make drastic changes are getting louder and louder and from more and more sources. The hashtag #darcydosomething has become a very popular tag recently.

The Sabres front office has maintained a calm demeanor and insisted that nothing drastic should be done or will be done. Terry Pegula has reiterated that it’s all about injuries and that the Sabres can’t really even move anyone until they get back to some semblence of health. From The Buffalo News:

“What everybody is missing is that I’ve been carrying around 167 man games,” he said by telephone Thursday evening. “Forget about the season. I’m talking about the last 25 games. We’ve had 18 players go down. It’s like a merry-go-round every night. You look on the ice and what are your defensive pairs tonight? Hell, who knows? Who’s healthy?

“My attitude now is, ‘Let’s put Humpty [Dumpty] back together again,’ ” Pegula said. “I want our players to know that I thought we had a pretty good hockey team until all this happened. Let’s paste it back together and start a new season.”

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Forever more Humpy Dumpty and Terry Pegula will be linked in my mind. Pegula is the King and it will take all of his horses to get this team back in the playoff mix.

This was before Friday night’s Maple Leafs game win and the loss against the New York Islanders. The team came out guns blazing against Toronto but not quite as energetic against the Islanders. As a start to a new season within a season, it’s not wholly inspiring. (Of course, blaming injuries for the losses is starting to get old for fans.)

Next on the agenda is a 5-game road trip that ends before the NHL All-Star break, kicked off by a game against the always tough Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are 7-3 in their last 10 and looking for a record 15th consecutive home win. Not to mention the Wings are 18-2-1 against the Sabres in their last 22 games AND 10-0-1 in their last 11 games. Oy.

This 5-game road trip will be crucial to the start of the Sabres “new season” and hopes of getting back into the playoff mix. With games against the Red Wings, Chicago, Winnipeg, St. Louis and New Jersey, it won’t be a cakewalk. Each of those teams is 6th or better in their respective conference except for Winnipeg who sits at 10th in the East (just above our Sabres). The Sabres have their work cut out for them.

Will the Sabres dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of or will they get back in the race? We’ll start to find out tonight.

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