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Believe What You Hear

February 24, 2011 - Matt Spielman
“Some things are too good … and they’re true.” -- Terry Pegula, Buffalo Sabres owner

Over the past two weeks, Sabres fans across the region have been anticipating Terry Pegula taking over as owner of the franchise and waiting for their first chance to hear from their “savior.” Pegula spoke Tuesday and didn’t disappoint saying “the Buffalo Sabres reason for existence is to win a Stanley Cup.” Buffalo fans don’t know how to react to an owner, or anybody in power, being so confident. In a city and region where defeatism is projected by so many, Pegula is a breath of fresh air.

The 59-year-old billionaire is to Buffalo what Mark Cuban is to the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. He wants to make players want to come to Buffalo. Thomas Vanek blogged that Pegula is holding a party for the team and their families on Thursday. Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is known for treating his players well and it looks like Pegula has plans to do the same in Buffalo. Vanek says a carpet with the Sabres crest emblazoned on it will be installed in the locker room during the next road trip and enhanced player amenities will probably be coming to HSBC Arena this summer, if not sooner.

Pegula sounds like he wants to make HSBC Arena one of the top, if not the top arena, in the league. If he does that, he will be to the NHL what Jerry Jones is to the NFL. Attracting other events to the venue could be a possibility. Making a push for an NHL All-Star game, which the city never received when it built a new arena (probably due to ownership troubles under the Rigas family), is likely in the future. Whatever you feel about the all-star game, it is still an event that gives a jolt to the local economy and Gary Bettman seems to be in love with the hockey market in Buffalo.

And Pegula seems to have the passion to win that George Steinbrenner brought to Major League Baseball. As much as I hate the Yankees, Steinbrenner did have passion and it can’t be a bad thing for the owner to want to win so badly, look what it did for the Yankees following The Boss’s purchase of the team in 1973.

How to win championships is the question now facing the Sabres new front office. General manager Darcy Regier will at least finish this season and no longer does he have any excuses. He may claim that some past personnel decisions were due to factors out of his control, but that excuse won’t work anymore. Pegula has essentially given Regier a blank check to work to the salary cap with regard to player contracts and spend as much money as he seems necessary in other aspects of the organization.

Pegula says the Sabres will have a greater presence of scouts on the ground around the globe and enhanced video scouting at home. For whatever reason, the Sabres went away from drafting outside of North America in the past couple of years and money was probably behind that. Whether it was signability of foreign prospects or the cost of scouts overseas, Regier and company has not been picking European players. If the newly assembled front office with a Pittsburgh background follows its former blueprint, European players will be reinjected into the Sabres system. The Penguins have enjoyed success with Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Sergei Gonchar, Zbynek Michalek, etc. Pegula also commented on the play of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit during a radio interview Tuesday. More than 30 percent of Detroit’s roster is from outside of North America. It’s clear that Pegula will not want to cut off any area of the globe just because of cost.

The new owner also doesn’t want to put a limit on the cost or number of coaches the organization employs. He says Lindy Ruff’s staff with remain intact, but if the team can lure former NHL coaches to join the team as consultants or assistant coaches following this season, look for that to happen.

It’s an exciting time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan, but don’t for one second think that you are the biggest Sabres fan because as Pegula says “you won’t find a bigger fan than me, because I just bought a hockey team.”


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Terry Pegula speaks at his introductory news conference Tuesday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. AP photo