Tuesday, December 20, 2011
It's not panic time in Buffalo -- yet
By Pierre LeBrun
Billionaire Terry Pegula has invested heavily both on and off the ice with the hopes of a championship run in Buffalo.
Days away from Christmas, the Sabres are not that team yet.
Some Sabres fans are calling for the heads of the head coach and GM. Other fans want trades.
Sabres president Ted Black, Pegula’s trusted lieutenant, spoke with ESPN.com on Monday and his message was one of patience.
Our first question dealt with head coach Lindy Ruff. Is he on the hot seat?
“No, no, he’s not the reason we are where we are right now,” Black said. “Injuries and execution probably mean more than that.
“I don’t know of a coach that has done so much with so little for so long than Lindy,” added the Sabres team president. “We’ve only been on the job here for 10 months; we’re going to give him all the assets he needs to be successful.”
Black also gave GM Darcy Regier a vote of confidence.
“The job Darcy did in the offseason was fantastic,” said Black. “He went out and traded for an experienced defenseman [Robyn Regehr] who waived his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo. Which is something this franchise hasn’t experienced in a long, long time. Darcy also went out and acquired two of the more premier free agents available.”
Don’t get me wrong, Black sounded very sincere in backing his GM and coach. But ownership reserves the right to change its mind whenever it wants. That’s the story of pro sports.
In the short term, Black is asking Sabres fans to be patient.
“And I also recognize the inherent cruelty of asking fans who have been through 40 winters of disappointment to have patience or to ask them to have a sense of hope and promise,” said Black. “Never in the history of the Sabres has there been a time when the ownership put more resources in the pursuit of building a championship franchise. We’re almost 10 months into this; we’re not going to panic. We’re going to do everything we can to improve the team whenever we can improve it.”
But the Sabres president understands the fans’ anger.
“I get it,” he said. “I know these fans are so frustrated. I live in the city, I live in the community; I know how badly they want a championship team. We’re going to do everything we can to deliver it. When I say be patient, I’m not asking for blind faith or blind belief or blind trust; because Buffalo fans are smarter than accepting those empty promises. We’re asking them to stick with us. We’re right on the trajectory. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it today, but we are going to continue the vigorous pursuit to bring the Cup to Buffalo.”
Next season’s Winter Classic
This season’s Winter Classic hasn’t even been played yet in Philadelphia and some fans have asked me where I think the game will be played in January 2013.
The event generates so much interest that you can’t blame them for asking. Everyone wants a piece of this thing.
“Ever since we played in the one at Wrigley Field (Jan. 1, 2009), it was such a positive experience; we’d love to host one,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com on Monday. “We think it would be a wonderful thing for our city, our franchise and our fans. We’ve expressed that to the league and they know we’re interested.”
Given Detroit’s stature in the league as an Original Six franchise and as the model organization it has been the past two decades, the league owes it to the Red Wings to give them one in my opinion, and I think it’ll happen whether that’s next season or within the next few years.
You can also add the Minnesota Wild and their passionate hockey fans as people wanting to host a Winter Classic, and that organization has also made that clear to the NHL.
“We’d take a game any year,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com via email Monday.
And don’t forget the Washington Capitals. In announcing the Caps-Penguins Winter Classic for Jan. 1, 2011, during a news conference at the June 2010 Stanley Cup finals, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised a game in D.C. “within the next two to three years.”
Caps owner Ted Leonsis confirmed to ESPN.com via email Monday that his organization still wants to host a Winter Classic, but has not had any talks on the matter yet with the league.
“We will host one, one day -- but no year specifically was ever promised to us,” Leonsis said.
Detroit, Minnesota or Washington -- that would be my list of three options for next season.
The league traditionally waits until the second half of the season to begin its focus on the following year’s Winter Classic possibilities, wanting first to analyze the feedback from this year’s game before moving on to the next one.
Ducks and Selanne
With each passing day it’s becoming pretty obvious the Anaheim Ducks won’t be a playoff team this season.
Will Teemu Selanne end his season in Anaheim?
Not exactly the way Teemu Selanne had envisioned ending his career, if this is in fact the last season for the 41-year-old winger.
Which brings us to a question a lot of people are beginning to ask: Could Selanne find himself on a contender come the Feb. 27 trade deadline?
“No, he’s retiring a Duck and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Ducks GM Bob Murray told ESPN.com on Tuesday. “But the way he’s playing, why should he retire?”
Murray, meanwhile, took winger Bobby Ryan off the trade market earlier this month when he instead fired head coach Randy Carlyle in the hope that a shake-up would turn around Anaheim’s season.
The turnaround hasn’t happened. My guess is that if the Ducks are still near the basement come February, Murray will begin to listen on offers for Ryan again.
Senators GM Bryan Murray woke up Friday morning not feeling at all like the front-runner to land Kyle Turris. About 30 hours later, the player was his.
The main stumbling block on Friday was the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes were still asking for a first-round pick to be part of the deal. That was a no-go for Murray.
By Friday night, Coyotes GM Don Maloney had downgraded to a second-round pick, and while the two sides still had not agreed to a deal, Murray felt better about his chances when he went to bed Friday night.
On Saturday morning, Maloney phoned back and the trade had changed in size -- it got smaller. On Tuesday, Murray confirmed that the original deal both teams had talked about last week involved “more players.”
In the end, Maloney wanted a smaller deal -- Turris in exchange for David Rundblad and a second-round pick. Murray quickly thought about it Saturday and said yes. The Sens GM didn’t have much time to waste. Maloney had two other clubs in the final mix also willing to trade for Turris and pressed Murray for a quick answer.
In the end, Maloney got terrific value in return in a young puck-moving blueliner with Rundblad’s upside. But Murray felt the Senators could afford to move him given the presence of Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and all the other young depth the organization has on defense.
“We’ve been looking for a second-line center almost from the day I got here years ago,” Murray said Tuesday. “I’m happy with the deal.”