By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
The fact that Terry Pegula, to use a baseball term, belted it out of the park in his first appearance as the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres, didn't come as a complete surprise to me. The night before the big announcement, I was mc'g the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame dinner in Jamestown and shared the head table with Sabres young star Tyler Myers and former NHL player and Clarence native Kevyn Adams.
Adams, who played on the Carolina Hurricanes team that beat the Sabres in the Conference Finals in 2006, is now in the Sabres personnel department, and he told me about meeting Pegula on Monday. He was really excited about the meeting and said Pegula would not only make the financial commitment that needs to be made to build a Stanley Cup winner, but would also help bring about the "family-type" atmosphere that is also important.
Myers, obviously more concerned about the Sabres recent three game losing streak, also seemed excited about the ownership change because it seems to be bringing with it an air of positive change. Myers should be excited - he'll be due for a contract extension after this season and Pegula will do whatever it takes to make sure Myers never reaches unrestricted free agency.
Pegula still has to live by the rules of the 29 other teams; there is a salary cap, so he can't spend without worrying about consequences on other contracts later. But as Pegula said in his press conference, there is no cap limit on what he can spend to make the Sabres organization better. He'll add some scouts and improve the video scouting system, and he'll do other things designed at making Buffalo a place NHL players WANT to play.
Don't for a minute think players around the league don't talk about things like that; they do. What are the weight and training facilities like? How do you travel? How do they treat the wives and families? This has all been improved under Tom Golisano to be sure, but Pegula and new President Ted Black have ambitious plans to make all these ancillary things even better.
Although Buffalo is a great hockey town, the Sabres, rightly or wrongly, have had a reputation as an organization that doesn't go beyond the bottom line, which is understandable when the goal is to "at least break even" as stated by Golisano. But some teams not only bring a free agent prospect to town, but fly in the wife as well and give her a little shopping money. Buffalo will now become one of the teams that goes the extra step to make Buffalo "the " place to play.
To Pegula, having a family type atmosphere helped him earn his billions in the oil and gas business and those who've worked for him say he is simply off the charts at knowing how to build team loyalty. He asks questions to find good people and then lets them do their thing, while keeping a close eye on what happens. He expects good results but is generous to reward those who help him achieve those results.
Pegula asked a lot of respected hockey people about gm Darcy Regier, who has had his detractors from both the media and fans in Buffalo, and told me privately after the news conference he was amazed at what a highly regarded hockey man he already has in Regier. He said several people said of both Regier and coach Lindy Ruff, if you decide to make a change, let us know FIRST. Pegula, who admittedly isn't a computer guy at all, said sitting with them face to face and looking them in the eye helped him decide to keep them.
Clearly, Pegula is not going to make moves just to please the media, and he knows that winning will ultimately be the only way to please the fans.
Speaking of the fans, that was perhaps the most incredible aspect of his impressive press conference. Pegula is a FAN, and a SABRES FAN at that, who suddenly finds himself through good fortune in a position to do something about it. He became emotional when speaking about Gil Perreault, who was seated along with several other former Sabres to his right, calling Perreault his "hero". Amen to that, brother.
Pegula says openly his goal is to win Stanley Cups, plural, and within the rules of course, money will not be an object. He doesn't expect to make money running his Sabres team, he says he'll drill more oil and gas wells for that.
It won't be easy, and fans expecting a lot of big and flashy moves before the NHL trade deadline might be disappointed. Pegula didn't get to be a billionaire by making decisions without weighing pro's and con's, but he did strike it rich by not being afraid to take a risk.
Risk, a little luck, passion, an old fashioned family approach and, oh yeh, a lot of money just may lead to a vision Pegula and every other Sabres fan continues to dream about; a Stanley Cup in Buffalo.