The honeymoon officially came to an end on Saturday, December 18th with this bit of sarcasm from owner Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, "We saw some great goaltending tonight, didn't we?"
Although his outburst could have been off the record, Pegula insisted they print it. He followed up with "If they [as a team] think they played well, we've got more problems," he said.
It would seem as if Pegula's eyes were thrown wide open watching the embarrassment that was his teams 8-3 loss at the hands of Pittsburgh, and if he thinks this team, constructed as is from GM on down, can get out of this mess, this organization could be in for a long, cold winter of discontent.
Ask six different fans where the problem lies with this team and you'll get six different answers. Ask the members of the Buffalo media what needs to be addressed and you'll get different answers as well.
What everyone will agree on, though, is that "the core" that GM Darcy Regier put together more than four years ago has proven that they can not get the job done as a core group. While the defense has been shuffled to the point where only one of the six regular defensemen--Andrej Sekera--is still with the team going back to 2008/09, up-front four of the Sabres top-six remain. In fact Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford were given top-six roles as well as the mantle of leadership (minus the letters in some cases) dating back to the 2007/08 season.
And one would think that Pegula is finally seeing what we fans and media types have been seeing for the past four-plus seasons.
His anger and frustration after being embarrassed in Pittsburgh was outwardly directed at his goaltending (maybe specifically at Ryan Miller,) but that outward sarcasm may have been directed at himself moreso than anything else.
As an owner with deep pockets and a deep commitment to winning, he could have done a number of things since he took over back in February, but he stayed the course with his GM and coach. By doing so he stayed the course with "the core" and not only that, he doubled down by allowing his "hockey minds" to sew letters on their sweaters thereby dubbing them undisputed leaders--team captain, Pominville along with alternate captains Vanek, Roy, Stafford and long-time Sabres forward Paul Gaustad.
Although their record is right around .500 at the Christmas break, this Sabres team has been embarrassed on four separate occasions dating back to November 2nd. Three of the embarrassments were vs. top-notch Eastern Conference foes--vs. Philly, at Boston and the Pittsburgh game. They were also humiliated in Columbus versus the last place Blue Jackets by a 5-1 score.
Their 7-9-3 record at the F'N Center is not only weak, but it is also tainted as four of their six wins were against teams outside of the playoff mix--Columbus, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa. One was against Toronto and another was against a Washington Capitals team intent upon laying down and getting their coach fired (which happened the day after as Bruce Boudreau was shown the door.) The other was against the surprising Florida Panthers.
Their nine regulation losses include Philadelphia, Detroit and Pittsburgh by a combined 15-6 score while playoff holdovers from last year, Tampa Bay and Phoenix took down Buffalo by a combined 8-5 margin. The other four losses were to two teams on the rise--Florida and the NY Rangers (outscored 7-3)--as well as Carolina and the NY Islanders (combined 6-4 margin.) Add it all up and in nine regulation losses dating back to Philly on Nov. 2, the team has been oustscored 36-18.
For an owner who's frequently at games, especially at the F'N Center, it's brutal. Add in the overall apathy of the fans, punctuated frequently by boos, and you have an abomination staring Pegula in the face. The crowds are beginning to gather and are reaching for their pitchforks and torches. This cannot be a good sign for an owner who believes his principle job is to be liked by the fan-base.
Terry Pegula assembled a group that he considers to be some of the best in the business--Team President Ted Black, Senior Advisor/Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson and Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer.
Pegula "the owner," along with those three did their "due diligence" and decided to retain GM Darcy Regier.
Pegula "the fan," decided in no uncertain terms that Lindy Ruff would remain as Head Coach and proceeded to extend his contract.
Both of those decisions at this point of the season seem to be coming back to bite him. His team is presently in 11th place having gone 3-5-2 in the month of December. They went into the Christmas break on a three game losing streak and have not won back to back games since wins vs. Winnipeg and Ottawa Nov. 8th and 11th.
GM Darcy Regier's off-season acquisitions are off to a rough start. Christian Ehrhoff is on a pace for five goals, well below his back to back 14-goal seasons in Vancouver. Ville Leino is on injured reserve. He scored a goal in his first game as a Sabre, went into the tank for the next 20 games, started to pull out of it then suffered his "lower body" injury vs. Ottawa two weeks ago.
Robyn Regehr has been solid if unspectacular, which is exactly why he is here. He's a minus-6 on the year and had the unenviable task of taking on 6'9" behemoth Bruin Zdeno Chara in "the rematch" last month.
For his part, Lindy Ruff is making lemonade out of lemons, but should not be given a free pass this season. His goaltending rotation has been deplorable (as usual) and he still insists that his defense corps join the rush, even though they've not been able to work through their poor decisions as of yet.
The Sabres power play has been average even with the addition of a shooter like Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff was at his best in Vancouver when he was able to find an opening for a one-timer. He's been stuck on the point almost in the role of a pp quarterback, which should be the role of young d-man Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Gragnani has been a mess this season and it would seem as if the only thing the coaching staff sees is his plus-minus which sits at a team-high plus-11.
The biggest thing for Ruff, though, is that his thought process seems to be in total disarray. And when that happens, no matter what decision he makes it seems to be the wrong one.
The Christmas hiatus for the entire NHL is a blessing for both Regier and Ruff as either could have been chopped after the team embarrassed and angered their owner. Although Pegula has shown patience and has said that panic is not an option, his post-Pittsburgh remark has shown that his patience has grown thin.
You don't get to grow a business into a multi-billion dollar company by sitting idly by as incompetence and/or poor decisions by your subordinates come to the fore. There comes a time where someone will need to be held accountable and it may come down either Ruff or Regier's head on the chopping block.
The team could avert that by moving one (or more) of "the core," but Regier has shown a propensity to stick by his group through thick or thin as if he was clinging on to a dynasty similar to that of the Canadians, Islanders or Oilers. And if Pegula forces Regier to trade one of "the core," does he really need a GM like that?
That being said, Derek Roy's name seems to pop up all the time, whether it be his purported insolence concerning Ruff and his "system" or his production to price ratio. He has value, and would probably fetch the most in a return. Many have been pointing out that the team was considerably better last season when he was out of the line-up so he may be the one to get shown the door.
Others like Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes up-front as well as Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and "Grags" on the back-end will have their names pop up, but for various reasons are not as movable as Roy.
Even the once untouchable Ryan Miller could be moved at this point although it's highly unlikely considering how average Jhonas Enroth was in his absence.
But nothing should be off of the table should the organization decide to make a trade, with Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers and Brayden McNabb about as close to untouchable as they come on this team.
Back in the summer while announcing the Tyler Myers extension, Pegula addressed the points brought up concerning his spending spree and he put it this way, "This notation that we're spending more money than the other teams, we had some things we needed to address, and we have a timeline, so why wait two years to do it. We tried to take care of immediate needs early."
Right now it would seem as if his timeline is still there but his team is going backwards, and it's to be assumed that Pegula won't stand still preferring to address the problems and needs immediately.
Maybe it's wishful thinking on the part of a fan who's watched this team stay the course for four-plus years, but you gotta believe that Pegula will demand something be done.
Spending money is one thing. Spending money on personnel who don't deserve it is another. He's set up his Pegula Rewards Program and so far there are very few who have shown they either have the competence to be worthy of it or have shown their appreciation by going all-in every night.
This as a defining moment for Pegula and his charges. The veil is off and what's staring him in the face is nothing like what he initially perceived.
His anger and frustration at being embarrassed in Pittsburgh may have been directed at his goaltending, but more than likely it was directed at himself.
And we're pretty sure he doesn't like what's transpired over the course of the season thus far.