Michael Grier, Paul Gaustad

Rumors of Buffalo Sabres sale still strong and why it could be a great thing for the team

Usually, when rumors of the sale of a small market team surface, it’s usually seen as bad news or neutral. Yet in the case of the rumors of wealthy person (and hockey fan) Terry Pegula potentially buying the Buffalo Sabres, many think that the cost conscious club could really benefit from Pegula’s deep pockets and considerably deep passion for pucks.

Most recently, Sabres management tried to shoot down the rumors, but if you believe Ken Campbell of the Hockey News, it’s more a matter of semantics than anything else.

Campbell writes that an announcement of the team sale is expected to happen “sometime in late December or early January.” He wrote that Gary Bettman may even introduce Pegula to the NHL ownership group when they meet during the board of governors meetings on December 6 and 7.

The fact that the Buffalo Sabres are throwing cold water on a THN.com report that billionaire Terrence Pegula has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Buffalo Sabres for $150 million could mean a number of things.

Most likely, it means the $150 million figure is not exact, but make no mistake, Pegula wants the Sabres and the purchase price will be in that range, perhaps even lower than $150 million. Does it mean he will definitely buy the team? No, he has simply signed an intention to purchase, which means he still has an out, but the team cannot be sold to anyone else.

As Campbell wrote and Joe discussed before, Pegula’s presence as an owner could indeed be a great thing for the Sabres. While it’s easy to note that Chris Drury and Daniel Briere received lavish contracts – deals that only Briere seems occasionally capable of justifying – the fact of the matter is that Buffalo had a great thing going in those early post-lockout years and currently cannot seem to surround gifted goalie Ryan Miller with sufficient talent. Free agency isn’t the only way to build a team, but having someone like Pegula who would likely be willing to spend big bucks on high-end talent could be huge for the team and fans alike.

So what does all this mean? It can be nothing but good news for the Sabres. That’s because Pegula is a hockey guy through and through and with a net worth of about $3 billion – he’s the 110th richest man in the United States – has very deep pockets. His wife is from a suburb of nearby Rochester and he lived in Orchard Park for a brief period.

He and his wife, Kim, also recently donated $88 million to Penn State University to help build an arena on campus and create Division I hockey programs for both men and women. A native of Carbondale, Pa., Pegula apparently became hooked on hockey watching the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s. He has also coached his son’s minor hockey team.

“When I helped coach my son’s team back 22 years ago,” Pegula said when he made the Penn State donation, “my passion grew.”

People often forget Buffalo when they discuss “tortured sports cities,” but think of the professional sports heartbreak their two teams suffered. The Bills lost those four Super Bowls in a variety of soul crushing ways and also endured the improbable “Music City Miracle.” Some Sabres fans still struggle with Brett Hull’s foot in the crease goal and it seems like great eras are cut short left and right, from Dominik Hasek to Pat LaFontaine to the Drury/Briere teams.

Count me among those rooting for this ownership change if it brings about big picture stability – and genuine competitiveness in free agency – for those lovable Sabres. Naturally, we’ll keep you posted on this developing story.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.