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

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

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?