Nov 8, 2011; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula is introduced to the fans prior to a game against the Winnipeg Jets at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres Will Never Win Until They Bring Proven Winners Into the Front Office

On Wednesday, I wrote a piece arguing that the Buffalo Sabres HAD to trade Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek in order to begin creating a culture of winning in the Sabres organization.

Many people threw out the argument that it is difficult to create a culture of winning when your team cannot win games, and that the Sabres’ chances of winning are greatly diminished without Miller and Vanek.   Sure – keeping two guys who have publicly stated that they would accept trades would help you win regular season games next year, but how will that create a long-term sense of dedication and pride to the organization?  And how will young players be inspired by players who are just showing up to collect and paycheck and are not fully invested in the product?  A culture of winning involves more than actually winning games . . .

. . . yet winning is a part of this atmosphere I am trying to create, which is where today’s post comes in.  Take a look at the front office of the Buffalo Sabres – what do you see?  Do you see a collection of talent that has proven it knows what it takes to win, be it with the Buffalo Sabres or another NHL franchise?  I certainly don’t.  I see a front office loaded with people who are trying to figure it out as they go, with no clue as to how to actually go about assembling a winning team.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula made this very clear to me the other day when he defended Darcy Regier:

“What’s he done wrong? . . . I’ve built a pretty good company (East Resources) in my life, and one of my main theories in life is you start with a good person, good people, and you work from there. Darcy is in that category. He is a very qualified person.” (Quotation courtesy of Buffalo Hockey Beat.)

So Darcy Regier is very qualified, is he, Mr. Pegula?   That’s an interesting way to describe a GM who has failed to produce a championship.  At no point in


Regier’s administrative career has he been part of a winning tradition.  He was the assistant coach for a Hartford Whalers team (1991-1992) that finished fourth in the Adams Division and lost in the semifinals.  He then went on to become the New York Islanders’ Assistant GM to Don Maloney, later becoming the interim GM when Maloney was fired during the 1995-1996 season.  The Islanders’ record while Regier worked for them?  113-151-34, with two playoff appearances.

And we all know what Regier has accomplished during his tenure with the Sabres: one Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the bungled mishandling of Danny Briere and Chris Drury, and a team that has failed to qualify for the playoffs in four of the past six years.

Exactly how is Regier “highly qualified” to run this team?

It’s not just Regier, either, folks; heck, Regier might actually be a good GM, if he was surrounded by a few people who know what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.  The Pittsburgh Penguins have Mario Lemiuex in their front office; the Detroit Red Wings, Chris Chelios and Kris Draper; the Boston Bruins, Cam Neely; heck, even  the Tampa Bay Lightning have Steve Yzerman, and the Colorado Avalanche just added Joe Sakic.  Who do the Sabres have?  Teppo Numminen.  Kevin Devine.  They do have Ted Black, who spent some time with the Penguins, so at least they have that going for them.  Honestly, the only true winner the Sabres have on staff?  Ron Rolston, whose success came entirely at the junior hockey level.

When I discuss free agents and trades, a lot of fans tell me, “Keep dreaming.  No really good players want to come play for Buffalo.”  That’s not entirely true – you can always throw money at players to convince them to come play for your team.  However, Buffalo cannot hope to attract the type of players it needs – the elite talents, the respected leaders, the players who are truly driven to win – by simply flashing dead presidents.  When players look around the league and ask themselves, “Which teams are serious about winning, know how to win, and expect to do so year after year after year?” none of them consider Buffalo.   That’s because other players in the NHL see good players with the Sabres – but no winners.  When no one in your system really knows what it takes to win, consistently and meaningfully, there is no reason for the best players to want to join your club.  It takes a front office that knows how to win to attract winners, and that is why the Buffalo Sabres will never lift Lord Stanley’s Cup until Terry Pegula stops thinking he can just hire good people who will spend a lot of money.  A culture of winning begins in the front office – when will the Sabres finally realize this?

Tags: Buffalo Sabres

  • Tom McQueen

    Couldn’t agree with you more…and it’s sad because I have a special place in my heart for the Sabres having attended so many games at the old Aud…it’s easy to look at players as the reason teams don’t win, but the hockey talent you have in the front office is at least equally important in determining long-term success.

    • Richard Spalding

      Thanks for the read! I hear from a lot of fans who have “seen it all” that they find it hard to support the team any more. That’s the worst news I could ever hear. This franchise needs to rebuild the front office, as well as the roster.

  • jimbobv2

    Would you have been happy if the Sabres had replaced Regier with Steve Yzerman a couple of years ago?

    The Sabres need to replace Regier.

    But, they need to get the right person. Some tag like “proven winner” is irrelevant. They need to get someone in here that can build a winner.

    What was Stan Bowman’s winning pedigree besides who his dad is? He was in the Blackhawks front office during the dark years and got the GM job just as things went well after the ownership change.

    Get the right guy. Not just the guy with the best looking resume.

    • Richard Spalding

      Maybe you misunderstand me a little bit – I didn’t name any of those guys to say the Sabres just need to pick a random player who has won a title. Look how Charlotte in the NBA has fared with Michael Jordan involved – thumbs down. He’s not the right guy. However, it’s not a coincidence that so many winning franchises continually bring ex-players back into the fold – it’s one way of perpetuating that culture of winning. Young players for the Colorado Avalanche are going to feel much more of a sense of awe, of history, by seeing Joe Sakic in the building than the young Sabres will feel by seeing Teppo Numminen. When you surround yourselves with DEDICATED and savvy winners, rarely does your franchise get worse..

      • Kevin

        Too bad the Sabres don’t have that stud like a Sakic for the players to look up to. It has to be someone from outside the organization.

        • Richard Spalding

          And I was thinking about that – who could they go out and get? It doesn’t have to be an ex-player, but it sure adds more weight when it is. I guess they could try to incorporate Hasek.

        • Justin Tosczak

          Mike Peca would be a good pick though.

      • jimbobv2

        There are plenty of mixed results in that regard.

        Making Wayne Gretzky the head coach in Phoenix didn’t work.

        Mark Messier getting a gig with the Rangers didn’t seem to help.

        Sakic and Roy in Colorado is a TBD.

        Montreal has had plenty of alumni influence in the good years and in the lean years.

        For me, the key is getting a GM that has a blueprint for a team he wants that will work in today’s game and then has the ability to make that blueprint become a reality.

        The Sabres don’t have that with Regier.

  • Kevin

    Your article Rich is great, it hits the nail right on the center of the head. Beautiful.