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.

B’s not planning to trade Carlo, but adding goalie is on radar

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25:  Boston Bruins General manager Don Sweeney speaks to the media during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Bruins have seven wins in their last 10, are surging under new head coach Bruce Cassidy and could be buyers as they head into the March 1 trade deadline.

One guy that unlikely to be involved any potential deal? Talented young blueliner Brandon Carlo.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe the B’s “want to be a team that believes it has internal fixes, that you are growing those players.” To that end, he’s not planning to move Carlo, who has developed nicely and played a significant role this season.

Sweeney added this organizational approach means Carlo isn’t “worried [about] going somewhere.”

Carlo, who only turned 20 in November, has reportedly been one of the pieces teams have tried to pry out of Boston (the other being Charlie McAvoy, the 14th overall pick at last year’s draft that’s currently starring for Boston University).

At 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds, Carlo has terrific size and has shouldered a heavy workload, averaging over 21 minutes through 60 games this year.

There have been rumblings of a Carlo-for-Gabriel Landeskog swap with Colorado, though reports suggest Sweeney balked at the asking price.

What Sweeney could address, though, is the club’s unstable backup goalie position. The organization appears to have little trust in either Anton Khudobin or Zane McIntyre, a big reason why Tuukka Rask has started 48 games this season, tied for fourth-most in the NHL.

“Yep, we could,” Sweeney told the Globe, when asked about adding a backup. “It’s tough to find at this time, but they exist. But it’s just a matter of teams are like, ‘Well, what are you giving up for it?’ That’s a big part of it.”

There are a few candidates that might fit the bill. Anders Nilsson is a pending UFA and having a solid campaign in Buffalo, with a .922 save percentage in 20 appearances. What’s more, he carries a relatively low cap hit ($1 million). The Sabres, though only four points out of a playoff spot, would need to jump five teams to get there and could be sellers soon.

Will injuries at forward spark deadline move for Isles?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26: Casey Cizikas #53 of the New York Islanders waits for the second period faceoff against the Calgary Flames at the Barclays Center on October 26, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Isles have come alive under interim head coach Doug Weight, and rallied to move into the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

There’s no question they want to keep the momentum going. Which is why today’s news might be met with action.

Casey Cizikas, on pace for a career year with seven goals and 23 points through 53 games, is expected to miss the next month with a hand injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over Detroit.

Cal Clutterbuck, hampered by an “annoying” soft-tissue injury, also left Tuesday’s contest. Another forward, Shane Price, is on IR with an upper-body ailment, and has missed the last five games.

The end result? New York finished with just 10 forwards against the Red Wings, and appear ready to insert 35-year-old AHL recall Bracken Kearns into the lineup.

It all makes for a pretty dicey situation, especially since the club has eight dates remaining on a whopping nine-game road trip.

More, from Newsday:

Perhaps it’s good that next Wednesday’s trade deadline is fast approaching.

General manager Garth Snow was already believed to be on the hunt for another forward, preferably a top-nine player. Cizikas’ injury may accelerate Snow’s talks, which have not had much traction in a market where sellers’ demands have been sky high so far.

If Cizikas misses the four full weeks, that puts him on target for a Mar. 23 return — meaning he’d miss the next 13 games. And it’s hard to say what the club can get out of Clutterbuck, who has missed 13 of the last 17 contests and is clearly playing through pain.

The Isles have made the playoffs in each of the last two years, and both times Snow’s made minor upgrades at the deadline. Last year, he acquired Prince from Ottawa, which turned out nicely — he had three goals and four points in 11 playoff games, averaging just under 14 minutes per night.

In 2015, Snow acquired both Michal Neuvirth and Tyler Kennedy, but neither had a major impact.

The Wild have options in search for forward depth

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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Chuck Fletcher does not disagree with the notion that his Minnesota Wild could stand to improve their forward depth ahead of next week’s trade deadline.

“I think that’s fair,” the GM told the Star-Tribune. “I think we’ve got more unproven depth up front than we do on defense. … That’s why you’re always talking to see if somebody you can get can fit in and contribute and upgrade your depth. If you can do that, I think you need to do that.”

It is no surprise, then, to hear that the Wild have interest in Vancouver winger Jannik Hansen. It is not known if Minnesota is on Hansen’s eight-team trade list, but adding the speedy and versatile forward would allow Charlie Coyle to move from right wing to center, which in turn would push Erik Haula down to center the fourth line, while pushing the struggling Tyler Graovac out of the lineup entirely.

If not Hansen, the Wild could look at adding Patrick Eaves from Dallas or Radim Vrbata from Arizona. Both Eaves and Vrbata are pending UFAs. Hansen is signed through next season for a cap hit of $2.5 million.

Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

“This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

(Update: Gilbert is unlikely to be called up. The Caps want him to get going in the AHL first.)

MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.