The boys at the Buffalo News' were ready to rumble at the end of year presser on Monday.
They couldn't wait to get at the two representatives of the Buffalo Sabres sitting in front of them--Team President Ted Black and GM Darcy Regier.
The News' Mike Harrington got the mike first and immediately dove into the organization.
When he asked Black to "end all speculation" concerning the status of Regier, his first question wasn't really a question, but a statement of disbelief.
Everyone knew that Regier was still on board. He was right there in front of them.
Was Regier still GM? "Yes," was Black's direct answer to the "question."
What Harrington was really trying to get at, as he asked the follow-up, was why, after six years of failure, and when the Sabres fired their longtime coach, is Regier still GM?
Black's answer started chronological, "the decision to extend [Regier] into next year was made before the lockout ended," then turned evasive, "the reality is...," he continued.
Let's stop right there.
The reality is, this team is a mess.
The reality is, this team has being mismanaged on the hockey side--Regier's side--and it seems to be severely affecting the business side--Black's side.
The reality is, Regier's team did not make the playoffs two years running and it's affecting Black's bottom line.
The reality is, owner Terry Pegula listened to his senior advisor, Ken Sawyer, as the latter called Regier a "hockey genius" and it's strained the relationship between owner and fans.
The reality is, the "hockey genius" is causing Black to lose tens of millions of his owners money, much more than anyone ever thought.
The reality is, Black's "Hockey Heaven" in Buffalo is now "Hockey Hell" and an owner who once said his main job is to be liked is now being vilified for what amounts to the incompetence of his two main charges.
Despite Pegula's lavish expenditures on everything from a newly refurbished dressing room to expensive free agent contracts, the present state of the Sabres seems to be nothing more than extension of the Tom Golisano regime.
Black's responses at the presser exposed a very troubling trait. His owner who once said "if I want to make money, I'll drill another well" has such a financial mess on his hands that the team is relying on league welfare for the second season in a row. Just like the previous regime did.
The multi-billionaire has a team president who said they had to raise ticket prices, not because of a league mandate like he initially intimated, but because the Sabres must show year over year revenue growth in order to be eligible for revenue sharing.
Said Black, "the entire process allows this franchise to still qualify unencumbered for revenue sharing. The 4% ticket price increase, is about an obligation [to the league] to raise money so you don't jeopardize that revenue stream."
With Sabres' ticket prices in the bottom quarter of the league, according to Black, they're losing bushels of money because they havent' made the playoffs.
Losses could be in the area of $10M per year outside of the playoffs. And that includes revenue sharing.
No owner, no matter how well off, should be expected to lose that amount of money year over year.
As Black said, "I can't get drunk off Terry's wealth and assume he's going to live forever and he's going to spend money forever."
Turns out we were all drunk on his wealth when he bought the team.
But none moreso than the GM.
With the financial chains off, Regier proceeded to:
- eat Ales Kotalik's $3M contract in the Robyn Regehr trade
- sign Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-yr./$40M contract, $18M of it in the first two years
- sign Ville Leino to a 6 yr./$27M contract
- bury Shoane Morrison's $2M contract in the minors
- re-sign Tyler Myers to a 7 yr./$38.5M contract with a $10M bonus paid out this year
- re-sign Andrej Sekera to a 4 yr./$11M contract with $7.5M paid out the first two years
That sucking sound you hear is the sound of millions of dollars being thrown away on a team that failed to make the playoffs--again.
So why, after two years of futility on the ice and with a team hemorrhaging money, would they want to keep Regier on board?
Maybe it's about money--again.
It would make sense that they wouldn't want to eat Regier's contract and pay a new GM in the process.
Right now the Sabres have still have Regier in charge as they continue to dismantle his core. He's proven capable of moving players for a good return like he did when trading core players Paul Gaustad, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville over the last 18 months or so.
Two more of his core, who happen to be the two best players on the roster--Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek--look to be on the move as well, and the return will probably be mostly picks and prospects.
Financially, there isn't really much more damage Regier can do to the organization by trading high-priced veterans for picks and/or prospects.
What does all this mean?
One would expect that Regier's hand in the rebuild may be limited to the dismantling part. The Sabres will probably be heading into the 2013/14 as the youngest team in the NHL and will be relying on Head Amateur Scout/Assistant GM Kevin Devine to mold the future through draft picks and prospects.
Higher priced vets like Christian Ehrhoff, Steve Ott and Ville Leino, as well as underachieving Drew Stafford will probably remain for a variety of reasons. The Sabres still need to put a product on the ice, they'll still have the cap-floor to reach and they'll still need some veteran leadership.
We should not, however, expect any big splashes in free agency with high-priced players coming to Buffalo this off season.
And with the salary cap going down, the Sabres payroll going down, not paying for two GM's next season, and ticket prices increasing, Black should be able to keep the team finances in check for the upcoming season.
It should also be assumed that the team will retain interim head coach Ron Rolston for another year. As the team continues to pay Ruff's salary, it makes sound financial sense to keep a coach on the cheap.
This attention to the bottom line is what the team went through from 2007-2011 when Golisano owned the team and had his "just break even" mandate to then team president--and part-owner--Larry Quinn.
Same shit, different owner for Sabres fans which is the last thing Sabres-nation needed.