Sabres owner Terry Pegula talks about his big offseason, high hopes, and no pressure

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With the kind of spending the Buffalo Sabres did this offseason, you’d imagine that the stakes are sky high in Buffalo this year. After all when you drop the kind of cash owner Terry Pegula did to land guys like Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff as well as dealing for former Calgary hard-hitter Robyn Regehr the expectations on the season are going to be lofty.

Pegula finally spoke about his big spending ways and the excitement that’s generated in Buffalo this season and for the future of the team in western New York. The Buffalo News’ Bucky Gleason has a great piece on Pegula today in which Pegula makes it clear that he’s not the kind of ruthless owner that’s going to rain fire and brimstone down on everyone should things get off to a slow start.

While Pegula might spend like his name was Steinbrenner, he’s not about to act like him either.

“If we come out of the chute 0-9 this year, everybody is going to be going skitzoid,” Pegula said. “But you gotta believe you’re not an 0-9 team, and it will get better. You can’t have the Sword of Damocles hanging over the players, coaches and everybody’s head. You have to stick with the team.”

The Sabres aren’t going to start the season as the NHL’s best team. They don’t have overwhelming talent, the most depth or even the top goaltender. Just know that they aren’t far away, either. They will enter the season just as capable of winning it all as any other team.

Hey, why not this year?

Rather than shying away from the goal, or fearing the goal, the Sabres are following their leaders and embracing the goal. Pegula hasn’t backed off an inch. In fact, it’s been the contrary. The Sabres are inching, if not leaping, toward becoming one of the top teams in the league.

“I’ve heard some comments, ‘It’s time to put up or shut up. You say you want to win and all this stuff,'” Pegula said. “Well, isn’t that why every team should exist? I don’t think we’re special. Everybody, and I don’t care what sport you’re in, you’re supposed to do your best to try to win.”

Amen, Terry.

The amount of good-natured sensibility that comes out of Pegula makes him, perhaps, the most likable owner in pro sports. This is a guy who went to the World Junior Hockey Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid just a couple weeks ago so that he, coach Lindy Ruff, general manager Darcy Regier and the team’s scouts could watch the one player they’ve drafted (2011 first round pick Joel Armia of Finland) at the camp. Giving his guys a vacation in the Adirondacks made for a nice bonus as well, but bringing that kind of workforce out to watch just one player shows how important this whole thing is for them.

That brand of hands-on commitment from an owner is practically unheard of in these days when you see faceless ownership groups buying or owning teams. Seeing it come without the instant pressure on everyone to win right out of the gate (at least from Pegula) seems crazy as well.

Pegulamania is running wild in Buffalo and the brand of infectious, good-natured feelings that go along with it can’t help but make you hope that it can bring the Sabres and the city of Buffalo a lot of good things in the future.

Penguins re-sign Ruhwedel to a two-year deal

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The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense faced the ultimate test this spring, winning a Stanley Cup despite the absence of Kris Letang.

Among those depth blueliners asked to come in and help fill the void left by injuries on defense was Chad Ruhwedel. And on Thursday, Ruhwedel re-signed with the Penguins to a two-year deal.

The Penguins announced that this new deal has an average annual value of $650,000 — a modest raise from his one-year, $575,000 deal for last season, but still certainly affordable for a Pittsburgh team that needs to get restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary under contract.

In his first season with the Penguins, Ruhwedel split his time between Pittsburgh and the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He scored twice with 10 points in 34 games with Pittsburgh, and then appeared in six postseason games as injuries continued to mount on the blue line.

His last game of the postseason came on May 19 versus Ottawa. He was diagnosed with a concussion, which was the result of a hit from Bobby Ryan in Game 4.

 

NHL announces 2017-18 regular season schedule

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The NHL released next year’s schedule on Thursday — one that cemented the league wouldn’t be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Games are scheduled right through the Olympic window, which runs from Feb. 9-25. You can view the entire schedule here.

Some dates of note:

• The Penguins will raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night, Oct. 4, prior to their home date against the Blues.

• The league’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will play their first game on Oct. 6 in Dallas, and their first home game on Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

• Detroit will play its first game in Little Caesar’s Arena on Oct. 5, against the Wild.

• Ottawa and Colorado will play a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 10 and 11.

• Ottawa and Montreal will play the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic outdoors, at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, on Dec. 16.

• The Rangers and Sabres will participate in the annual Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field.

• From Jan. 26-29, Tampa Bay will host the NHL All-Star weekend.

• On Mar. 3, Washington will host Toronto in an outdoor game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Marc-Andre Fleury, now a Golden Knight, will make his return to Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.

Jonathan Drouin, now a Montreal Canadien, will make his return to Tampa Bay on Dec. 28.

Jordan Eberle, now a New York Islander, will make his return to Edmonton on Mar. 8.

Eberle hopes to re-establish chemistry with John Tavares

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Jordan Eberle believes the trade to the New York Islanders will provide him with a fresh start — and possibly the opportunity to play alongside John Tavares.

In a blockbuster Thursday morning, the Oilers dealt Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome.

There is a history between the two talented forwards that famously dates back to the 2009 World Juniors.

Back then, the draft-eligible Tavares was expected to go No. 1 overall in a few months time. Eberle was a first-round pick from the year before. It was Tavares shoveling a backhand shot toward the net and Eberle scooping up the puck and putting it behind the Russian goalie in the final seconds of regulation to send the semifinal game into overtime.

It’s one of the iconic moments in Canadian World Juniors history.

They will be reunited with the Islanders, and potentially on the same line, in order to give Tavares a scoring winger.

“From me, you have to be confident in your ability and confident that you can be in a top-six role. I think I’ve shown in the past that I can score in this league and I’ve had previous chemistry with John,” said Eberle, who scored 20 goals and 51 points for the Oilers this past season.

“Obviously, he’s a very intelligent player and the way that he plays suits my game. Maybe, if that’s where I end up, our games suit each other well.”

Eberle goes from a team that had Connor McDavid, the 2017 Hart Trophy winner, to Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, an Olympian, and a player with two 80-plus point seasons under his belt.

They are both, as Eberle said, generational players. But with two totally different styles on the ice.

“I think you look at their attributes as players. I think Connor, the first one that sticks out to mind, is his speed. He’s maybe one of the fastest guys with the puck and you have to be able to keep up with that,” said Eberle. “John thinks the game, maybe, better than any other player in the league.

“Each does his thing in their own way, but gets the job done. For me, it’s more of, in my mind, to get ready to the best ability that I can to get into camp and hopefully fit in.”

Welcome Jason Demers to the trade rumor mill

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Florida’s season ended on April 9. Since then, the Panthers:

— Made a coaching change from Tom Rowe to Bob Boughner

Re-instilled Dale Tallon as GM

Lost leading goalscorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft

Traded Reilly Smith to Las Vegas.

And they might not be done shaking things up.

Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, defenseman Jason Demers — who was left unprotected at the expansion draft — is now available for trade. The news comes just one year after Demers signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Florida in free agency, one of the biggest moves in the club’s defensive overhaul from the season prior.

The 29-year-old was a lineup fixture in Florida last year. He appeared in 81 of 82 games, scoring nine goals and 28 points while averaging 19:37 TOI.

If anything, today’s news suggests Tallon might be trying to undo the work Rowe did during his stint as GM. It was Rowe, don’t forget, that inked Smith to his five-year, $25 million deal last July. Smith went on to have a subpar year — just 15 goals and 37 points — and, in one of his final noteworthy acts as head coach, Rowe called Smith out for his lacklustre play towards the end of the season.