Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Maybe it's time to bring Gerry Meehan back into the fold

When I was a youngin', I had this little train radio. I'd take it to bed with me and often fall asleep listening to Sabres games.

If the Sabres were being televised I always had to watch the game on television, which for us was an analog 19" black and white screen with rabbit ears on top. The picture was pretty bad and following the puck was difficult because you could barely see it.

It didn't matter. There was always plenty of action, and the play-by-play of Ted Darling.

Back in those fledgling years of the early 70's, there were some thrills worked into a lot of losses, thrills mainly courtesy of Gilbert Perreault.

In 1972 the Sabres struggled, which was typical for a second year expansion team. But, on the last day of the season, they had something to play for.

It was against the Philadelphia Flyers who were fighting for a playoff spot.

My first real memory as a Sabres fan, and one of the greatest, was of that game. Namely the end when captain Gerry Meehan scored the game-winning goal with :04 left. Buffalo had eliminated Philadelphia from the playoffs with a 3-2 victory.

I can still remember the excitement I felt, running around the kitchen "Meehan! Meehan!"

You can click here and relive that moment thanks to Mark Miller and his blog

What does that have to do with the Buffalo Sabres now, other than nostalgia?

We'll get to that.

But first, there are probably a lot of fans who don't know much, if anything, about the former Sabres captain.

In his book 100 Things Sabres Fans Should Know Before They Die, Sal Maiorana devotes one of his chapters to Meehan.

Maiorana starts out with this, "If [GM] Punch Imlach hadn't plucked Gerry Meehan off the Philadelphia Flyers' unprotected player list in the 1970 expansion draft, the 23 yr. old was ready and willing to join the working force in the 'real' world."

Meehan became the captain of the team in the 1971-72 season, the same year he haunted his former team with his "Flyer-killer" goal. He played with the Sabres until he was traded to Vancouver early in the 1974-75 season. He played five more seasons after that for a total of 670 NHL games.

During that time frame he went to school at night earning his undergraduate degree from Canisius College and received his law degree from the University of Buffalo soon after he retired in 1978.

He found his way back into the Sabers organization, according to Maiorana, through a law firm headed by Sabres board member Robert Swados and was soon "dabbling in the Sabres' legal affairs."

In 1984 he was named Assistant General Manager to Scotty Bowman.

When Bowman was fired in 1986, Meehan took over the GM position and held that spot until 1993 when he was promoted to executive vice president of sports operations. He handed over his GM responsibilities to John Muckler.

"But," writes Maiorana, "his ultimate goal of becoming team president was shattered when the Knox brothers hired Doug Moss for the position in 1994."

In 1995 Meehan left the Sabres. 'I became aware,' he said, 'as a result of Doug Moss' hiring, that there had been a ceiling placed on my career aspirations."

Quite the slight for a man who is linked to legendary Sabres players like Dominic Hasek and Pat LaFontaine as well as Hall of Famer, Dale Hawerchuk.

A man, by the way, who also was at the helm in the late 80's when the team helped bust down the Berlin Wall by bringing in defector, Alexander Mogilny. "I would never have used the draft pick (1988 5th round) if I didn't think he was coming," Meehan said. (from The Historic Defection,

It should also be noted that Meehan's successor at GM, Muckler, was the architect of "the hardest working team in hockey," one of the most beloved teams in franchise history.

Why bring this up now?

Because the Sabres' organization is a mess.

The team is floundering, the fan-base is booing, and despite all the good intentions of owner Terry Pegula, they're embroiled in a public relations quagmire.

The tumult is rooted in failure of management to use Pegula's vast financial resources to take a step towards a Stanley Cup contender. They've gone backwards.

Although Pegula's commitment to winning should not be debated, his management choices, mainly the retention of GM Darcy Regier, should.

It's assumed that Regier has been in charge of hockey operations since Pegula took over in 2011. Between Pegula and Regier in the Sabres hierarchy are Team President Ted Black and Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer. Both are Pegula confidants who came from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

Regier, on the other hand, was a carryover from the previous regimes and whether he remains with the team beyond this season is yet to be determined. He has made enough moves over the last two years to get an extension from Pegula and garner a "genius" moniker from Sawyer.

The team is now in rebuild-mode, and it's the second time in Regier's tenure he's dismantled the team for futures. His first was in the early 2000's when he tore down "the hardest working team in hockey" and turned it into "the team built for the new-NHL."

Beyond a short, two-year new-NHL run, his era-specific "core" hasn't gotten the job done.

Firing Regier would leave a gaping hole in the organization, specifically the hockey operations department. Black is more of a public relations guy while Sawyer is an advisor. There seems to be a need for a real hockey mind to define the Buffalo Sabres and guide the rebuild even if Regier is retained.

That's where Meehan comes in.

I'm not sure how deep the rift is, or if Meehan would even be interested in returning to the team nearly 20 years later. Nor am I sure if he has his pulse on the NHL as it's played today. But bringing in Meehan could certainly help this organization on a number of levels.

First off, hiring Meehan would further enhance Pegula's reputation for healing strained relations with former players. One only need look at Rene' Robert coming back into the fold, and the French Connection reunion at his first home game as owner, as a major step towards bringing all Sabres' together.

You could throw Hasek's name in there as well. And Michael Peca, coach of the Junior Sabres. Both of whom left on acrimonious terms, but are back into the fold.

Meehan also has a strong, successful hockey background to fend off any accusations of nepotism and of blindly reaching for a "former Sabre." (of note, when he was hired as assistant to Bowman, he was the first former Sabre to come back in an off-ice position.) There are four eras in Sabres' history that fans can look back to with immense pride and Meehan had a hand in two of them. His teams made the playoffs all seven times that he was in charge.

The biggest problem for Pegula right now might be limiting the damage caused by two unsuccessful seasons under a GM who's on the brink of being lynched by the fan-base. Many think that when the fans are booing the team they're subconsciously booing the Regier regime.

Pegula's PR quagmire, being rooted in his poor on-ice product, is exacerbated by his inability and/or unwillingness to talk publicly about the state of the team, specifically (for the Buffalo News at least) the firing of the long-time coach and Pegula favorite, Lindy Ruff. Pegula is not comfortable in the limelight and to say he's awkward behind the podium is being kind.

His hockey ops has one public voice at this juncture--Regier. After 16 years and limited, distant success it would seem as if fans and media have had it with him.

Pegula needs a trusted voice to be the face of his hockey operations. A voice they can connect with once again.

It's not uncommon for an owner to go after a former player. The player, of course, knows the culture of the team and the area and also has a finger on the pulse of both the fans and media.

Meehan has had fairly recent success and his roots in Buffalo stretch all the way back to the Sabres formative years with Punch Imlach. It also encompasses the genesis of Pegula's love of hockey dating back to the 70's, initially with the Broad Street Bullies, then with the French Connection soon after.

Those are the roots of Buffalo Sabres hockey.

Meehan also has ties with and/or bridges three exciting times for the franchise, from the French Connection to the offensive juggernaut of Lafontaine and Mogilny to "the hardest working team in hockey."

With all due respect to the job Black and Sawyer did in Pittsburgh, the two organizations are vastly different and their Pittsburgh model might not be a good fit for Buffalo.

Meehan knows the Sabres, he knows their roots. He's 66 yrs. old and has had a long, nearly 20-year career outside the game after leaving Buffalo.

Even if his career as a lawyer is still going strong, maybe there's a sense of unfinished business in hockey, and more specifically with the Sabres. And with Buffalo in need of a hockey guy, I don't think there's a Sabres fan anywhere who would dislike Meehan coming back into the fold and taking the reigns of the hockey department.

Wonder if he's interested?

No comments:

Post a Comment