Terry Pegula

Pegula Effect: Sabres fans showing optimism with their wallet

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Things are going pretty well in Buffalo’s corner of the hockey world these days. Ever since fan-turned-awesome-owner Terry Pegula took over the team, the future has looked a little brighter for the Sabres and their fans. At the trade deadline, GM Darcy Regier was a “buyer” for the first time in years as they acquired Brad Boyes and his $4 million contract. After the season, they picked up defensive stalwart Robyn Regehr in a salary dump from the Calgary Flames. The team continued when they went out and traded for the rights for Christian Ehrhoff, then dropped a 10-year contract that shocked people all over North America. To cap it all off on July 1st, the team landed Ville Leino with a 6-year, $27 million contract.

Just how much money have they spent? Let’s put it this way: they’re almost $3 million over the salary cap ceiling. Quite a change from the penny pinching ways of the past, isn’t it?

Predictably, Sabres fans in Buffalo are excited with what they’ve seen during the short Pegula regime. Today, the team announced that fans are showing their excitement with their hard-earned money as well. From the club press release:

“The Buffalo Sabres today announced the team has achieved a record renewal rate of 99% for their 2011-12 season tickets. As a result, season ticket sales have been capped at 15,200 tickets for the 2011-12 season. That total includes 100 new season tickets, which have been sold to members of the Buffalo Sabres Blue & Gold club.

Due to this extraordinary rate of renewal, the supply of tickets for the upcoming season will be much more limited than years past. The demand was so great that the Sabres will – for the first time in franchise history – cap the number of Mini-Packs at 3,500 accounts.

“We anticipate this year’s Mini-Packs will sell out quickly,” said John Sinclair, the VP of Ticket Operations & Services. “Those individuals that are currently members of the Blue & Gold Club will have the first opportunity to purchase tickets, as well as individuals who purchased Mini-Packs last season. At that point, it will move to the general public.”

The 99% renewal rate is a huge number when the rest of the Sabres attendance numbers are taken into account. Last season, they played to a 98.7% capacity rate as they averaged 18,452 fans per game. Buffalo’s home arena has an official capacity of 18,690 people per game (not counting standing-room-only crowds); so they’ve already been packing the place as it was. Twelve teams played to at least 100% capacity last season—the Sabres look to be a shoe-in to join the list next season.

Now that ownership has the Sabres as the hottest ticket in town, the next step is for the players to take care of their end of the deal. Fans will pack the HSBC Arena, but the new players will have to help the team capitalize on the buzz and take the next step in the standings. They have a competitive top 6 up front, a great top 4 on the backend, and an elite goaltender that will give them a chance to win every night. If they can put it all together, the Sabres should be an exciting team to watch next season.

As the Sabres let us know today, there will be plenty of people in the arena to watch it all go down.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…