As I watch the Buffalo Bills dismal performance on and off the field continue to unravel every week, you can’t help but reminisce about the blue and gold’s rocky past. There was a time too when the Sabres brass alienated it’s fan base to the brink of no-return. Showing the door to one of the most popular coaches in team history and firing the GM within a couple of months didn’t win any votes. Heck, at one point we were left without an owner thanks to the Rigas Family and the Adelphia scandal.
Regier’s lack of decision making over the past couple of years counts. But it’s not as drastic as what most die-hard puck fanatics fear: the possibility of your favorite hockey team relocating to the middle of the desert where people care more about casino’s and tacos than skates.
Thirteen years ago, Internet Explorer 4 was released, Mike Tyson ripped Evander Hollyfield’s ear off and…oh, did I mention gas was $1.22 a gallon?
Buffalo looked more like an enigma than an actual organization. After the 1996-97 season, both head coach Ted Nolan and General Manager John Muckler won the Jack Adams award and National Hockey League’s Executive of the Year respectively. But Muckler’s hot tempered arguments with Nolan lead to his release.
Both Nolan and star goaltender Dominik Hasek continued to show their demise for one another in public. The following weeks would become what many people in the media would describe as a public relations meltdown.
The Sabres held a press conference to announce that the team was offering Nolan a one year deal. The Jack Adams award winner rejected the offer. A couple of days later, the Sabres took the contract off the table and later gave the job to current head coach Lindy Ruff.
Flash Forward to 2002. Former Sabres majority owner John Rigas and his two sons were indicted on fraud charges and eventually incarcerated. Poor judgment doesn’t even describe the events that followed. In fact, Rigas reminds me of the opposite or lack of integrity installed within a human. Somebody who lacks the shame gene, if you will.
Soon afterward, the Buffalo Sabres filed for chapter 11. It was estimated the Sabres owed their creditors $206 million, and the absence of an owner didn’t bid well for the organization as a whole. Remember when Buffalo businessman Mark E. Hamister and his investing buddy Todd Berman were the supposed owners of the Sabres? Remember the rumors swirling about the possibility of the team leaving town? Even the fans and advertisers shyed away from a fairly new arena.
But let us not forget the man who recently left New York because the Rent is too Damn High (sorry, had to plug that). Thomas Golisano, the founder of Paychex became the newest owner of the Sabres in 2003. Although Golisano has thrown himself into the political arena numerous times in the past, he helped turn around the Sabres unfortunate past into a stable and growing franchise.
The 2004-05 NHL lockout didn’t help the Sabres financial problems. Yes, losing Danny Briere and Chris Drury in day 1 of NHL Free Agency was disappointing and Darcy’s inability to trade or even take a smart risk every once in awhile frustrates me to no end. But it was in no means as heart wrenching and painful as it could have been if Buffalo no longer had a hockey team to rally around.
It’s funny how everything works out in the end. Lindy Ruff recently coached his 1000th NHL career game with the Sabres, the Arena is filled on a regular basis and Buffalo continues to be a playoff contender year after year. It would be nice however for the Sabres to add a Stanley Cup to the trophy case.
I guess this is just one of those, “be thankful we actually have a team no matter how frustrating the front office and players can be” posts. And if you are still not satisfied or angry with Regier, Ruff or any player with the Sabres, look at what happened to the city of Hartford and the beloved Whalers. It could be worse!