Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-21-2017
I highly doubt anyone thought earlier today that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula would roll solo with his most important presser since buying the team six years ago. Thanks to Sabres TV we saw Pegula stand at the podium by himself answering questions about the present, future and, unfortunately, an unpleasant past.
Everyone who's ever watched a Terry Pegula presser knows how awkward he is in front of the microphone. He'd much rather be doing other things or answering questions about the positives he and Pegula Sports and Entertainment have done like HARBORCENTER and Canalside. But after firing both his general manager and head coach yesterday this was a time for him to take ownership of his team.
It was a ballsy move considering the many questions surrounding the state of an obviously flawed franchise, but in his opening statement he stood at the podium stating that "we" as an organization weren't happy with our season and, very humbly I might add, said that "accountability starts with me."
The theme of his approach going forward will start with three words that he repeated throughout, "discipline, structure and communication" a theme that Pegula and his wife Kim decided upon after meeting with former GM Tim Murray and former head coach Dan Bylsma. Later in the rather brief presser he added a fourth, "character."
After watching the Sabres play this season, and also following them in the media, it's not surprising that those three words would be the foundation moving forward. Lack of discipline on the ice reared it's head in the many times they failed to buy-in while off the ice it manifested itself in the Sam Reinhart saga when he was benched after breaking a recently installed zero-tolerance policy on tardiness late in the season. This Buffalo team was a mess with structure out the window and an obvious lack of communication between coach and players and more than likely between GM and owner.
When Pegula mentioned character, one couldn't help but think about Evander Kane's off-ice issues, said to be severely frowned upon by Kim Pegula. Another event was the Ryan O'Reilly bout with a Tim Horton's wall two summers ago. And one couldn't help but think that as owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills the bouts with stupidity that some of his football players had must have come to the fore in the addition of character. Murray said of Kane that he had warts, and that some of the best players of all time had warts, but Pegula just busted out the Compound W.
After a rather humble opening statement Pegula was thrown into the fire by a question about Jack Eichel and how much his discontent played into the firing of Bylsma, as well as Murray. The transition from defense to offense began as he quoted Eichel's agent Peter Fish, "I don't know where those stories come from. It's ridiculous. Pegula called it a "complete fabrication" and "not a true story."
Later in the Q&A Pegula would get on the offensive again when asked if the rumors of talking to former LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi before firing Murray. "We didn't talk to anybody," he said flatly, "pure fabrication.
"Put that in the 'Jack demanded his coach be fired' category."
All-in-all not much was said about the immediate future of the franchise save for head amateur scout Jeff Crisp handling the amateur side of things with "several people" heading the pro side. Pegula said that their goal is "to build a stronger organization top to bottom" but would not reveal if he's ready to put a Hockey Ops person in between him and the GM. A hint may have come when he answered with a definitive "no" when asked about a direct link between GM and ownership with no go-between.
We haven't seen Pegula at a Sabres presser for over three years and a lot has transpired. The hiring process of both Murray and Bylsma were done with him outside of the loop and it's something he said he regretted with the results being a second season outside of the playoffs after what he termed the Sabres "rebuild."
One reporter had a different review of the rebuild pointing to fans and media alike calling it a tank. Pegula was asked about his "point on character" and if he felt the organization was damaged in that respect from that "flawed plan, a plan that authorized and essentially hoped for losing as a way of building."
"I don't want to talk about the past," began Pegula, "but a lot of teams go through rebuilds..." The reporter mentioned that it was true, but not a lot hope to lose. "Hope to lose? We don't hope to lose," responded Pegula as he brought the past to the present.
The team tanked and perhaps they're reaping what they've sown. Some will let it go, while others while carry it to the grave.
Buffalo is in a rough spot right now with no GM to guide this team through the expansion draft, NHL Draft or free agency, not to mention the glut of 20 free agent contracts to decide upon as well as an extension for Eichel and a decision on whether or not to move forward with Kane.
Pegula is taking a methodical approach, which is good. He'll have the amateur draft covered with Crisp and even possibly former head scout and assistant GM Kevin Devine. He has Mark Jakubowski as his cap-guy and an AGM who handled much of the contract negotiations and he may tap into a trusted internal guy like Kevyn Adams for some help on the pro side.
Gotta give Pegula a lot of credit for standing up there solo in a position he's not very comfortable with, but then again, he owed it to Sabreland, as this mess is his.