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Structure, Discipline, and Growing Pains

The ice is no longer at the Key Bank Center. Another season has come and gone in downtown Buffalo where the banners of better days remain floating in the rafters. The honeymoon phase has also concluded for Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

Throughout his tenure in Buffalo, Terry Pegula has engaged sparsely with the media. On Friday, he addressed another season, by the wayside, in downtown Buffalo. Pegula’s mantra – “structure and discipline”. The departure of Rex Ryan and the subsequent arrival of Sean McDermott reflects this vision for the Bills, but what does it mean for the Buffalo Sabres? In his final weeks as the Sabres head coach, Bylsma did not shy away from discipline as he suspended Sam Reinhart on the basis of punctuality – a decision that may have been the final straw in his apparent loss of the locker room. Tim Murray seemed like a no nonsense kind of guy. For the Sabres, the former of the two aforementioned qualities seem to be their most glaring shortcoming. Sound organizational structure and direction are clearly lacking in the halls of Key Bank Center.

After purchasing the Sabres in 2011, the Pegulas made their first major splash since acquiring the team when they gave Darcy Regier the go ahead to fire Lindy Ruff. At the time, many were stunned at the fact that Regier was not shown the door as well. In the years since this initial change, several faces have endured relatively short-lived careers under the Pegulas, including a myriad of head coaches and several high-ranking team executives. In many ways, change has become the constant. Team president Ted Black left the organization in 2015, paving the way for current president, Russ Brandon who has recently come under fire for his long tenure within a Buffalo Bills organization that has not made the postseason since 1999. As for executive level personnel decisions that affect the on-ice product, an odd string of events unfolded over the course of several months within the organization. In November of 2013, Pat LaFontaine was hired as President of Hockey Operations. It was LaFontaine who fired Darcy Regier. In January of 2014, LaFontaine led the GM search and in came Tim Murray. Tim Murray handpicked Dan Bylsma as his head coach. Just two months later, LaFontaine resigned from his new role.

I can tell you I was not involved in the last GM, coach search to a large extent and I regret that move.

On Friday, Pegula stated, “I can tell you I was not involved in the last GM, coach search to a large extent and I regret that move. That’s all I’m going to say about that.” Due to his brevity, fans and media are left to speculate; who has been in the ears of Terry and Kim Pegula since they purchased the Sabres for $189 million? Ted Black certainly had his fair share of the say as team president. His successor, Russ Brandon, has an important title within the organization, but many wonder about the extent to which his voice influences personnel decisions. LaFontaine’s dubious cameo leads to more questions than answers within the organization, but he was certainly given a substantial degree of discretion. Alas, the Pegulas are at square one again, seeking to fill two major vacancies.

Given the fact that they are back at square one, Terry and Pegula would be wise to find themselves a President of Hockey Operations or a “hockey czar” – one who will be in Buffalo to stay.

Given the fact that they are back at square one, Terry and Pegula would be wise to find themselves a President of Hockey Operations or a “hockey czar” – one who will be in Buffalo to stay. Nostalgia should not enter into this decision, and ticket sales should not enter into the equation. This need not be a flashy hire, but a qualified hire. An individual with the requisite experience and also the desire to bring stability and success to the organization. Speculation is abound regarding Tim Murray’s possible replacement, but finding the next GM’s immediate superior should be a priority. With an expansion draft looming, and the NHL draft upcoming, followed by free agency, the Pegulas have no shortage of work to be done.

It should not go without saying that the Pegulas have been instrumental in the redevelopment of Buffalo.

It should not go without saying that the Pegulas have been instrumental in the redevelopment of Buffalo. Sabres fans, Bills fans, and Buffalo natives ought to be grateful for their investment in our city. These sentiments are often lost amongst the cries and yearning for a winning franchise in what is arguably the most dedicated professional sports following in the country. For now, Sabres fans continue to feel the growing pains that come with the complex business of owning professional sports teams.

Written by Nick Sperrazza

Nick Sperrazza

Nick Sperrazza is a local high school teacher and coach. Nick is a Buffalo native and a proud alumnus of Canisius High School, Canisius College, and most recently, the University at Buffalo where he earned his Master's in Education. Nick lives in the Elmwood Village with his orange tabbies, Luke and Leia, and considers himself to be an ambassador for the City of Good Neighbors that he calls home.

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