On Tuesday morning, I thought of memorable post-game drinks we had with Laura Pegula at the infamous 716 Food and Sport bar in Buffalo a few years back.
The oldest daughter of Bills/Sabres owner Terry Pegula is a geologist who lives in Pittsburgh. She was quite nice.
“My dad has big plans,” Laura said of talk the Bills could move downtown from Orchard Park, putting both of the city’s pro teams in what would become a new and very much revitalised area. “But it would be nice if a couple more billionaires helped out.”
Back then, he was the toast of the town. Now Terry Pegula could wave a magic wand that turns all of Buffalo into a glittery gold and it wouldn’t save his reputation in Western New York with hockey fans.
Bills boosters have nothing to complain about. With the expected demise of the New England Patriots, their team should rule the AFC East.
But the Sabres are a running gag. Not so much because they’ve never hoisted a Stanley Cup, or that they’ve only been to the final twice in their half-century existence and there is absolutely no signs of that trend changing.
And not so much because they haven’t won a playoff game in 13 springs and have missed qualifying for the post-season tournament the past nine.
No, the Sabres are a joke because they are now the answer to the riddle, ‘what has had five coaches, three GMs and two presidents since 2011?’ That’s almost as bad as the Senators here, which in nine years is also on their fifth coach, but only their second GM and (in less than 3½ years) its seventh (you can’t blame me if I’ve lost count) ‘whatever title you want to use that means president or CEO or head of business operations,’ a list that includes two stints by the owner. Or maybe three.
The point is, how hard is it to do your due diligence and hire the right guy for an important position of your multi-million dollar company? Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut, right?
Anyway, I thought of all this Tuesday morning when the Sabres fired GM Jason Botterill and many of his hockey operations staff — while keeping coach Ralph Krueger — after just three years on the job. That move changed Tim Murray’s Wikipedia page. Previously, the Shawville native had the shortest tenure (3½ seasons) of any permanent GM in Sabres history.
The funny thing is, Murray is still one of the best talent evaluators in hockey and he was probably the right man for the job, if the Sabres had just showed a little more patience.
The decision to turf Botterill came just three weeks after Terry Pegula’s wife, team president Kim Pegula, confirmed he would be back in the post next season. Yes, the dreaded vote of confidence. It’ll get you every time.
Said Terry: “I just want to tell Jason that this might not be the best day of your life, but your career is going to go up.”
There’s a head-scratcher. Same with the hiring of his successor, Kevyn Adams, another first-time GM who seven years ago was fired as a Sabres assistant coach.
Adams was back as vice-president of business operations before Tuesday. His first responsibilities in his new position, according to The Athletic’s John Vogl, is the firing of more people in the hockey ops department, including scouts.
“There was no search,” Pegula said promoting Adams, a former journeyman NHLer. “This is a house hire.”
That prompted more questions about his finances; there has been speculation about the health of his oil and gas company since the Pegulas started cleaning out front office employees in April.
Not an issue, the owner insisted. Botterill was canned because of “philosophical differences,” he said.
Maybe Terry Pegula should focus on building a new home for the Bills, across from his hockey arena, and revitalising downtown Buffalo. With or without the help of other billionaires.
It might takes peoples’ minds off what he’s doing with the Sabres.
TOP OF THE ORDER
Also caught up in the winds of change in Buffalo was Randy Sexton, who was the team’s assistant GM and GM of the farm club in Rochester. Sexton will accept cheques from Pegula for another two years, after which one of the founding fathers of the Senators will likely resurface elsewhere. It’s what he does … Sexton was GM of the Sens from 1993-95. He was followed in the job by Pierre Gauthier (1995-98) and Rick Dudley (1998-99). People are now calling for the Sabres to hire the respected Dudley, now 71 and a senior VP of hockey ops with the Hurricanes, as an experienced hand to help Adams. And around and around it goes … Murray stops getting paid to not be the Sabres GM at the end of June.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
On her 61st birthday last Friday, the flowers sent to former Rough Riders GM Jo-Anne Polak were delivered by Dean Dorsey, a former Rough Riders kicker. He was helping out his wife, Lee, who owns the successful “In Bloom” in Kanata. No truth to the rumour they were going to call the flower shop “Wide Right”
ON THIS DATE — June 17
Exactly 60 years ago Ted Williams hit the 500th homer of his glorious career. The “Splendid Splinter” wound up with 521, tied with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas for 20th on the all-time list. He’s also the most recent batter to hit .400 (.406 in 1941) over the course of a full season … Exactly 26 years ago, O.J. Simpson drove his white Bronco away from police in low-speed chase watched by millions on live TV around the world. The former NFL great was later arrested for the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman … Exactly 23 years ago, the NHL announced it was adding a team in Nashville (for 1998), Atlanta (1999), Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Columbus (2000). Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching and cha-ching.
When your childhood hero turns 74, which Derek (Turk) Sanderson did on Tuesday, you realise it has been a long time since you were a child … With the 2021 world men’s curling championship now confirmed for TD Place in April, where are the 67’s going to play their home playoff games? They used to be kicked out of Civic Centre by the Home Show, but that was only for a week. This will be two. Gatineau, perhaps? … Disturbing news: Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill was cancelled because of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Also gone out of business: The Bar-B Barn in downtown Montreal. Is nothing sacred?