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Revising the blueprints

PC3_slideIt’s still weird.

It was weird when the press release came through around 9:30am on Wednesday. It’s weird early Friday morning when I’m finally putting words to it. Enough about the organization lately led everyone to be skeptical at the words “major press conference,” enough to the point I almost didn’t bother heading to First Niagara Center to witness it. And it had to be seen to be believed.

Even as the news that a new position had been created, and would be filled by one of the franchise’s hallmark talents (a feasible and exciting addition by the organization), the rest was almost unfathomable. It had to be seen to be believed. Despite the addition of Pat LaFontaine as President of Hockey Operations, that didn’t necessarily imply that Darcy Regier’s tenure in Buffalo was over. Nor that they’d cut ties with head coach Ron Rolston.

So when word started filtering out from sources that have remained questionable for many years, that Regier was gone, Rolston was gone, and Ted Nolan… Ted Nolan was back to coach the team on an interim basis, you realize that “major” isn’t quite strong enough to describe it. You don’t see that come through your twitter feed and believe it. Not when you’re sitting at work trying to figure out what’s going on. Not when you’re sitting on a blue chair in the Pavilion at First Niagara Center, staring at four empty chairs and a podium.

And then here comes Terry Pegula, Ted Black, Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan walking over from the elevator.

Then it all becomes real. And you don’t know what to think.

So I sat there, watching these faces from the past become faces of the present. And still, almost two days later, it’s hard to put together a concise thought about it all.

In honesty, when we’re sitting there at 9:30 on Wednesday, wondering what’s going on, and someone tweets out that Darcy and Ron Rolston are out and Ted Nolan is back as coach, we’re all laughing because there’s no fucking way that’s happening, right? Someone’s either saying that because it’s meant to be a joke or they’re the type of guy that’s been calling in to WGR’s postgame shows for the last decade.

Then it happens and you have to make the transition from “Yeah, right…” to “Ok then.” Read the rest of this entry

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Can the Buffalo Sabres fire Darcy Regier?

regierIn professional sports, when a team isn’t winning, usually there’s changes. On the roster, on the bench, in the front office. Things need to change.

As the Buffalo Sabres continue to struggle, and on the heels of the franchise firing their longtime and beloved coach, general manager Darcy Regier remains in charge.

Fans everywhere want him out, with some holding that opinion for longer than others. (Just ask the dude who yells for it five times at every home game) There’s more than enough reason to validate his removal.

During Regier’s tenure, he has retooled and rebuilt the roster multiple times. There’s been stretches of stagnation and some times of great success. As much as he’s to blame for the team’s current state, he also gets credit for building the post-lockout teams that were among the best in franchise history. He didn’t inherit those, he built them. And it took a few years of struggling to get the group that should’ve gotten them a Stanley Cup.

But that’s the past, and right now, this team sucks. It has a lot of solid pieces, and the whole is definitely less than the sum of the parts. This isn’t underachieving. This is not being good enough.

In that tenure, though, there’s never been the commitment and pressure to win, and win now, that the Buffalo Sabres currently claim. Are they serious? Just ask Lindy. If they’re willing to can the coach, they’d certainly be willing to do the same with the general manager.

But, you ask, what are they waiting for? Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 45th Edition: Detroit Rock Bottom

Things didn’t look too promising coming in to Monday’s game at Joe Louis Arena.

Riding an eight-game losing streak on the road, Buffalo was about to run into a buzzsaw. Detroit was ready to extend their home winning streak to a franchise record 15. The numbers indicated it could be trouble for the Sabres.

Surprise, surprise.

While they held them off the board for just over five minutes, there wasn’t much reason to think the Sabres had any chance to get out of there with points, and they dropped a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway.

“We’ve got to wake up,” Buffalo forward Jason Pominville said.

Ryan Miller got chased after allowing five goals on 14 shots in the first 24:32 of action. He expressed his frustration after the game, and, just like many of us have been saying, there’s no magical cure in his eyes.

“If you want to just destroy a team and go out and be reckless and do something, yeah. Then there’s going to be new guys in here. But other than that, this locker room is going to be pretty much the same, if not completely the same and we gotta find it from in here [points to chest]. You can’t sit and wait for somebody else to fucking do it.”

The nine game losing streak shows no signs of stopping, with the team unable to put together a good road game and visits to Chicago, Winnipeg and St. Louis, all arenas where the home team has dominated, awaiting them.

This is what a season slipping away looks like.

  • Lindy Ruff decided to mix up the defense pairings and forward lines after seeing the team fail to beat the last place Islanders on Saturday. With Andrej Sekera returning in place of Robyn Regehr and T.J. Brennan replacing Joe Finley, there wasn’t going to be much continuity on the blueline anyways. It turned out to be a disaster. Jordan Leopold and Mike Weber looked lost playing together, both being on the ice for four of the five Detroit goals.
  • One of the changes Ruff made was putting Derek Roy between Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Defensively not withstanding, that line looked alright in the offensive zone, especially Roy, who I thought looked good in the attacking zone. The trio had 10 of the Sabres’ 27 shots on Detroit’s Jimmy Howard.
  • Oddly enough, Marc-Andre Gragnani was even on the night. He’s been one of the team’s shakiest defenseman. Somehow his plus-minus doesn’t reflect that. Read the rest of this entry

Complaints & Grievances: Preseason deserves effort too

I really, really, really wanted to write this immediately after getting back from the bar after the game. But I decided that, in the interest of a more reasonable perspective, it’d be best to sleep on it and wait a day to speak my peace. So, I’m going to do my best to refrain from using profanities like I usually would so this doesn’t seem like a rant, but I have something I need to say as a season ticket holder and not a blogger.

I’m absolutely disgusted by how the game presentation was handled on Monday night.

Disgusted.

I’ve been going to games at FNC, HSBC, Marine Midland Arena, whatever you want to call it, regularly for well over a decade. I’m a proud season ticket holder. I will support the team in perpetuity. They’re my team. But I’m getting to the point where I’m losing interest in going to home games.

It’s not a new thing for me to complain about it on this site. And it’s definitely not something I’m ready to quit complaining about.

The Sabres organization has done a phenomenal job improving as a whole since February. I can’t understate that. I’m incredibly appreciative of the upgrades to the arena and the customer service. Ted Black and Terry Pegula, don’t ever change.

But, as a paying customer, I’m absolutely appalled with the half-assed job by the people running the experience inside the seating bowl.

And before I get a single comment about how “It’s just preseason,” that’s absolute crap. That excuse went the way of the dodo the moment season ticket holders got billed for both preseason games.

Personally, I was very happy that both preseason games were included in the package, unlike recent years where we’ve been given the non-Toronto game so the team can make an extra few bucks. I cherish the opportunity to see the players further down the depth chart in action. Unfortunately, for most of the fans at the game (I’m guessing the majority based on the large number of times I overheard someone say “Who is that?”) they showed up and left without ever having a clue as to who those players were. Read the rest of this entry

Case #19 revisited: Tim Connolly, his potential return and fan opinion

Almost three months ago, we discussed the potential of much-maligned pending-UFA center Tim Connolly returning to the Sabres, in a post we called Case #19: The Sabres might want to resign Tim Connolly.

That post got a lot of interesting feedback, some reluctant agreement, as well as a lot of disagreement. In the time since, Tim cooled off near the end of the year, failed to put up big numbers in the playoffs, and got hurt in Game 6 against Philadelphia, seemingly the death blow suffered by the Sabres. After Connolly took a cheap shot from then-Flyer Mike Richards, Buffalo never recovered and lost in seven games.

Incredibly, even seeing how the team suffered without him, fans were ready to move on without the team’s longest tenured player. The consensus is that he’s not wanted by the fans, whether he wants to be here or not.

When asked by 3rd Man In about the situation, Sabres president Ted Black was gracious enough to offer this:

“Darcy and the hockey department make decisions based on if/how that player can help us win the Stanley Cup. Our ultimate goal is to be as successful as we can be. Keep in mind we want players to be good teammates and good citizens off the ice as well. We’re aware that some players are more popular than others with our fans but the bottom line is we want to win the Cup. If the hockey department feels a certain player can help us accomplish that goal, then we will pursue (or retain, as applicable) that player.”

Basically, they’re going to do what they feel is best, whether the fans are going to love it or not.

In the case of Connolly, it’s a good bet fans won’t take too kindly to his return, despite the constant positive press he has received from The Buffalo News in his tenure as a Sabre.

Oh, I’m sorry, I meant negative. Read the rest of this entry

Game 7: Embracing Uncertainty

Today won’t be easy.

Everyone’s going to spend their day at work or school, but it will be mindless. The clock will drag. Patience will be a rarity. That’s not your fault. Tonight is weighing heavy on your mind.

At 7:30 PM eastern time tonight, the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers will play for their seasons. One team moves on, one team goes home for the summer. Looking at the series from the start, there can’t be too many Sabres fans who would’ve turned down this proposition for their 7th seeded team. One game.

Looking back at the series, it might be a shame that Buffalo didn’t close it out sooner. They had their chances in Game 6. Philadelphia has left the door open enough, but the Sabres haven’t taken advantage.

Sure, there’s no Jason Pominville or Tim Connolly, both injured. It’s unsure what can be expected of Derek Roy, their leading scorer at time of injury, who will make his first appearance in a Sabres uniform since the calendar said 2010. Buffalo’s defense has looked sometimes solid, inexperienced at others. Ryan Miller has stolen two games in this series. Should he really have to steal three?

The Buffalo inferiority complex in your head may already be spinning ways it will go wrong or justifying the loss. Not surprising. The expectation of losing is passed down generation-to-generation in western New York. It’s just a defense mechanism.

For many Sabres fans sitting nervous today, 2006 looms large. “What if?” scenarios don’t go away. The Sabres have a relatively “fresh” fanbase, people who have latched on since the lockout. That day in Raleigh is the most painful thing they’ve dealt with. For me, 2001 is the painful memory, seeing a wrist shot from the circle end your season in an instant. Read the rest of this entry

Two games & too many options

The Buffalo Sabres, on the verge of concluding an extended home stand and knee-deep in Pegula-palooza, face a fork in the road this weekend.

With tonight’s matchup against Ottawa, and tomorrow’s visit from the Detroit Red Wings, the Sabres have two more chances to evaluate and plan for Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Just three points out of the final playoff spot in the East with two games in hand on 8th place Carolina, Buffalo clearly isn’t gearing up for a Cup run. But there is the debate whether or not they should be buyers or sellers come Monday, or maybe even inactive.

As I covered in my post on Monday, there’s plenty good reason to sell off what pieces they can. But a couple wins this weekend and an undefeated reign in Pegulaville, and the delusions of grandeur could get the better of Sabres fans.

No matter what happens this weekend, the Sabres will not be eliminated or locked into a spot for the postseason. It’s just another two games of the 23 they have remaining.

Is there any indication as to what the team’s philosophy for Monday’s deadline is? According to the incredibly interesting interview of Terry Pegula by the Buffalo News that was posted on their website, it appears they’re more willing to sell than buy. Realizing they will not pursue rentals, and seeing high prices, it appears the Sabres want to go with what they have and see who’s ready to step up, and who may be expendable come the offseason.

But until Darcy gets that fax machine fired up this weekend (side note: now we never have to worry about whether they can afford a functional fax machine in the office), all that’s in front of the team is a division rival who’s having an awful year. Brian Elliott is no longer around to torment the Sabres’ offense. A win is expected.

The litmus test is Saturday night, when the Red Wings come to Buffalo. Can the Sabres hold up against one of the better teams in the league? We’ll see. Will that impact the team’s direction and attitude for this season? We’ll see.

Sabres are now a fan’s team

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
— Christopher Reeve

It’s tough living in Buffalo. It’s tough being a sports fan in Buffalo. Things are often bleak. They’ve been that way for a long time. But just because things have been that way doesn’t mean we have to accept that.

It’d be easy to gush here about the press conference yesterday introducing Terry Pegula as the new owner of the Sabres. Any fan watching that was pinching themselves to see if it was real. Any skepticism leading up to this day about the future of this team vanished in thin air as we saw the new CEO break down at the sight of Gilbert Perreault in the room.

There’s no more talk about the budget. “Viability” and “solvency” are words of the past. The discussion about the organization’s performance will begin and end with the on-ice product. It’s a relief. We have reason to hope. We have hope that maybe the team is actually headed in the right direction now.

Terry said that the organization will aspire to be the best. That they will turn Buffalo into “hockey heaven” for NHL players. That there will be a parade down Main Street.

The quote above I thought was very poignant. Not just because of the message, but because of the source. He was in accident, got paralyzed and is currently dead. Having a bright outlook and a strong mentality isn’t always enough. Sometimes you will live in circumstances you can’t control. Despite that, the way we think will have a huge impact on how we cope with what happens, whether it’s good or bad. Buffalo traditionally has a defeatist mentality. Whatever can go wrong, will. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But you know what? Sabres fans have plenty of reason to be excited right now. Our owner is one of us who just happens to have the resources to do what we all dreamed about. But we as a group need to tread carefully. Read the rest of this entry

Christmas in Pegulaville: My wish list

It’s a day of hope in Buffalo.

The Sabres may not be doing much to give fans hope on the ice, but off the ice, today officially begins a new era in Buffalo Sabres hockey. This morning’s press conference officially introduces Terry Pegula as the new owner of the franchise.

While there is always hope with change, this is different. This isn’t a businessman looking for a new toy. This isn’t a public service. This guy wants to own the team for the same reason any Sabres fan would. He wants to be a part of it. He wants to win. He’s one of us.

It’s not clear what exactly will happen this week, or this month, or this season. But the sense of stagnation that has wafted from the foot of Washington Street seems like it’s ready to fade away.

I’m not gonna sit here and call for Darcy Regier’s head, or Lindy Ruff. There’s reason to think that they’re capable of doing better. There’s a good chance they will. But there are definitely things at HSBC Arena that can use changes, ones that don’t involve the roster on any given night.

As a fan, as a season ticket holder, and as an industry professional, these things could change for the better:

Game Presentation

Let’s be frank here. The Sabres have one of the worst game presentation departments in the NHL. I’m not saying that because I don’t like it and don’t know what good presentation is (I’ve attended games at 10 NHL arenas, with more to come). I say that because it sucks. (I’ve said it before, too) You hear people complain about how dead the crowd is, and that’s not by mistake.

The Buffalo Sabres as an organization have done a horrible job cultivating fan enthusiasm at games over the past half-decade. Read the rest of this entry

Getting to know: Jessie Pegula

Sabres fans are, for good reason, extremely excited about the new ownership situation at HSBC Arena. After having to question how much winning meant to management over the past few seasons, now there is no reason to question.

We’ve heard all about Terry Pegula by now and how much of a fan he is, but the whole family is as into it as he is… especially his daughter, Jessie.

Jessie Pegula, when not playing tennis, is a die-hard hockey fan and a budding Twitter sensation. 3MI had a chance to talk to Jessie about her family’s latest acquisition, the Buffalo Sabres.

3MI: What is your first memory of the Sabres?
JP: I don’t remember how old I was, but my older sister actually took me to a Sabres and Penguins game in Pittsburgh. I was really young and she was really intense in her Mogilny jersey! We were with a bunch of Pens fans and pretty sure we got stuff thrown at us. It was awesome.

3MI: Is that the best experience you’ve had at a game or is there a more memorable game you attended?
JP: We got to go to the first Winter Classic and that was really special. I’ve been to a Sabres vs. Flyers playoff game, which was unbelievable.

3MI: Who is your favorite Sabre ever?
JP: Um… considering I’m young, I never really experienced some of the older players, the French Connection and that era. But I loved Drury, Afinogenov and Roy. Roy has probably been consistently my favorite player.

3MI: Which team do you enjoy seeing the Sabres beat, and why?
JP: Hands down, the Caps and Flyers. Being from Pittsburgh, and somewhat a former Pens fan, they are our cross-state rival. I just don’t like Washington either. They kind of annoy me. (laughs)

3MI: Has it been weird seeing your father all over the news?
JP: Extremely weird, because my dad is just so not like that. I also now truly understand the whole “don’t believe what you read”. I will no longer read stuff in magazines and believe it. There has been stuff we have read about my family or my dad and I’m just like “Where did they come up with this stuff?” I think its funny, if anything.

3MI: Are you worried or excited about all the attention you’re getting now?
JP: A little bit of both. It is exciting how many people are just excited about the situation. It is a lot of pressure though. We will lose games. We can’t have a new owner and BAM have an undefeated season or something. Hopefully people can understand that.

3MI: Do you think people underestimate how much you know about hockey?
JP: Absolutely! I am a girl! Hopefully, I can prove them wrong. I obviously am not a genius at the game by any means. I am trying to increase my knowledge though. I also want to be the first female owner or GM. I realize that’s a scary thought for a lot of people! (laughs)

3MI: Speaking for Sabres fans, it’s awesome to hear your enthusiasm for the game. How do you think this season will end?
JP: Well thanks! Um, I really want the Sabres to make the playoffs. I think they can do it. Especially with all the hype to fire them up.

3MI: Anything else you’d like to say to Sabres fans, now that your family is taking over?
JP: I just want to say that I know my dad will work as hard as possible to try and get this team on track. It has been his dream to own them and I know he hates to lose. Oh, and go Sabres!

For more insight from the new princess of Sabreland, you can follow Jessie on Twitter (@JPegula) or read her new blog.

Photo courtesy Jessie Pegula. Follow Eric on Twitter @3rdManIn.