You don’t know me. You ought to – I’m a loud-mouthed fan with access to this blog, the worst possible combination you want in a fan! – but you’re a busy guy, and anyone who follows sports will tell you that the people who make the tough decisions within a professional sports franchise – the owner, the general manager, the coaches, and so on – don’t listen to the fans. Fans can be fickle, emotional, irrational, and often, just plain wrong, and we all know, we fans cannot all be satisfied. I mean, I’m sure you hear us – kind of hard not to – but you don’t really “hear” us.
However, we all know that not only are you the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, but you are also a fan of the team, as well. Because of this, I suspect that your decision to relieve long-tenured GM Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston of their duties last evening was born, not of a purely business strategy, but more as the result of a fan who was tired of watching his beloved team play AHL-quality hockey in a collection of NHL arenas and cities.
Making decisions based on the fan side of you may not result in the best business practices, but today, I would like to thank you for feeling, thinking, and acting like a fan.
Because in doing so, you actually achieved the impossible: you made all of us satisfied.
Even the fans who have valiantly tried to argue that Regier isn’t that bad have to agree that this was the right move. While there may be GMs in the league who we could consider to be even worse at their jobs than Regier, and while he has pulled off some trades that have caused all of us to tip our hats to him, it has become evident that Darcy Regier is not the sort of GM who is equipped to construct a championship-caliber team. He could not do so when he had Dominik Hasek between the pipes; he could not do so when he had Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in town; and he sure as hell could not do so when he had Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, among others, at his disposal. Regier had his chances, and failed to capitalize. Allowing him to start from scratch with this current roster was one mulligan too many, and I thank you for finally arriving at this conclusion.
As for Ron Rolston . . . I defended him at the end of last season, but by the end of October, I had gone on the record as saying that he was in over his head and should be sent back down to Rochester. (By the way, in that same post I recommended that you gut your front office, and over the summer, I advocated for bringing in successful past players to help this team achieve a culture of winning. See why you should know me, Mr. Pegula?) Too many of his actions exposed his complete ignorance of how to manage a roster of NHL players – for example, his benching of Matt Moulson, a player who hasn’t played for the Sabres long to have earned such a punishment, and who (aside from the one game in Anaheim) has actually been one of the hardest working and most productive members of the team since his arrival. Rolston may be great at getting the most of young, developing players, but the Sabres are not an 18U team – there are experienced players on this team whom Rolston appeared incapable of reaching and motivating, so once again, your decision to fire him is appreciated.
As much as I thank you for finally getting rid of the captains who have steered this team into the depths of irrelevance, I must caution you to refrain from acting purely as a fan from now on. Bringing Ted Nolan back to act as the interim coach of the Buffalo Sabres may prove to be the right move – but it’s also the sort of knee-jerk reaction a fan would make based solely on fond memories, not whether or not the man is the right guy for the job. Doing so before you hire a new GM is also the sort of thing a fan filled with excitement, not an owner assessing the situation completely, would do, so I caution you: become the owner of the team again. Your inner fan spoke, and we all thank you for listening – but what the franchise truly needs is a shrewd businessman who can bring in the RIGHT people for the job, not a fan who is simply pining for “the good ol’ days.”
To close this letter, I’d like to reinterpret the famous words the immortal Wayne Gretzky once said (my changes in bold):
A good hockey franchise plays where the puck is. A great hockey franchise plays where the puck is going to be.
Mr. Pegula, you have played the puck where it is, and have fixed an immediate concern, Yet, there is still much work to be done. Last night, you were the fan who put this team out of its misery temporarily; now, can you become the owner who has the vision to see where this franchise is going, in order to help it reach truly great depths?
Thank you, and Godspeed!