Terry Pegula’s name was supposed to carry similar status in Buffalo as Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan does in the blue half of Manchester. Instead, “ Pegula” only seems to be raised in hockey circles when people discuss factors that should have prevented the Buffalo Sabres from following to the depths where they currently reside. Pegula was supposed to be synonymous with “salvation” not “suffering”.
But there are two faces to that infamous quote that has come to define the 2013-14 Sabres season. Before GM Darcy Regier touched on how difficult the process of returning the team to contention will be for fans (i.e suffering), he underlined how committed Pegula is to achieving this goal. Regier is saying that there is light at the end of an incredibly dark tunnel, and he would be correct in that assessment.
The trade with the New York Islanders underlined the fact that Buffalo have correctly identified a need to rebuild, and are taking the necessary steps to complete this process. The Calgary Flames have become the flagship example of a team who embraced a required rebuild too late to acquire maximum assets. The Sabres are on the other end of this spectrum, and they will be rewarded as a result.
Many have identified the Thomas Vanek trade as the first move in a long-term rebuild, but this would be incorrect. Buffalo have been laying the groundwork for this turnover since the summer of 2012. That was when they send Captain Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. While teams don’t usually start a rebuilding process by acquiring an agitator, it was the fact that they sent a key member of their core the other way in an attempt to make the team tougher.
When it was clear things were not going to pan out last season, Buffalo continued their careful and strategic dismantling of their roster. In a span of only a few months, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, Jason Pominville and Andrej Sekera all left town. The return provided insight into the direction of the organization: Jamie McBain (25), Matt Hackett (23), Johan Larsson (21), a 2013 1st round pick, two 2013 2nd round picks, three 2014 2nd round picks and a 2013 5th round pick.
The focus is clearly on acquiring assets for the future, a department in which the Sabres already have plenty of note. Top Shelf Prospects has the club ranked 3rd in the NHL in terms of organizational prospect quality, and that number will likely be higher come next year. This is due to the fact that the Sabres have two 1st round picks and three 2nd round picks in the 2014 NHL draft. Both first round picks could be high up in the order.
That isn’t the end either, as Buffalo have many other assets which they could cash in for draft picks. Shortly after Matt Moulson was acquired by the Sabres it was already suggested that they would flip the UFA forward to a contender in need of offensive input. Whether or not the team goes through with this, Moulson’s early performances make him look like a good fit.
Furthermore, around the same time proceedings started to go downhill for the Sabres, Ryan Miller’s name became a mainstay in the NHL trade rumour market. The rumours persist, and it seems more and more likely that Miller will be part of another organization by the trade deadline. The Oilers, Flyers, Islanders and Flames could all be interested in adding the formerly elite goaltender.
Disgruntled forward Drew Stafford and defenceman Christian Ehrhoff could also be on their way out the door as the team tries to eliminate any memory of a past synonymous with failure. So far this has left a disorganized combination of veterans and prospects in Buffalo that is difficult to watch. But unless you are the Detroit Red Wings, the current NHL requires you to go through a valley in order to climb to any sort of peak. Any team that has not learned this is already being left behind.
It has been a surprise to many that GM Darcy Regier is still employed by the organization. However, taking a quick glance at the mass of prospect wealth that he has amassed over the past couple of years that surprise fades. Regier knows what he’s doing in terms of rebuilding this franchise, and Pegula seems confident that he has the right man for the job.
This is further evidence that Pegula is learning that money cannot solve everything, the initial idea when he first became owner. Pegula will likely open his pocket book again, but those acquired will have plenty of young talent surrounding them.
This is why Buffalo fans can look to the future positively, unlike some of the other lowly NHL organizations who won’t be climbing out of their metaphorical valley anytime soon.
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