Terry Pegula:

Comparing the Sabres to The Lightning

For an NHL organization to excel and win the Stanley Cup, it must start at the very top of the organization. In that, the Sabres have been pretty fortunate with ownership, aside of course from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Sabres rarely missed the playoffs under the ownership of Seymour Knox and say what you want about Golisano, but he single-handedly kept the Sabres in Buffalo. Plus, during Golisano’s stewardship, the Sabres made it to two consecutive conference finals just after a tumultuous lockout year.

And now, we have the Pegula era.

It’s been a heartwarming start to the new era, and I think most Sabres fans would lift their caps to Terry Pegula (I just had to work a bad hat company pun in there).

To see how well (or poorly) the Sabres may do, we should look to a team that has done something similar recently. The Tampa Bay Lightning were bought last year by Jeff Vinik, who has completely overhauled the franchise, bringing in new general manager Steve Yzerman and new coach Guy Boucher.

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That looks like fun! Let's do that.

As should be the case for the Sabres, everyone in the Lightning organization has bought in to what they’re doing. From an article at NHL.com talks about the Lightning’s changes:

Any system, any role for a player starts with acceptance, and the guys in the Lightning dressing room almost sound like robots with the way they praise “Mr. Vinik” and “Mr. Yzerman” for how they laid the groundwork before the season even started.

When Boucher asks the players to tweak something or try something different, they do it. When Yzerman makes a personnel move, the players believe he has made the team better.

The Sabres seemed to buy in to Pegula right from the get-go. And the Sabres had the advantage of a smoother transition as they didn’t need to learn how to play a new system. Ruff and Regier stayed in place; probably a wise move by Pegula but time will tell.

Tampa Bay, unlike Buffalo, didn’t have a great goaltender. They picked up 41 year old Dwayne Roloson who is leading the playoffs in goals against at 2.17/game. The Sabres, of course have an all-star in Ryan Miller and a steady backup in young Jhonas Enroth.

The other thing Tampa Bay needed to complete their transformation? A veteran number 1 defenseman:

“We needed somebody that was going to be able to log a lot of minutes, have the speed to play against top lines that are fast, have the size to play against bigger lines, be able to play in the power play and the penalty kill and have leadership” Boucher said. “So if you put that down as a shopping list, that’s a pretty big shopping list.”

A big shopping list, indeed, and something the Sabres need as well. You can talk about how well the young defenseman are maturing, and they are, but it may not be happening fast enough. Will they be ready by playoff time next year? Maybe. Maybe not. Acquiring a big-time, hard-hitting, veteran blue liner  is something the Sabres will no doubt look at this offseason.

Of course you can add any players you want and if they don’t gel, you have nothing. From Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Lundin:

“From what I’ve seen from the past few years, this year the biggest thing has been the structure of everything — the organization, the team and then the system on the ice. It has really come together this year, and all around everyone knows their role, how to act in every situation and how to play.”

Judging from the Sabres 2nd half finish, they came together as a team very well. The young core should mesh even further in the offseason. Hopefully Brad Boyes will feel more comfortable and find his role in the Sabres offense. The young guys have gotten a taste of the playoffs and by the time next spring rolls around should be prepared to do much better.

By all accounts, the Sabres seem to be pretty solid and Terry Pegula has the ship sailing in the right direction. Now it’s up to Regier to add a just a few more critical pieces.

Go Sabres. Nope can’t use that, it’s Scott’s signoff.

Let’s go Buffalo! Nah, too cheesy and doesn’t translate well to text.

Attaboy, Darcy! Umm… in  a word, no.

It’s their rink, it’s their ice, and it’s their &%$in town. But tonight we got our fans with us! Too obscure?

All hail Pegula!

You know what, I’ll just quit typing and end the post like that.

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The Start Of Something Special For the Sabres

The 2010-2011 Buffalo Sabres season was something to behold, something truly unique. I’ve been a fan of the Sabres since I was a kid, but it really wasn’t until the early 90s that I understood the game and was a regular to watching the sport.

I’ve been watching ever since then, some years with less interest, some years with more. I’ve had some very down years where I’ve had other things happening and didn’t watch at all. Of course we had the Mogilny/Lafontaine era, then the Hasek playoff runs and Ted Nolan era, then the excitement of the post-lockout years and being good again after almost losing our team.

But even compared to all of that, there was something very special about this past season. I don’t think it was just that it was the most recent in my memory. We were way out of the playoffs in February, but the team started to gel. Then Pegula rode out of the mist on his steed like King Arthur coming to Camelot.

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Well, not exactly like this.

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One Nation, Under Pegula

I hope you like our slogan.

We are very fond of it.  We are also very fond of Terry Pegula, for what he has done for the Sabres franchise so early on in his ownership tenure.  Of course, Terry has his own slogan.

“Winning is not a goal, it is a belief.”

It’s amazing, in retrospect, to understand how the Sabres got as far as they did this season.  Once in 30th place, Buffalo posted a 16-4-4 record down the stretch – not only to solidify the playoffs, but to claim 7th place.  That 16-4-4 record is from the beginning of the Pegula Era – from the beginning of the “belief.”

Mark that as Pegula’s first gift to the Sabres franchise.

Throughout that remarkable stretch, there would be plenty more to come:

  • He decided not to dismantle the team he bought, instead, he bought into his team. Trading only to bring Brad Boyes in, his men responded by going 16-4-4 to improbably make the playoffs.
  • He made the Sabres family whole again, when he invited all Sabres alumni back into the fold. Every one of those guys who spent time here have since gone back to their homes, and around the world, the message that they brought back was “Buffalo is the new destination.”
  • He brought free programs.
  • He fixed the plumbing at HSBC.
  • He made the decision to remove a ill-attended museum, to utilize the space in the arena as it should be – for hockey.
  • He allowed fans to choose game day tunes.
  • He reunited the French Connection for one more time.
  • He put Ted Black on a fan Internet chat for a NHL record 3 hours and 18 minutes.
  • He followed his new team on the road, sitting in the cheap seats, so he could keep the magic run alive.
  • He invested, and is investing, every penny towards a Cup, and nothing else.
  • He challenged the Buffalo News for being unfairly and detrimentally negative.
  • He brought a second screen in for the Party in the Plaza.
  • He purchased a $20,000 carpet for the locker room.
  • He provided fans with an amazing service for their beloved #7.
  • He planted a flag at HSBC that read “Hockey Heaven.”
  • He met fans in the lobby before games.
  • He instilled a sense of hope in a franchise and a city that had been drowning under the heavy ice of Lake Erie for a decade.

And he did it all in 24 games.  (And 7 unexpected bonus games.)

I apologize if I forgot some of the things he has done – as a Buffalo fan, none of us are accustomed to such largesses.

When it was all over, Pegula reached out to the fan base on the Sabres’ website:

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(Click to enlarge.)

 

Many fans have wept over the sting of that Game Seven loss that ended the magic ride.  But every Sabres fan, be they of the youngest, newest generation – or from the re-welcomed alumni, all share the same new glow:

“Winning is not a goal.  It is a belief.”

These 31 games were quite the preview.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.  If Pegula’s letter tells us anything, it says there is a lot of good coming our way.

Go Sabres.

 

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