The NEXT GREAT SABRES BLOGGER Round 2: Loukas
The Buffalo Sabres held a news conference on February 22nd, 2011 to present their new owner Terry Pegula. The main message from Terry Pegula that day: "The Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup. We will aspire to be the best in the league at finding, developing and keeping players in the Buffalo Sabres family." For all of us who have seen that press conference, tell me he did not look giddy like a child on Christmas with his new toy.
Money was no object
The Sabres last made the playoffs in the 2010-11 season. After backing up the Brink’s truck, the club signed Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff as free agents in the summer of 2011. The long-term contracts given both those players, especially Leino (only one solid season performance), brought unreasonable expectations and was a recipe for disaster. Three years later, Leino and Ehrhoff were bought out by the Sabres.
Not the best asset management
The club has gone through several difficult seasons since, even tanking to go all-in on McDavid. The Oilers won the lottery and Buffalo came away with Eichel, a nice consolation prize at number two overall at the NHL draft in 2015. Instead of rebuilding slowly to replenish the farm system with the many draft picks accumulated previously by Darcy Regier and Tim Murray, several major trades were made by Murray (Evander Kane, Robyn Lehner and Ryan O’Reilly) to expedite the process and put a more competitive club on the ice.
Despite all these moves, the Sabres players regressed. After Murray overpaid for them and only three seasons, Jason Botterill traded Kane to San Jose, O’Reilly to St-Louis and the Sabres decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Lehner.
The Buffalo Sabres appear like a dysfunctional family in need of therapy. More so than when the club was purchased by Terry Pegula.
What is the problem?
Here is my take on the problem: The Pegulas micromanage and have priorities elsewhere.
The Pegulas seem to have a say in everything and do not let the hockey people do their job. The O’Reilly trade happened on July 1st, 2018 before a roster bonus of $7.5 Million kicked in at midnight which was paid by the St-Louis Blues. While the Pegulas had no qualms buying out players or firing coaches and GM’s, it seems Botterill was pressured into making this deal before the end of the day to avoid paying the contract bonus. The return would most likely have been better had the Sabres paid it themselves.
Contrary to what Terry Pegula said during that press conference in 2011, the O’Reilly trade and the multiple layoffs during the pandemic prove money drives decisions.
Furthermore, the Sabres were the first child of the Pegula Sports entertainment family. Then in September 2014 came the Buffalo Bills. It seems the Buffalo Sabres have become the sacrificed child with the Pegulas’ focus shift on their new baby and the big NFL stage.
What is the plan?
The Buffalo Sabres are driving on the road to nowhere. The Pegulas are not even close to achieving the goal of winning the Stanley Cup and doing what is right for the fan base and the team.
February 2018, the New York Rangers released a letter to their fans announcing the team was rebuilding. By releasing that letter seeking to inform of their plan, the Rangers treated their fans in a mature and respectful manner. Three years later the Rangers are a competitive team fighting to make the playoffs.
Having a plan and communicating it would benefit the Buffalo Sabres. A well-thought-out plan with realistic goals and timeframe setting out how they intend to win the Stanley Cup.
What should the core look like going forward?
The Buffalo Sabres have several core players like Eichel, Dahlin, Reinhart that are not progressing at their full capacity on a club that is going nowhere. As noted in my previous article, I am open to Eichel and/or Dahlin being traded if the Sabres can fetch a handsome return.
In a lost season with the team playing in the tough East division created during the pandemic, Eichel’s long-term injury is a blessing in disguise for the development of young players on the roster.
I am pleased with the progression of Casey Mittlestadt, Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens and Rasmus Dahlin lately. Even Anders Bjork, albeit only having played four games since coming over from Boston, has been a pleasant surprise.
This will allow GM Kevyn Adams to determine what is the core going forward and the players worth keeping for the future.
Suboptimal to Sabres optimal
The NHL and NFL are totally different ballgames (well, you know what I mean). I get that the Bills generate more income. It is no reason for the Sabres to take a back seat. After throwing away money to make a splash, whether it be signing free agents, head coaches or GMs, the Pegulas have several times fired people and are continuing to pay them to do nothing.
The Sabres are lucky to have patient and loyal fans. As a Sabres and Bills fan, I used to say: There is always next year. However, as an organization hope is not enough. You need to build for the future. The Sabres need a plan.
For the Buffalo Sabres to stand a chance to make the playoffs again, suboptimal asset management must be replaced with a “Sabres optimal” plan where the Pegulas accord the Sabres the importance they give the Bills.