The Buffalo Sabres: A Simple Plan
The future was murky in Buffalo as 2010 was winding down, head coach Lindy Ruff was short tempered and blowing up on his players and general manager Darcy Regier looked like a man all out of moves. Oh, and money was tight. Really tight. The Sabres were on their way to a second straight playoff appearance, but there was a general feeling that the team had stagnated.
Lindy and Darcy were at a loss as to what to do. Injuries to guys like Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly were bringing everybody down. Even Ryan Miller looked like he was off his game. Faced with the uncertainty of the future, the Sabres were folding under the pressure.
Fearing for their jobs, Lindy and Darcy planned a January excursion to talk about the future in a wooded area of Upstate New York. Lindy figured it'd be a good idea to invite Ryan Miller along for the trip seeing as he's a big reason they were still employed. Miller obliged, and the three men were off for the wilderness.
Maybe it was fate, or perhaps just a good old fashioned case of luck, but what the fellas stumbled upon in the forest would change their lives forever. Lindy spotted it first, a non-descript black duffle bag, and all three men squatted to gather around. Lindy unzipped the bag to reveal the fortune the Buffalo Sabres were seeking; inside was the head of Buffalo billionaire Terry Pegula. Paydirt.
"I'm your biggest fan, I thought you guys would never find me", muttered an exasperated Pegula head.
"What in the Sam Hill are you doing out here in the woods in nothing but a duffle bag, Terry?" asked Lindy.
"Paul Gaustad told me I'd find you here. I'm Terry Pegula and I'm here to save the Buffalo Sabres".
The guys packed up Terry and made their way back to First Niagara Center to plot their future. Pegula told them he's got the money to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, but they gotta do things his way. Both Darcy and Lindy nodded in agreement and Pegula got on the phone to prepare his bid to buy his favourite hockey team.
Things moved pretty quickly, and Pegula purchased the Sabres for $189 million on February 18 of 2011. He promised to let the current roster play out the season, so as long as Darcy brought Brad Boyes into the fold and cut ties with team captain Craig Rivet. Done and done. The Sabres fell to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven games, but Pegula told his boys not to worry and that he'd be opening up his cheque book when July rolled around.
It was a busy summer for the Sabres and the trio of Darcy, Lindy and Terry were meeting on the reg. The first order of business was to decide whether or not Tim Connolly should be brought back with new contract. Darcy and Lindy were in favour of a short-term deal for Connolly, but Terry had other plans.
"I've been reading the local papers, and they're telling me this Connolly kid is a bum. He's no good, I don't care if Ryan Miller loves him or not. I don't want some softy pumpkin head on MY BUFFALO SABRES."
Darcy: "So you don't want me to re-sign him?"
Terry: "No, I'm gonna have someone from The Buffalo News take care of him once and for all. Then I want you to spend whatever it takes to get that defenseman from Vancouver"
Connolly was rescued by Brian Burke's desperate need for a center, but he'd continue to have his character questioned by the media in Toronto even though he hadn't even put a Maple Leafs sweater on yet.
Terry got his defenseman in Christian Ehrhoff, to the tune of 10-years and $40 million, and he also acquired Robyn Regehr from Calgary a few days earlier. Terry told Darcy he acquired his son from the Flames, and the general manager didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise.
Terry wasn't done spending just yet, though. He called a meeting of the minds to announce his intentions of acquiring the final piece to his championship puzzle.
Lindy: "So, how much are we gonna throw at Brad Richards?"
Darcy: "We're light on cash, but we can make it work if we move a couple pieces around."
Terry: "This isn't about Brad Richards. It's about a superstar waiting to happen out of Philadelphia."
Darcy: "Holmgren already shipped Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of town, we missed that boat Terry."
Terry: "No, you've got it all wrong. I want you to pay Ville Leino like the 40-goal scorer he's going to be."
Darcy inked Leino to a baffling six-year $27 million contract, and then he called Lindy to say "I think we're fucked, but this guy will probably allow us to keep our jobs until we die".
The Sabres entered the 2011-12 season with a payroll that looked like it had been commissioned by Darryl Sutter. They stumbled, despite strong play from Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Ryan Miller struggled to find the form he'd become accustomed to displaying on a nightly basis. Ville Leino might be the worst free-agent acquisition of the decade and Robyn Regehr is neither the shutdown defenseman he was brought in to be nor Darcy Regier's son.
The Sabres sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference today, and Darcy's spent all of Terry's money.
Now Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff sit in a dimly lit Buffalo tavern discussing how it all went wrong.
Lindy: "Nobody would ever believe we were capable of doing what we've done."
Darcy: "I wish someone else had found that bag of Pegula."