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.

Preds entering key (and tough) stretch before trade deadline

Shea Weber, Roman Josi
AP
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Since an 11-3-3 start that saw them pile up 25 points in their first 17 games, the Nashville Predators have played 37 more times and gained just 33 points.

For comparison’s sake, in all 30 teams’ last 37 games, only the Montreal Canadiens (in the midst of a shocking collapse) and the Buffalo Sabres (just not very good) have gained fewer than 33 points.

So yeah, it’s been a struggle. The goaltending and defensive play have been sub-par. Offensively, it hasn’t been very good either.

The good news for the Preds is that they’re still in the playoff race. In fact, thanks in large part to the imploding Wild, Nashville currently occupies the final wild-card spot in the West.

With just nine games remaining before the Feb. 29 trade deadline, the players know they’re entering a key stretch.

“I’m sure David Poile and the management have a few different plans,” defenseman Barret Jackman told The Tennessean, “but our thoughts in this room are picking up points and being a playoff contender… and making this team better and making a run for the Stanley Cup.”

By the way, here are those next nine games…

preds

Pretty tough, right? Only Montreal and Toronto aren’t in a playoff spot.

Suffice to say, it would be a huge disappointment if the Preds ended up missing the postseason — especially after acquiring Ryan Johansen, the number-one center everyone kept saying they needed.

Johansen has actually been very good for them; he has 16 points in 14 games.

It’s the team as a whole that needs to pick it up, and soon.

Related: Preds believe Vesey could ‘come in and play right away’

No hearing scheduled for Gudas after big hit on Sabres rookie

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Flyers d-man Radko Gudas doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his hit on Buffalo’s Daniel Catenacci on Thursday night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Gudas was given a five-minute charging major for laying out Catenacci late in the third period of Philly’s 5-1 win. The hit ended Catenacci’s night, a tough way for the 22-year-old to finish just his third NHL contest.

After the contest, Buffalo players and head coach Dan Bylsma didn’t mince words when it came to Gudas’ actions.

“I think there’s no question it’s head hit,” Bylsma said, according to the Buffalo News. “I know the league will look at that hit and deal with it.”

“That guy’s an idiot and stupid,” Foligno said of Gudas, per the Courier-Post. “He gets his hits in, he’s dirty and he’s been known for it. He goes after a rookie who plays in three games and goes right at his head.

“He’s an idiot, that guy.”

Gudas certainly has furthered his reputation as a dangerous hitter this season.

In December, he was suspended three games for a headshot on Mika Zibanejad and, earlier this month, was tossed from a game against Montreal for clipping, after delivering a low hit on Habs forward Lucas Lessio.

Report: The chances of Carey Price returning this season are ‘slim’

Montreal Canadiens' goaltender Carey Price looks on during a scrimmage game alongside goaltending coach Stephane Waite during NHL hockey training camp in Brossard, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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Details surrounding Carey Price‘s injury have been scarce, but according to La Presse newspaper, the chances of him returning to the lineup this season are “slim” at best.

The 28-year-old has been out with a lower-body injury since Nov. 25.

His return date has been pushed back several times, and La Presse suggests that’ll happen again.

Originally, the Canadiens said Price would be out six weeks. Then, on January 21, General Manager Marc Bergevin said he expected his goalie to be out another three to four weeks, which means that he would be coming back sometime next week.

Price has been skating for a while, but he’s been doing so without his goalie equipment.

Basically, don’t hold your breath.

Here’s an excerpt from the story (quotes have been translated):

The possibility of Carey Price returning this season are so slim that people in the organization don’t even believe it’ll happen.

According to information obtained by La Presse, the Canadiens aren’t optimistic about their star goaltender’s chances of returning this season. He’s been out since November and the club refuses to confirm the fact that he suffered a right knee injury. 

The report goes on to say that Price is dealing with a Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) injury. The only good news is that he won’t have to undergo surgery.

“People in the Canadiens organization don’t believe he’ll  be back during the regular season,” a source told La Presse’s Richard Labbé. “They’re wondering if it’s even worth pushing him to come back, but they don’t want to admit anything publicly.

“They don’t want the fans to give up hope this season. There’s a marketing aspect to all of this.”

The story also mentions that Price is telling people that he’ll be healthy enough to represent Canada at the World Cup of Hockey next September.

PHT Morning Skate: Snoop Dogg wears OHL team’s jersey during a show

Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion, arrives at Spike TV's Guys Choice Awards at Sony Pictures Studios on Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP)
Associated Press
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Snoop Dog wore a Mitch Marner London Knights jersey at his concert in London. (Bardown)

Brent Burns‘ son got a gift from Jaromir Jagr:

–Here’s Pierre LeBrun’s latest edition of Team Canada’s World Cup roster. (ESPN)

–The NHL completely ruined the Toronto Maple Leafs’ centennial season. (Puck Daddy)

–The Chicago Blackhawks will be going to the White House on Feb. 18. (Blackhawks.nhl.com)

–Wings goalie Petr Mrazek talks to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman about “doing the right things” and “working hard”. (Sportsnet)