Saturday, August 25, 2012

"It was the Flyers style of play that got me into it."

Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber
are just two Flyers from the
1970's that helped Sabres
owner Terry Pegula get into
That little nugget from Terry Pegula was culled from a November 30, 2010 piece by the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason.

It's something that may have been overlooked when first printed, but it's something that may have a long-standing impact upon the team.

Make no mistake, Pegula is the owner. He may have kept GM Darcy Regier on and may have allowed him to stay the course during the transitionary period, but when all's said and done, it's Pegula's vision.

Regier had his chance to prove that his (or was it former owner Tom Golisano and Managing partner Larry Quinn's?) vision was a viable template for building a Cup contender, but it was a failure. As constructed, the team did not have what it took to even make the playoffs with "the core" at the helm. (It should be noted that Lindy Ruff handed over the keys to the team naming all "Rochester Guys" as captains.)

Just as the 2011 off-season was a landmark financial/philosophical departure from the previous regime, the Derek Roy for Steve Ott/Adam Pardy trade should be construed as a harbinger of things to come when it comes to rebuilding the forward group.

Ott is known for his rugged, north-south, work your ass off style of play and would have fit right in with the Flyers of the early/mid 70's. Roy...not so much. And as the team retools, it's Ott's "tough to play against" style that will supplant a group of forwards that was widely regarded as "easy to play against."

Regier was on the right track and the 2009 draft exemplified that. Their three top picks that year, Zack Kassian (#13,) Brayden McNabb (#66,) and Marcus Foligno (#104,) are all big players with various skill levels. And all were brought in because the Sabres were widely regarded as an easy team to play against.

The first one of that group that will probably stick with the team for a full NHL season is Foligno. He's an Ott-type player--rugged, unafraid of the "dirty areas," will get a bloody nose for a goal, nasty on the forecheck. He had a stellar introduction to the NHL--14 games, 6 goals, 7 assists--and was on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford that bordered on unstoppable at the end of the season.

And should he settle into a top-nine/top-six role on the team, Foligno would be considered one of the faces of "the new core."

That type of player, one that's tough to play against, would fit into Pegula's vison of a "Flyers style of play" type team that he seems to want.

The Philadelphia Flyers have always been a rugged team--win at all costs, battle every minute, take one on the chin for the team. From the Broadstreet Bullies to today, they've always had an intense forecheck from their forward ranks and they always seemed to draft and/or sign players who used work ethic to enhance their skill level--from Bobby Clarke to John Leclair to Mike Richards to Claude Giroux.

In Sabreland, look no further than the drafting of Zemgus Girgensons as a player in that mold. The team traded up to get him and wasted little time in signing him to his entry level contract.

"The Latvian Locomotive" could easily fit right in with the Flyers organization. As a 2012 draftee (#14,) there's nothing but speculation as to where he'll ultimately end up in the grand scheme of things. But his profile oozes grit and character and is very "uncore-like."

The typical Regierian draftpick in the first round is a "skill player." And they did that with the drafting of center Mikhail Grigorenko (#12, 2012) two spots ahead of Girgensons. Not that Grigorenko is a bad pick. He's a player with top-five talents who dropped to them at #12. They did well by picking him. And Regier did an outstanding job trading up to land a player that was probably number one on their list to begin with in Girgensons.

But if you look at the Regierian "skill" philosophy going back to their first post-lockout draft, "skill" seemed to trump "will" when picking in the first round--Marek Zagrapan (#13, 2005,) Dennis Persson (#24, 2006,) Joel Armia (#16, 2011,) and the aforementioned Grigorenko pick.

The lone departure from the norm was with the pick of "rugged, power forward tough-guy" Kassian in 2009. The fact that he's no longer with the team shows just how ill-prepared the team was when looking towards that type of player.

The 1975 Stanley Cup Finals Captains:
Bobby Clarke (l) and Gilbert Perreault (r)
In defense of Regier, the Sabres like almost every other team worth a damn, will always take the best player available when it comes to mid-lower first round draft picks. And one must also take into consideration the strengths of the organization at the time. Picks like the two Tylers--Myers (#12, 2008,) and Ennis (#26, 2008)--seem like solid picks with plenty of upside and lean heavily towards the skill side of the equation, yet still have an edge to their game. 2010 pick (#23) Mark Pysyk will get his first taste of the pro ranks this season and will have the opportunity to showcase his stay-at-home style and leadership qualities in Rochester. But he uses savvy on the back-end more than anything else (which is not a bad thing.)

This is not to dismiss the "skill" side of the equation either. You realistically can't win the Cup these days with a bunch of muckers and grinders, even with one of the greatest goalies of all time. Skill is a necessary ingredient.

And the Sabres from Day-One always have had highly skilled teams. From "The French Connection" (a team that Pegula also loved,) to Pat LaFontaine/Alexander Mogilny to "the Ferrari" that was lead by Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, there's always been excitement and end-to end rushes. That's part of the Sabres culture.

In Gleason's article he also mentioned that Pegula in the mid-70's was torn between the Broadstreet Bullies and the French Connection. "It was the Philadelphia Flyers' style of play that got me into it," Pegula said after presenting Penn State with the largest private gift in the university's history. "Then I moved to Western New York, and I became more or less a Buffalo Sabres fan. ... The Flyers and Sabres played for the Stanley Cup, and it was difficult. I liked both teams."

The Flyers' Bill Barber (l)
and Sabres Gil Perreault at
the 1990 Hall of Fame
It wouldn't be too inconceivable to think that Pegula has a 1975 Stanley Cup Final hybrid in mind when it comes to team-building.

And it goes back to what he said at the press conference February 22, 2011 when he was introduced as the owner of the Sabres, "I want to keep not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."

From Foligno's first NHL goal on March 10, to the drafting of Girgensons on June 22, to the July 2 trade for Steve Ott,  it would seem as if Pegula's vision is just beginning to take shape. Will he be able to mold a hybrid of his two favorite teams in the 70's?

Only time will tell, but it would seem as if he's directed his charges to begin molding a team that has some tough, old-school, Flyer-like characteristics that he was introduced to in the 70's.

How far they head in that direction is yet to be determined, but we do know one thing, "the core" is being torn down as they add grittier, anti-core players.

And, that's a good thing.

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