Sunday, December 3, 2017

Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Published by, 12-2-2017

Yeah. You can put that headline to the theme of Ghostbusters.

If there's something strange, in your locker room,
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!
If the team's a mess
and it don't look good,
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Sorry if that song is stuck in your head. It could be worse. I could've used that 'Friday' song, which would be akin to tying a noose while nudging a chair your way.

Ray Parker Junior's theme song to the movie of the same name has a groove to it. It's light and playful song that's rather simple and easily lends itself to parody and/or satire. And it's the first thing that popped into my head this morning while at the keyboard.

The tire fire that is the present Buffalo Sabres hockey team may have reached the point of no return last night as they dropped a 4-0 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And my did they look bad in the process. They looked like an expansion team against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. Maybe worse than an expansion team, at least when it comes to the Sabres. For the first time in the 47 year history of the club, they endured a third consecutive shutout and God knows, the original Buffalo Sabres expansion team from 1970-71 could probably disperse this present team with a flick of the wrist.


What would Punch do? It was a question posed by the late jtswineheart here on hockeybuzz back when the team was owned by B. Thomas Golisano and they were floundering with a core of players built by GM Darcy Regier and coached by Lindy Ruff. Those players were thrown into a difficult situation after upper management failed miserably in the summer of 2007 and just didn't have the wherewithal to get past a certain point.

George "Punch" Imlach, of course, is the late, great Hockey Hall of Famer who was the first coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. He won four Stanley Cups as the Toronto Maple Leafs GM in the 60's before the Knox brothers brought him to Buffalo to lead their expansion team. The Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I'm not sure there's anything that Punch could do for the Sabres this season as this team's at an all-time low nearly a third of the way through, but God knows he'd have a much better idea of how to approach this mess than a marketing guy.

When Sabres owner Terry Pegula was introduced to us in his first presser, his emotions lead us to believe he had direct ties to that era through the Sabres first ever draft pick, Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault. "I am a Sabres fan and have been since 1975," declared Pegula on February 22, 2011. After that statement, he was overcome by emotion when he looked in the direction of Sabres players and alum gathered to his right. "I'm going to try and not look this way," continued Pegula, visibly fighting back tears. "Because...some of the old faces...Where's Perreault?"

He looked directly at the Sabres legend and said, "You're my hero."

However, six years later, it might be Perreault holding back the tears as a franchise he was so proud to play for may be at it's lowest point ever.

Pegula did some wonderful things early on. He cut the financial chains that the previous owners had on the club. He got Rene Robert to come back into the fold and had the entire French Connection of Perreault, the late Rick Martin and Robert, together and on the ice for a skate, for the first time in decades. He put money in to the arena and tried to make it a world class facility. In addition, what he through Pegula Sports and Entertainment did in building HarborCenter on a vacant lot adjacetnt to KeyBank Center is first class.

But what has happened with his Sabres since he took over in February, 2011 has been a disaster leaving the entire franchise in a death spiral right now. Unfortunately everyone in Sabreland, nearly everything Pegula has tried to do with this club has blown up in his face.

--Keeping Regier and Ruff? Boom!
--Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino? Boom!
--Pat LaFontaine? Boom!
--Tanking for McDavid?  Boom!
--Hiring Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma? Boom!
--Replacing them with a rookie GM and rookie coach? Boom! (at least partially)

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill is a rookie GM but he spent many years as a member of the Penguins front office and was a part of three Stanley Cups. We really shouldn't consider that a Boom! yet as at least part of his plan, reviving the Rochester Americans, is working. But bringing in a rookie head coach in Phil Housley? Let's just say that the team is 6-16-4 and just set a franchise mark for futility in being shut out three times in a row.

Housley has the potential to be a great head coach someday, but that day won't come in Buffalo as it looks like he might not even make it out of the calendar year. This team is a wreck, and although his inexperience is part of the problem, there are way too many other factors involved to lay the blame squarely on his shoulders.

This is a franchise disaster that begins at the top and what's worse for Pegula is that all of this is being filmed right now for "The Road to the Winter Classic." The Sabres will be playing the NY Rangers in the Big Apple on January 1 in the 10th Anniversary of the Winter Classic and NHL film crews began shooting this week.

Amidst all the turmoil surrounding the team, and with them just getting spanked by Pittsburgh last night, who was in the locker room having a one-on-one with franchise center Jack Eichel?

When you're all a lone
pick up the phone.
Who ya gonna call. Russ Brandon!

That's right. None other than marketing maven, Russ Brandon who, it should be known, is the Sabres President/Alternate Governor and Managing Partner/President of PSE. It's the same Russ Brandon who worked his way up with the Buffalo Bills to GM of that team despite no pro football experience in any capacity other than the business side, and was eventually named CEO of the NFL team.

Brandon started with the Bills in 1997 and, according to an article by Tim Graham of The Buffalo News last December, "has been involved in football decisions...since he became general manager in 2008. Although his official bio in the Bills' media guide suspiciously omits any reference to him being GM, the Bills' record is 58-83 (as of December 15, 2016 when I referenced the article.")

It should also be noted that the Bills have not made the playoffs this century and if it weren't for the Cleveland Browns, would be considered the worst-run franchise in the NFL.

Since Brandon replaced Sabres' Ted Black as team president in July, 2015 his hockey team took a big leap forward after coming off their tank season, but have regressed to the point where they're the second-worst team in the league two years later.

Last season's set-back and struggles had Pegula deciding clean house. He fired GM Murray and head coach Bylsma in April, 2017and who lead the search for the new GM? According to NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman, "It sounds like it's Russ Brandon, who is the President of the Buffalo Bills and the President of the Buffalo Sabres." Freidman did qualify things a bit by continuing with, "But, I think the league would have a lot of input on this one."

When he comes through your door
and wants some more.
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Brandon is a shrewd marketer who once signed wide receiver Terrell Owens to add a circus element to his middling team. Owens was a great receiver, and still had skills when he came to Buffalo, but there wasn't much else on the team. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback and Dick Jauron was the head coach who was eventually fired after a 3-6 start to the season. Jauron was replaced by Perry Fewell who guided the team to a 4-3 finish and the Bills' third consecutive 7-9 season.

The prior year, in what would be Brandon's first as GM, the Bills came up with "The Toronto Series" where they'd play one home game in Toronto, Canada every season. The idea promoted by the team was to make the Bills more of a regional commodity, but it was a disaster for the team as they went 1-5, the fans who lost their team for a week, and the Bills image as it was seen as nothing but a money-grab.

This is the Russ Brandon whom the Pegula's hired as their President/Alternate Governor back in 2015. And this is the Russ Brandon who was in the Sabres locker room last night talking with the Sabres' franchise center.

What on earth could he offer Jack Eichel in that situation? Some popcorn?

If the Pegula's like him and what he can do on the business side, that's their prerogative, but Brandon has a definable history and you get what you deserve. Their team is in deep trouble right now and many would much rather have a Brendan Shanahan, John Davidson, Glen Sather or David Poile-type president who's roots are deep in the game and the hockey side of the equation instead of a shrewd marketer an businessman.

Marketing may fool the public, but when it comes down to it on the ice, this version of the Sabres is fooling no one.

It's a disaster and an embarrassment.

But, who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

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