Monday, July 4, 2011
It was December 1997, a year after the Buffalo Sabres lost their beloved owner, Seymour Knox III in 1996, and a man named John Rigas, CEO of Adelphi Communications, bought the Sabres from Northrup Knox. Big promises were made by Rigas and once the 1997 season began, it looked like he was going to deliver.
An Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 1998 followed by a 1999 Stanley Cup Finals run suggested that the Buffalo Sabres have arrived on the NHL scene as a team to be reckoned with. But with Dominik Hasek demanding and orchestrating a trade to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2001 offseason, the Sabres missed the playoffs in 2002.
But considering what happened next, that was the least of their concerns, as Rigas was arrested for bank, wire, and securities fraud (not exactly a trifecta that you want to be associated with). the NHL took over the Sabres and the franchise was on the ropes. Bye bye and good riddance Rigas to his broken promises.
In 2003, enter Tom Golisano, the 3 time runner-up for New York Governor, arrived in what appeared, much like Rigas, to be a breath of fresh air. The Sabres were saved, and the team responded two years later in 2005-2006 with an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and coming within an eyelash of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sabres won the President's Trophy in 2007, and the franchise appeared to be back yet again, much like the feeling was around Western New York in 1999.
Soon after this, the feel good 2006 and 2007 seasons dwindled away, as the Sabres watched star players jettison the Queen City for greener pastures, and eventually Golisano put the team up for sale. Another decade, another ownership change.
On February 3rd, 2011, a oil tycoon named Terry Pegula was officially announced as the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres. Oil tycoon? Ok that is good. Check. Western New York roots? Not bad, but Golisano had business in Rochester, and we all see how that worked out. Somewhat of a check.
Then there was the press conference, which to this day has profoundly changed the shape, thinking, and direction of the Buffalo Sabres franchise in such a positive way, you wonder if this was all a dream.
"If I want to make money, Ill drill more oil' and 'The sole reason for this franchise's existence is to win a Stanley Cup' were the quotes that came from the Pegula press conference. Ok, now you have my attention Mr. Pegula. But what got me believing in Pegula was the raw emotion that overcame him when he saw Hall Of Fame Gilbert Perreault appear at his press conference.
Wow. A billionaire reduced to tears like a fan. Now THIS is different.
Despite this, there was reason for doubt, as we heard some of the same song and dance from Regier and Golisano. Pegula informed Sabres GM Darcy Regier that the purse strings were off, and he was able to run the team, you know, like a GM ought to be able to.
At the 2011 NHL trade deadline, Brad Boyes was brought in from the St Louis Blues for a 2nd round pick. Now as Sabres fans know, one trade generally has led to another 'dump' somewhere else to cancel it out. It didn't happen. Ok, this still feels different.
The Sabres lost a tough 7 game series to the Philadelphia Flyers, which felt like the Sabres would wrap up in an Easter Sunday game at home in Game 6, but it was not to be. Going into the off-season, Pegula never changed what he promised to do, meaning business was not going to be business as usual in Buffalo.
As we inched closer to the NHL entry draft, in comes something out of left field. The Sabres agree to a trade to bring shutdown defender Robyn Regehr in from the Calgary Flames. But oh yes, in typical Buffalo fashion, he has a no-trade clause, and it is initially reported that he would not waive the No Trade Clause to 'explore other options'
Ok, same old Buffalo. Pegula, you had me for a minute there, you really did...
Then on the 2nd day of the NHL Draft, it is announced that Regehr agrees to the trade to Buffalo. Wait, he did? Nah, can't be true. And Ales Kotalik is coming back too...ok where is the catch? Oh, AND a 2nd round pick comes back to Buffalo? Ok, turn on the alarm clock, this can't be happening! Its too good!!
No, really its true. Terry Pegula, you have my attention.
Then we inch closer to the NHL Free Agency Frenzy Friday, a day generally reserved for the big boys. The New York Rangers. The Philadelphia Flyers. The Toronto Maples Leafs, and so on. This is a day where Buffalo Sabres fans kick back, make their plans for the 4th, and generally wait to hear some of the best players from the team leave town for more cash.
It is a tradition in Buffalo that no Sabre fan wants to celebrate.
And suddenly out of the clear blue sky, a trade that in my mind, officially signals the beginning of what I call...Pegulalooza.
The #1 defensive UFA on the market, Christian Ehrhoff, had his rights traded from the New York Islanders to the Buffalo Sabres for a 4th round pick. Come again? The Sabres? Is that a misprint?
No it wasn't. Now much like Robyn Regehr, the initial thought was probably similar for some Sabres fans: Ok now I get it, we trade for the rights, and he does not agree to sign with Buffalo, and walks on July 1st, the Sabres lose a 4th round pick, and Ehrhoff signs with one of the u$ual $u$pects.
Not this time. Pegula does not appear he liked to be denied, and delivers on a 10 year, $40 Million dollar contract. Whoa? The Sabres did this? As the great Rick Jeanneret would say.."Holy Mackeral!!!"
And if this was not enough, reports surface that Pegula and Co.will meet with the #1 prize in the UFA market, Brad Richards. And while they do not land Richards (we all knew the Rangers would get him anyway!), the Sabres were probably expected to them lay low after this, and I do not believe many Sabres fans would have blamed them.
But as Lee Corso always says...'Not so fast my friend!" Enter in Ville Leino from the Flyers on a 6 year $27 million dollar contract. Whoa.
Soon after this, checking capgeek.com (a must for any NHL fan) showed that the Buffalo Sabres currently have the #1 payroll in the NHL. These are the Buffalo Sabres we are talking about correct? Did they move to New York?
While these signings and trade of Leino, Ehrhoff and Regehr do not guarantee success, the trade sent a message loud and clear throughout the NHL world.
These are not your uncle's, cousin's, brother's, sister's or parents Buffalo Sabres.
There is a new sheriff in town. And Pegula is in the business of delivering on promises. Enjoy the ride!