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Welcome to Pegulaville

Tears, laughter, and a warm welcome to Buffalo

As far as events go in Buffalo, this one was epic.

Terry Pegula, the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres, finally met his public this past Tuesday at HSBC Arena. Assembled at the podium were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Pegula, and the team’s new president, Ted Black. Hundreds were in attendance in the arena’s pavilion, including local dignitaries, the entire Sabres team, Sabres alumni, the front office staff, and a full complement of media, local, regional, and national, as well as from Canada. The assemblage dwarfed the last such event in 2003, when Tom Golisano took ownership of the team as it came out of bankruptcy.

So what were the most important things gleaned from the presentation and the Q&A portion of the conference afterwards?

• There will be no financial mandates placed on the hockey department. “There is no salary cap on scouting and player development,” said Pegula. He promised that there would be significantly more manpower out in the field to seek prospects, and that more coaches would be added in a player development role.

• Pegula outlined the four-man top management portion of the organization. He will take the title of chief executive officer, while Black will be the team’s president. Ken Sawyer will serve in the role of senior advisor and alternate governor. Dan DiPofi will remain with the club and continue in his role as chief operating officer.

• Darcy Regier will stay in his position as the team’s general manager. “We will pour resources into that area,” said Pegula, referring to his hockey department. Pegula added that he’d spoken to other influential people in hockey circles. “I have not heard one bad word about Darcy Regier. He deserves to stay here.”

• As for Coach Lindy Ruff? “Lindy ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Pegula said, adding that the support staff of assistant coaches will also remain in place. Ruff’s contract with the Sabres expires at the end of this season.

• Pegula has not done any in-depth analysis of the team’s marketing and ticket pricing strategy. The significant discount for season ticket holders has helped the team achieve a base of almost 15,000 season tickets. “I don’t have any plans to raise ticket prices,” Pegula said.

While the new ownership of the franchise is less than 24 hours old, Pegula seemed short on answers when it came to other aspects of issues surrounding the organization. He was questioned twice by Rochester-based media members about the sorry state of the Rochester Americans. The Sabres’ former longtime AHL affiliate has fallen on hard times in terms of attendance and support, and fans there yearn for the return of the longtime hockey marriage between the two cities and franchises. Yet Pegula seemed to know little about the history there, and seemed comfortable with the current arrangement between his team and the Portland Pirates. “I heard it’s a good hockey market and look forward to seeing a game there,” said Pegula about Portland.

Also seemingly lost in the transaction is the status of the National Lacrosse League Buffalo Bandits. Pegula referred to them as “the Bisons” and had a confused expression on his face until he was corrected by Sabres PR director Mike Gilbert. Pegula then admitted that he had never seen an indoor lacrosse game in person, but knew that the team had 9,500 season ticket holders and that people here were excited about the team. “My son Matthew wants to play lacrosse,” Pegula quipped, in reference to the younger of his two boys sitting in the front row.

While not part of the formal news conference, Pegula admitted in a post-conference Q&A that he had not given any consideration as to his role in the development of Canalside, also admitting his lack of full understanding of the progress of the project so far.

Sabres fans and some media outlets looking for Regier’s head, or Ruff’s head, or both, or some stark revelation about the short-term direction of the club, were probably left disappointed. But the most significant announcement today most likely was the introduction of Ted Black and Ken Sawyer, who will be assuming key leadership roles with the team’s front office.

Both men have extensive experience in senior management positions with the Pittsburgh Penguins and helped guide that team to its third Stanley Cup in 2009. Additionally, Black served as an executive and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh, a regional sports network that produced and telecast more than 220 live pro events and 1,500 hours of programming a year and has received critical acclaim as the best US-based regional network in the NHL. “Buffalo is hockey heaven,” said Black in his brief remarks, adding that he is living in a downtown area hotel while tending to his new duties as team president.

But Black wasn’t the only one offering warm sentiments. “You were my hero,” said a choked-up and almost sobbing Pegula as he gestured towards Sabres legend Gilbert Perreault, sitting with his fellow alumni. Even Perreault was moved to tears by the enormity of the moment.

Admittedly, fans here in Buffalo are somewhat jaded. In 1999, we heard former owner John Rigas, standing on the steps of City Hall after the “No Goal” heartbreak in that year’s Cup finals, promising the fans and his coach that he would “give the team the tools to finish the job.” Ten years later, Tom Golisano stated that he would “eat this microphone” if his team did not make the playoffs that season. Oops.

But this time it seems different. “You won’t find a bigger fan than me, I just bought a hockey team,” Pegula exclaimed.

“It’s been nothing but high energy around the family dinner table since this all started,” added Pegula’s older son, Mike, who works in the medical field in California. All five of Pegula’s children were seated in the front row, and two of them have become celebrities of sorts, with daughters Jessica and Kelly interacting with locals via Twitter.

“The team’s entire reason for being is to win the Stanley Cup,” Pegula said. “It is not a goal. It is a belief.”

Great words from Pegulaville. Now it’s time to put those words into action.

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