Buffalo Sabres turn-around under new owner Terry Pegula

1 Comment

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.

Police: Drowning of NHL goalie Ray Emery not suspicious

AP Images
1 Comment

HAMILTON, Ontario (AP) — The drowning of former NHL goalie Ray Emery does not appear suspicious, police said.

The 35-year-old player whose career spanned 11 seasons drowned in Hamilton Harbour on Sunday.

He jumped off a boat near the Leander Boat Club to go swimming, and friends called emergency services at about 6 a.m. when he didn’t resurface, police said. Inspector Marty Schulenberg called it a ”case of misadventure.”

Emery’s body was found at about 2:50 p.m. Sunday, about 20 yards from where he went into the water, Schulenberg added. He said first responders were not able to locate Emery right away so they called the dive unit. The search took longer than anticipated because of concerns for the dive team.

”It’s a lengthy process and safety is paramount to our divers,” he said. ”We need to take the time do it safely and that’s what the delay was.”

A post-mortem was to be completed Monday.

”Mr. Emery was taking a swim this morning and the circumstances around that are a part of the investigation,” Schulenberg said. ”Those details remain to be uncovered by our investigators.”

Emery played for Ottawa, Chicago and Philadelphia. He helped the Senators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 and won it as a backup with the Blackhawks in 2013.

The Blackhawks lauded him as a ”fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.” Flyers President Paul Holmgren cited his ”talent, work ethic and determination,” calling him an ”outstanding teammate and an extremely gifted goaltender.”

Emery battled avascular necrosis, the same serious hip ailment that ended two-sport star Bo Jackson’s career. He and fellow Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford combined to win the William Jennings Trophy for allowing the league’s fewest goals during the lockout-shortened 2013 season and finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting.

Emery played in 326 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He went 145-86-28 with a 2.70 goals-against average and 16 shutouts.

He faced issues off the ice, including an incident of road rage, assault of a trainer in Russia and behavior that led to his dismissal from Ottawa’s training camp.

”Ray had many highs and lows in his personal life and his career,” longtime agent J.P. Barry said. ”He never let things that would derail most of us stop his forward momentum. He had a big heart and a fun loving personality. He was someone we all rooted for to succeed.”

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas knew Emery from junior hockey and the American Hockey League. He said Emery’s ”smile and intelligence made him a magnetic personality.”

Emery played in a charity hockey game Saturday night organized by Zac Rinaldo of the Nashville Predators. After word of his death spread, condolences poured in.

”I will always remember Ray as a good person first & foremost,” friend and former teammate Dan Carcillo wrote on Twitter. ”I envied his demeanor. He had a contagious personality.”

Former teammates pointed to Emery’s mentorship and leadership, especially in his final professional season in the AHL in 2015-16. Enforcer-turned-analyst Paul Bissonnette, a teammate with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, said Emery would treat other players to dinner almost every night.

”I’d heard nothing but great things before meeting him,” Bissonnette said. ”And it was true.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

Hartman handed prove-it contract by Predators

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Nashville Predators want Ryan Hartman to succeed and are prepared to give him every opportunity to do so after signing him to a one-year contract on Monday.

Hartman’s deal comes in at $875,000 for the 2018-19 season, a prove-it deal that, if all goes well for the former first-round pick, could mean a bigger haul next season as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

“[Predators head coach Peter Laviolette] said to him in the exit meeting that basically the cupboard is open,” Predators general manager David Poile told reporters following his team’s second-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “So, when you come to training camp, take whatever you want, meaning we’re open to him playing up in the lineup, different positions, maybe power-play opportunities; Lavi and our coaches had Ryan killing penalties, which he didn’t do in Chicago. In doing that, he did it very well for us, so it’ll be his best chance to with the whole year to know exactly where he fits in.”

Nashville seems open to letting Hartman compete for a job, and now it’s up to Hartman to keep his wits about him and prove he’s the same player he was in his rookie season.

Hartman cost the Predators a first, a fourth and a prospect at the trade deadline, and after an up-and-down time with the Predators following his acquisition, the Predators are hoping a healthy Hartman can offer a good return on investment.

Hartman underwent surgery for a torn labrum this offseason but is expected to be ready for the regular season. He has a proven ability to be versatile in the lineup and can play a role on special teams as well, both power play and penalty kill.

Poile said it himself: This is Hartman’s chance. Hartman notched 19 goals in his rookie season with the Blackhawks, and that type of form would be a perfect fit on a Predators roster that could use the secondary scoring. He had 1.89 points-per-60 with the Blackhawks this past season and 1.40 with the Predators, where his shooting percentage was over 10 percent.

He’s also proven to be a pretty effective puck-possession player, finishing his rookie season at 53.06 CF% and last year at 53.09.

A little more consistency in his game would help.

Hartman was made a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 6 of the second round and Game 6 of the first round and was suspended for Game 5 of that series against the Colorado Avalanche for a wild check to the head of Carl Soderberg.

He also scored the game-winner for the Predators in Game 4 of the series against the Jets.

This is a low-risk deal for the Predators with the potential of a nice reward if Hartman can find his place in a team that seems destined to contend once again this year. A good showing by Hartman could really round out their roster.

The deal also doesn’t break the bank for the Predators, who still have to sign Miikka Salomaki and Juuse Saros, who are the team’s remaining RFAs. CapFriendly has the Predators at just over $68 million counting against the salary cap, which is set at $79.5 million for the coming season.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: The hockey world remembers Ray Emery

Getty Images
2 Comments

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Remembering Ray Emery. (TSN.ca)

• A tragic end for Ray Emery, a polarizing figure who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final. (Ottawa Sun)

• After signing a six-year, $37 million contract last week, a look at how an agent change changed the course of Connor Hellebuyck‘s career. (InGoal Magazine)

Logan Couture, who committed the next eight years of his NHL career to the San Jose Sharks on July 1, is ready to pay it forward. (The Hockey News)

• A move out the wing helped Claude Giroux revitalize his career, and helped Sean Couturier to have a career year, but could a move back to center be the best move for the Flyers going forward? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• A lengthy look at the single best contract for each of the NHL’s 31 teams. (ESPN)

• Vegas’ top line is good, but best top trio hockey? Nope. (Knights on Ice)

Ryan Kesler could miss the entirety of next season and the Anaheim Ducks don’t appear to be worried about it. (Anaheim Calling)

• It wasn’t just New York Islanders fans who felt the sting of his departure on July 1. His own teammates need to pick themselves back up as well. (Sportsnet)

• He’s one the greatest names in Detroit Red Wings history. It’s time to retire Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91. (Detroit Free Press)

• A look at Nathan Walker and the future of international hockey. (Puck Prose)

• Well, this is interesting: Troy Stecher’s closest comparable as he heads to arbitration is in Jim Benning’s family. (Vancouver Courier)

• A look at how Paul Bissonnette has forged a career in multimedia after forging one as a fourth-liner in the NHL. (Forbes)

• After signing Devon Shore to a two-year, the Dallas Stars are still in decent shape in terms of the salary cap. (Blackout Dallas)

• Oilers Nation is doing a player-by-player review from last season, and this particular review looks at if Edmonton is going to miss Patrick Maroon more than they think. (Oilers Nation)

• When Devils’ head coach John Hynes expects to fill his coaching staff and what he wants in an assistant. (NJ.com)

• How Andrej Sustr found healing through art. (NHLPA)

• The rollercoaster of a ride that was the first season of Fanatics handling official NHL apparel. (Scotty Wazz)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canadiens make a good move: Solid deal for Danault

Getty
5 Comments

Unanimously good moves haven’t happened regularly for the Montreal Canadiens these days, so it’s worthwhile to appreciate even what would seem like easy calls.

With that in mind, signing useful forward Phillip Danault to a nice three-year contract ranks as one of Marc Bergevin’s best decisions in some time, whether you can chalk up the value to RFA leverage or not. The Canadiens confirmed that the cap hit is a reasonable $3.083 million per season.

Danault, 25, has essentially been a point-every-other-game player for Montreal. He scored 25 points in 52 games this past season after a relative breakthrough in 2016-17, when he collected 40 points in 82 contests. Not too shabby.

It’s conceivable that Danault could maybe chip in a bit more if leaned upon in a bigger way, as he averaged 16:35 minutes per game, with a touch less than a minute (56 seconds) of that average happening on the power play.

Now, it’s not as though the Canadiens are being foolish in playing him in his current role, as it’s plausible that he’s best served as a supporting cast sort of asset. The point is that Danault seems to make good use of his time, might be able to do a tad bit more, and tends to check out reasonably well from a possession standpoint. He’s not the type of player who will win you a Stanley Cup, yet he’s also the sort of guy who wouldn’t take much off of the table, either. In other words, this is a justifiable contract and could even be a nifty value.

Faint praise? Pretty much, but it’s better than the usual reaction for Bergevin & Co. (laughter, mockery).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.