What Direction are the Sabres Heading?
February 3, 2011 is a day every Sabres fan will remember. They heard the words they’ve been dying to hear for years. Something they could believe in. Something they could hold onto. Terry Pegula, billionaire owner, gave Sabres fans the much needed reassurance in the unidentified franchise.
“From this day forward, the Buffalo Sabres reason for existence is to win a Stanley Cup!”
This was in the middle of an amazing post All-Star break comeback in which Buffalo climbed out of the cellar of the league and into the playoffs. Since Pegula made this audacious statement, the Sabres finished the regular season 16–4–4, never losing two consecutive games in that span, and landed the #7 seed in the Eastern Conference. He was instantly a hero. He could have run for mayor of Buffalo and won in a landslide. “Pegulaville,” had taken over Western New York.
Fast forward to the present. A little over a year and half to the day later. Where do the Sabres stand? Are they clear cut favorites for the Stanley Cup? Do they look to be contenders in the Eastern Conference? Tough to tell at this point. The free agency period isn’t even over. Reports are GM Darcy Regier, and Sabres brass, made an offer to Shane Doan yesterday. Another story for another time. If you step back and take a look at the general picture of the Sabres franchise, there are a lot of questions to be answered. I want to focus on one. What direction do they head in?
Forbes recently released its profile information on the Sabres 2010-2011 season. Buffalo’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization…negative 5.6 million dollars! How did they lose money? They have one of the most diehard fan bases in the United States, an owner who says he is committed to winning and a waiting list for season tickets. By all accounts, Buffalo seems like a profitable franchise. The building is packed every night. Tickets are definitely hard to come by.
Pegula did spend a lot of money on improvements to the stadium, locker room and fan experience. Those may account for some of the negative. More likely is the spending to the cap the Sabres pulled off with the signings of Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino during the 2010 summer. It was the first time in a long time, if ever; the Sabres pulled the trigger on bigger name free agents. As a result, high expectations heading into last season. The end game, no playoffs, no cup and many disappointed fans.
Barring the miraculous signing of Shane Doan, (I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like it will happen), the offseason included cutting ties with Derrick Roy and bringing in two tough guys that aren’t scoring threats with John Scott and Steve Ott. They don’t seem to be moving in the same direction as some teams like Pittsburgh, Boston or the New York Rangers. Just my humble opinion. Now, of course they can surprise teams and make a run. I’m not ruling it out. They still have talent on the roster and a former Vezina winner in Ryan Miller. The dichotomy I see is the operation of losing money and bringing in talent in 2010-2011. Will Pegula continue to do so? He says he will. I do believe him.
Buffalo’s front office is making attempts; (see Shane Doan) to bring in top tier talent for the upcoming season, if there is one to be played. If they don’t bring in any other big scoring threats it may make for an interesting season in WNY. Thomas Vanek, the Sabres top forward had 61 points last season and hasn’t scored more than 80 since 2007. They just don’t make a whole lot of sense right now. They’re not a team trending up and there not a basement team either. They’re just stuck in mediocrity. NHL purgatory, the 7th-10th seed. If first round pick, Mikhail Grigorenko steps in and produces right away, the upside might be higher for this team. That’s a lot to ask for a 19 year old Russian. Regardless of how this season and even next season plays out, Pegula will do what it takes to get the team to the Finals. His commitment is there.