Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ted Black takes some heat on WGR from fans

"I appreciate the 15 year frustration that the fans of the franchise have. I and [Owner] Terry [Pegula] judge everyone--not singularly focused on [GM] Darcy [Regier] and [Head Coach] Lindy [Ruff]--on the performance since we've been there."
--Team President Ted Black on the Howard Simon Show Thursday

There you have it.

Overall the Sabres are 55-36-15 since they took over. They have made the playoffs once going 3-4 losing in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers and missed the playoffs this season.

Since they took over some major changes in philosophy have taken place--specifically the financial aspect. The financial constraints of the previous regime were eliminated.

Some of the highlights:
  • Brad Boyes and his $4m/yr. contract through the 2011-12 season was brought on board (for a second round pick) at the 2011 trade deadline.
  • The team convinced Calgary Flames veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr to waive his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo. He came to the Sabres along with former Sabre Ales Kotalik and a second round pick for Chris Butler and Paul Byron.
  • The Sabres traded a fourth round pick to the NY Islanders for the rights to former Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff whom they promplty signed to a front-loaded ($10M in the first year, $8M in the second, $13M in bounuses over those first two years,) 10-year/$40M contract. The 29 year-old will have an actual total salary of $6M over the last four years of the deal with a cap-hit of $4M.
  • After putting together a package to lure top free agent center Brad Richards to Buffalo, the Sabres signed free agent Ville Leino when Richards opted for the NY Rangers. They signed the winger/(hopeful) centerman to a six-year, $27M contract with $9M in signing bonuses over the first two years and a cap-hit of $4.5M.
In addition to the above acquisitions, the Sabres also took care of their own, in a rather expedited manner:
  • RFA forward Drew Stafford--who had an injury-shortened, "breakout" season--was signed to a straight-up, 4 yr./$16M contract in early June.
  • RFA defenseman Andrej Sekera was locked up for four years, $11M with most of it front-loaded to the tune of $4.75M in signing bonuses over the first two seasons.
  • Defenseman Tyler Myers, who had one year left on his entry-level contract was signed to a 7 yr./$38.5M contract extension with a $10M signing bonus that is paid July 1, 2012.
The front-loading, the salaries, the trading for rights to a free agent and the big bonuses all represent departures from the previous way of doing business.

And as they headed into the 2011-12 season, the Sabres also did something unheard of in the previous regime--bury contracts in the minors.

For years we've seen teams like the Philadelphia Flyers go hog-wild spending and end up burying contracts in the minors to get under the cap. This last season the Sabres did that. Kotalik and his $3M as well as Shoane Morrison and his $2M were jettisoned from the team as the Sabres got themselves under the $64.3M league salary cap.

Obviously, owner Terry Pegula put his money where his mouth was.

That's all well and good, but long-suffering Sabres' fans saw only the bottom line-the Sabres failed to make the playoffs.

For most years they saw a "core" put together by Regier and coached by Ruff fail to get past the first round of the playoffs. They see Regier "married" to his core and Ruff seemingly unable to get his team to reach and/or exceed their talent-levels. They point to players like Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek who had sub-par years statistically this past season and the teams' slow start/drive for the playoffs as yet another year of failure.

But Black did not see it that way. He said, "Sometimes winning and success are not the same thing."

That was a lawyer-like, public relations gem thrown at the fan-base to keep the torches and pitch-forks at bay.

For the entire season, Black had talked about winning the Stanley Cup. Pegula's motto, "From this day forward, the reason for the Sabres existence is to win the Stanley Cup." is on a plaque in the dressing room.

Missing the playoffs constitutes an epic failure on the part of the organization and Black stood in the pocket to take the heat for Pegula. Not only that, he'll be taking heat from the media for not having a end of year press conference with Regier and Ruff, saying "The epitaph for this season has been written over the last week. I think we're singularly focused on next year. I think otherwise [a year-end press conference this season] just turns into, 'we're just going to wallow in despair' and I don't think any of us want to do that."

The Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan already jumped on that with an piece entitled, Sabre's brass comes across thin-skinned. "Evidently," Sullivan wrote, "Pegula did not feel compelled to explain why he kept his general manager and coach for a 16th season. For now, at least, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff will be spared the indignity of having to speak for themselves."

Sullivan bashes the organization, even going as far as bringing up hydro-fracking (the source of Pegula's wealth) and the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal (Pegula's alum.) In what's sure to be the first shot in potential media war with the Pegula regime, Sullivan is rallying the masses behind him when he writes, "Fans deserve answers, especially from Ruff and Regier."

If Black can "appreciate 15 years of frustration the fans have" he's probably just starting to feel the wrath of 15 years of pent up incredulity and rage at keeping the status quo.

Grab some popcorn.

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