NHL:It’s time to start winning by Sabres owner
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Terry Pegula leaned into the table and got directly to the heart of the matter when assessing the more downs than ups he has experienced over eight-plus years of owning the Buffalo Sabres.
”The one thing I think about is it’s time to start winning. That’s why we’re here,” Pegula said during an interview with The Associated Press while sitting next to his wife and team president, Kim, a few hours before the start of the NHL draft in Vancouver.
”We have Ralph on board and some young players, leaders, Jack,” he said, referring to newly hired coach Ralph Krueger and team captain Jack Eichel. ”So it’s time to put it all together.”
It hasn’t been an easy run for Pegula, who made his fortune in the natural gas industry, and captured the city’s imagination upon arriving in Buffalo in February 2011 by tearing up at the sight of onetime Sabres great Gilbert Perreault attending the owner’s inaugural news conference.
Rather than fulfilling his promise of delivering Buffalo a championship, Pegula has instead overseen a team that has endured fitful starts and stops, gone through a revolving door of players and coaches and experienced a franchise-worst eight-year playoff drought – the NHL’s longest active streak.
Pegula, who purchased the NFL’s Buffalo Bill in 2014, isn’t at all happy with the results regarding the Sabres, a team he grew up rooting for and a franchise set to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
”You’re never happy with where you are in life, at least I never am,” he said.
And yet, as difficult as it has been, Pegula refused to give in to frustration during a wide-ranging 20-minute interview. He’s an optimist by nature.
”I’m a firm believer (of) if you think negatively, you’re going to end up that way. … You have to be positive,” Pegula said, while acknowledging that mistakes were made. ”I don’t take any of these poor results we’ve had as a team, I don’t take that personally. I just try to get better.”
Kim Pegula, who works hand in hand with her husband, added her perspective.
”Obviously, no matter what you do, you always make mistakes. But I feel like they all lead to something else,” she said.
”At the time you always think you’re doing what you think is right with the information you have. But now as we sit here, all those steps, whether they were mistakes or not, is kind of where we are now,” she added. ”You can’t think they’re all bad because we’ve got Jack (Eichel), we’ve got (Jeff) Skinner, we’ve got (Rasmus) Dahlin. … So all that wouldn’t have happened if other things didn’t happen. Sometimes, they were mistakes, but they’re not.”
There is renewed hope for the Sabres, who are starting over at coach again with Krueger replacing Phil Housley, who was fired after two seasons. The 59-year-old Krueger has an extensive resume in and out of hockey and comes to Buffalo after spending the last five years as chairman of English Premier League soccer club Southampton FC.
Pegula said he was immediately impressed with Krueger’s worldly background and philosophies.
”There was a feeling when Ralph came in the room that it was almost a presence. It was like, ‘Well, this guy’s different,”’ he said. ”We started talking to Ralph and we didn’t want to leave. I took so many notes, I stopped taking notes because Ralph’s a quote machine.”
Pegula was particularly impressed by Krueger’s decision to visit Buffalo and spend time talking to fans in bars while watching the NHL playoffs to get a sense of the city.
”It’s so ingenious,” he said. ”He’s an out-of-the-box thinker.”
Krueger’s reputation for being a motivator and his loose ties to general manager Jason Botterill has the Pegulas believing they might finally have the right tandem overseeing the team.
The Sabres are on their third GM and fifth coach since the Pegulas took over. And that doesn’t include Pat LaFontaine’s four-month stint as team president before he abruptly resigned in 2014.
For all the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pegulas have committed to player contracts, coaches, scouts, training staff and remodeling the locker room and players’ area, very little has translated into wins.
The Sabres have finished last in the overall standings three times in the past six years. That included bottoming out in 2014-15 for a chance to secure the right to draft either Eichel or Connor McDavid, who was taken first by Edmonton.
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