It's been over two years since Terry Pegula took over the Buffalo Sabres, and the team has been in decline since their playoff ouster at the hands of Philadelphia in 2011.
Changes have happened, including big changes like the firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff, but the team is on a course to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. And worse, the Sabres look to headed for the bottom of the league.
With the trade deadline approaching, rumors are rampant concerning the Sabres and terms like "For Sale" and "Fire Sale" are being bantered about.
There aren't really many more changes to be made: the remaining "core" of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pomiville; Jochen Hecht; GM Darcy Regier.
After what's transpired with this team over the past two seasons, even stretching back to the post Drury/Briere season, the biggest question for the team may be who will be in charge of the rebuild.
And for Sabres fans who've been watching inconsistent at best, awful at worst, hockey for the last six-plus seasons the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason floats this "frightening possibility": Darcy Regier.
He bases this on what Sabres Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer thinks about Regier. Gleason states that "[Sawyer] has told people he believes Regier is a 'hockey genius.'" "It’s enough to question Sawyer’s credibility," continued Gleason, "especially after Regier signed a contract extension for missing the playoffs."
Gleason didn't even mention the "golden parachute" extension Regier received from former team president Larry Quinn as the sale of the team was being negotiated.
But Sawyer is part of Terry Pegula's "inner circle," is a hockey confidant and was brought on board to help guide the new owner as he entered the world of sports ownership.
After watching this team over the Regier years, I don't get it, and most Sabres fans probably don't get it either.
Regier, it would seem, saved his ass at last year's trade deadline with the Paul Gaustad and Zack Kassian trades. Yes, he's done some things in the past, but it would seem as if Sawyer may have been blinded by those two moves.
And there's no question that Regier can make moves, it's never been about that. It's more the type of player he's filled the team with over the years.
From the decision to keep Ales Kotalik over JP Dumont to puck-mover Jaro Spacek to Brad Boyes to the return of Hecht, this team has been littered with "soft-but-skilled" players during the lockout-to-lockout years. Those players were combined with an already soft-but-skilled core group.
When it was "the New NHL" from 2005-2007, the team could excel with those types of players. As the league transitioned back to a more physical, demanding style, the team withered.
Although Regier is slowly divesting itself from "the core," the process has been slow and the results have been a failure thus-far.
"Harder to play against" was supposedly the theme of this year's group. Yet they kept the same leadership group lead by meek, mild-mannered team captain Jason Pominville.
Regier comes off as a meek, mild-mannered GM and the team that he built is a mirror image.
And if the meek inherit the earth, it's far removed from the "hockey heaven" platitude ownership came riding in on.
Is there other GM out there with a different personality and/or persona to bring in who can build a team full a different type of hockey player?
Or should Pegula aim higher and start by getting a real hockey man to take over the operations and dictate to "hockey genius" Regier what moves are needed to build a real hockey team that's "hard to play against?
Maybe the bigger question to ask is: What kind of team does owner Terry Pegula want?
It's been said that "the Flyers style of play" is what got him into hockey. Then he said that the Sabres and The French Connection became his "hockey love."
Will he want one style over the other? Will he want a hybrid?
A quote from his first presser has essentially been largely forgotten, but is one that should be the foundation with which to build a championship calibre team in the NHL, "I want to keep not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."
Before Pegula blows any more money on players, maybe he should direct his finances more towards the person who will acquire those "statistically good players; those winners, gritty players" during the rebuild.
Whether that person is Darcy Regier, Asst. GM Kevin Devine or someone outside the organization like Ron Hextall or Claude Loiselle is yet to be determined, but will find out soon.
Some quick notes:
- Mikhail Grigorenko recorded a goal and three assists in his return to Quebec. He likes that the Sabres decided to send him back saying, "“I’m real happy that Buffalo sent me here instead of keeping me there and playing me five minutes. It probably would’ve been good if they would’ve given me a chance, put me on 10 minutes. If the Sabres didn’t think I’m ready, I’m glad to be here and get some ice time.”
- The morning guys on WGR floated the notion that Quebec Remparts head coach Patrick Roy might be a candidate should interim Sabres head coach Ron Rolson not be retained. They said that it was based upon a comment by their colleague Mike Schoppsie. Schoppsie noticed that Regier always mentions talking to Roy. And he does it a lot.
- Ryan Miller was irate last night. He let it all out after yesterday's loss even chiming in on team mate Patrick Kaleta who was a healthy scratch following his five-game suspension by the NHL. After Kaleta mentioned being "pissed" that he wasn't playing earlier in the day, Miller fired back post-game, "We’re not even discussing what Patty says, you guys. That’s just drama and he needs to just grow up if he’s gonna say that to you guys. You know what? He had a stupid play in a game. He sat, he was punished. He has to get over it and move on. We handled it. He doesn’t have to go to you guys and say that stuff. There: I’m addressing it now and I’ll go and talk to him about it. There’s no reason to say that."
- Paul Hamilton came right out and called for the Sabres to trade captain Jason Pominville after last night's game. "[Pominville's] checked out (29:20-mark)," said Hamilton. "It's not that he's not trying, not that he doesn't care; he doesn't know what to do anymore. He thinks they're better than they are and he's just totally lost. What that tells me is, by April 3rd (trade deadline,) he should no longer be a Buffalo Sabre." I've felt that way about Pominville as well. His value is still pretty high as a top-six, two-way player, but we'll see if Regier rides his stock to the bottom like he's done with others.