Terry Pegula

Buffalo Sabres turn-around under new owner Terry Pegula

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The Buffalo Sabres and their fans got a healthy dose of reality this afternoon when it was announced that all-world goaltender Ryan Miller will miss tonight’s game against the New York Rangers. For the most part, it’s the first bit of bad news Sabre Nation has received since fan-turned-billionaire-turned owner Terry Pegula acquired the team in late February. No doubt this has the potential to be a buzz-kill, but the city of Buffalo has had a heck of a honeymoon period.

Ever since Pegula took over the team, it’s like there’s an aura of excitement infused into the organization. We heard all of the things right after the purchase and the initial press conference. He was a fan, he was rich, and he wanted to drop money into his favorite team and make them as good as they possibly could be. It’s always great to hear that an owner wants to drop money into his newly acquired team, but this is a little different. Forbes recently estimated Pegula’s worth at $3 billion. That’s billion with a “b.” When he says the team is going to operate with an “unlimited budget,” it means something different than when the guy behind the counter at the Anchor Bar says it.

John Vogl captured the excitement during Terry Pegula’s opening press conference:

“The Buffalo Sabres’ new owner made two things clear today during his introductory news conference. One is that he has loved the team since 1975. He used to have friends in Olean put their telephone to the television when he lived out of town just so he could hear the game broadcasts. When he looked to his right today in HSBC Arena and saw Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault, he broke down in tears and told the legendary center he was his hero.

Pegula followed up by telling the fans who don’t own the team exactly what they wanted to hear.

“The Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup,” the 59-year-old said. “We will aspire to be the best in the league at finding, developing and keeping players in the Buffalo Sabres family.”

That was all over a month ago. So what has changed in the weeks since the biggest change the Sabres have seen since Tom Golisano bought the team in 2003? Short answer: everything. They snapped a 4-game losing streak in the very first game under the new owner. After kicking the losing streak to the curb, the Sabres have continued on to an 11-4-3 record in the short Pegula Era. If they can keep this up for the next 10 years under his watch, they’re going to have to figure out a way to etch his face into the side of Niagara Falls. Things couldn’t have started any better—and they couldn’t have started at a better time. They were in 9th place when the new owner took over—tonight they have a chance to pull themselves into a tie for 7th.

The fiscal restraints that tied the hands of the front office were lifted and GM Darcy Regier immediately took advantage by doing something completely out of character for the franchise over the last decade. At the deadline they were able to bring in Brad Boyes for a 2nd rounder in a very “un-Sabres like” trade. Usually they’re the team trying acquire draft picks (not salary), but this time the skate was on the other foot. Thank Pegula.

Since his acquisition a day before the trade deadline, Boyes has joined Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford to give the Sabres some serious secondary scoring they haven’t had all season. Boyes has 5 goals and 5 assists in the 15 games since he joined the Sabres. His linemates have improved their production as well: Ennis has 12 points (6 g, 6a) since Boyes has shown up and Stafford has improved as well with 9 points (4 g, 5a). Those aren’t the kind of numbers that are going to carry a team—but they’ll certainly give a team more offensive depth as they try to pick up the slack for the missing Derek Roy. (Note: it looks like Roy might be able to make it back for the 2nd round if the Sabres were to make it that far.)

For most of the year, the team went as Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, and Jason Pominville went; and let’s be honest, the trio hasn’t played like a line that could carry a team most of the year. But put them with another line that can score and all the sudden the Sabres have a look of a team that will be able to score on a consistent basis. Not only the top line, but Tyler Myers has rediscovered the game (offensively and defensively) that made him last year’s Calder Trophy recipient. In fact, they’ve improved to 8th in the league in scoring (2.90 goals per game). It’s a fairly simple formula: put together a team that can score a few goals and put an all-world goaltender behind them.

The offensive output is great, but any success in Buffalo is going to center around their goaltender. For the first 4 months of the season, they had a team that was inconsistent at best offensively and Ryan Miller was playing like a good goaltender. Good, not great. But over the last few weeks, he’s reminded people why he was a dark horse candidate for the Hart Trophy last season. Last week, he earned the #1 star of the week by the NHL by going 3-0 with 2 shutouts and a 0.67 goals against average and .976 save percentage. Even the worst offense in the league would be able to win a few games with goaltending like that.

Those are all factors that the Sabres are dealing with on the ice. But to talk about play on the ice would only be telling part of the story. More importantly, there has been a fundamental attitude adjustment within and around the team. He’s bringing in a cultural shift that is almost as important as the fiscal shift his bank account is bringing in. The team is embracing its great history and tradition by bringing in greats of the past and making it a place where there’s an identity to being a “Buffalo Sabre.” There’s an excitement throughout the entire organization that we haven’t seen since their playoff runs in 2006 and 2007.

The fans in Buffalo will tell you there’s a change around the team as well. From Die By The Blade:

“How do you feel about the Sabres these days? The word that comes to my mind is ‘magical,’ but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not so much that the team’s playing great (which admittedly helps quite a bit) but it’s that so much has changed with the organization so quickly: the fan experience at HSBC Arena, a better TV experience, a suggestion box that’s actually being used, ‘Hockey Heaven’ and a rug with a logo, and a deadline deal that not only worked for once, but never would have been made under the old regime. After a decade and more of complete organizational stagnation, so much has changed for the better in such a short period of time that the only explanation my brain can fathom is that someone cast a magic spell over the city…”

Pegula said in his “media tour” after buying the team that he’s going to make decisions based on what he thinks is “right,” not by money. Immediately upon taking over the team, he issued a huge stamp of approval for Darcy Regier. At the press conference, he could be seen tearing up when he saw Gilbert Perreault—which was one of the best moments in hockey this year. Sure, none of those by themselves is a huge deal. But put them together and there’s a team that feels like they’re onto something. The fans feel it. And judging by their play on the ice, the players look like they’re feeling it as well.

GM Darcy Regier had a great line when he said the new owner is “filling the hope tanks.” That goes both ways—not only is he selling and encouraging hope amongst the fanbase; but there’s a noticeable shift with the team as well. Only time will tell if this is a short-term boost or the start of something great in Buffalo. But one thing is for sure, just about every fan in North America wishes they had a guy like Terry Pegula buying their team.

Would Blues trade Shattenkirk? GM says ‘all bets are off’ if losing continues

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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During an appearance on NBCSN last week, hockey insider Bob McKenzie mentioned that continued struggles could prompt the St. Louis Blues to trade Kevin Shattenkirk.

When asked by Hockey Central at Noon on Tuesday, Blues GM Doug Armstrong didn’t exactly shoot down the idea of trading Shattenkirk (and maybe some other assets?) if St. Louis doesn’t get it together.

“If we’re stumbling along like this, then all bets are off,” Armstrong said. “We don’t want to keep players here, hope to sneak into eighth place and get hammered in the first round.”

Yep, that basically follows McKenzie’s update note for note. As you can see in this video, McKenzie mentions that Shattenkirk is also more willing to explore different options, including the possibility of being a “rental” rather than signing an extension wherever he goes.

So, it seems like the Blues might be open for business (or at least willing to open up shop if things don’t turn around soon).

With that in mind, what would be a reasonable price for Shattenkirk and what are the Blues asking for? Perhaps we’ll need to wait and see if we get a little more information in that regard soon.

You know, unless the Blues began a run with tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course.

Some good news: Patrik Laine’s back for the Jets

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Patrik Laine #29, playing his first NHL game, of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates scoring his first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At top is Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Winnipeg Jets could use some good news – couldn’t we all? – and it doesn’t get a lot better than this in late January: rookie sensation Patrik Laine‘s back.

Paul Maurice said it simply enough, stating that “he’s in” for Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.

Winnipeg lost its game against the Ducks on Monday while the Sharks rode Patrick Marleau‘s magical third period to a decisive win versus Colorado on that same night, so getting a burst from Laine is a pretty nice bonus for a Jets team that feels like it’s just sort of hanging on.

Laine’s been sidelined since Jan. 7 with a concussion thanks to a hard Jake McCabe hit that even the Jets considered “clean.”

He’s likely out of the upper ranks of the Calder race at this point, although who knows?

Laine already has 21 goals and 37 points in 42 games, so it’s probably foolish to say that the young sniper can’t pull something off.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 25: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against the St. Louis Blues during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 25, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins carry a four-game winning streak into Tuesday, staying within reasonable striking distance of their deadly competition in the Metropolitan Division.

The St. Louis Blues are familiar with that situation from the Central’s peak, but with a three-game losing streak and some serious struggles in net, they have to wonder about their chances of holding onto a playoff spot altogether.

So, yes, this is a battle of teams going in two different directions, yet the Blues can also note that the Penguins struggled quite a bit in 2015-16, only to win it all.

This game has the added bonus of featuring some of the NHL’s brightest scorers, including Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Malkin. It should be a fun one that you can watch on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream link.

Goalie nods: Bolts start struggling Vasilevskiy ahead of struggling Bishop

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning switches with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 during a break in play in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Since returning from injury, Ben Bishop has allowed 10 goals on 96 shots — an .896 save percentage — and was hooked on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes.

So it’s not a huge surprise that Tampa Bay will start Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight, when it takes on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

But it’s not like Vasilevskiy’s rolling at the moment.

The young Russian is winless in his last six outings, posting a 3.93 GAA and .877 save percentage. Perhaps head coach Jon Cooper was impressed with Vasilevskiy’s relief appearance over the weekend — he stopped all six shots faced in Arizona — or perhaps Cooper just flipped a coin.

As Brough wrote earlier, it’s crunch time for the Lightning right now. The club’s in desperate need of wins, and it’s estimated the Bolts will have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

If the goaltending doesn’t improve, it ain’t gonna happen.

For Chicago, Corey Crawford gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— The Red Wings will continue to ride Jared Coreau, who is 5-1-2 since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids. Coreau will face Tuukka Rask, who starts for Boston after leaving Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a migraine.

— After Jeff Zatkoff failed to impress in his start last night, Peter Budaj returns to the Kings’ net. The host Devils will go with Cory Schneider, who returns from a two-game absence (illness).

— Good matchup in Brooklyn. Thomas Greiss, the NHL’s reigning second star of the week, will start for the Isles, who play host to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.

— As we wrote about yesterday, Jake Allen‘s mental reset will continue as Carter Hutton gets the start in Pittsburgh. He’ll be up against Matt Murray, who’s coming off a 44-save win over Boston on Sunday.

Braden Holtby gets the night off for the Caps, who wills tart Philipp Grubauer in Ottawa. The Sens will go with their workhorse, Mike Condon, who makes his 27th appearance of the year.

Brian Elliott started last night, so Chad Johnson goes for the slumping Flames in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who is slumping himself. Price has lost three in a row, and five of his last six.

— The Preds have a good record with Juuse Saros (5-3-1) this year, so they’ll go with him tonight as they host the Sabres. For Buffalo, Robin Lehner is back in after making 36 saves in a win over Montreal over the weekend.

— No confirmed netminders from either side in tonight’s Sharks-Jets game from Winnipeg.

Devan Dubnyk returns to the net for Minnesota, after Darcy Kuemper gave him Sunday night off. Dubnyk will be up against Kari Lehtonen.