By Ken Fox, AllPuck.com
So, we all know that money can’t buy love, right?
What about a Stanley Cup?
Turns out that’s the million-dollar, well make that the $64 million, … awww, what the hell – make that the $189 million question they’ve been asking about the struggling Buffalo Sabres since the start of the NHL season.
OK, “struggling” is sort of a misrepresentation. Sort of. At 12-8-0, the Sabres are still tied atop the NHL’s Northeast Division with the Boston Bruins (whom they will face in an epic rematch Wednesday night) and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Then again, they’re 6-4-0 in the last 10 games, just 5-6 at home after dropping a lackluster 4-2 decision to the Phoenix Coyotes in their last start on Saturday – one in which they not only lost a game but also 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers for at least a month with a broken wrist. As for that Bruins rematc, not only is Buffalo dueling the defending Cup champs for first place in the Northeast, but in the teams’ last matchup, Boston’s Milan Lucic steamrolled Ryan Miller in a 6-2 loss and knocked the All-Star netminder to the sidelines with concussion symptoms.
Not quite what the good people of Western New York were expecting when owner Terry Pegula swooped in a little less than a year ago and purchased the team from Tom Golisano.
Pegula, the Pennsylvania billionaire/Sabres-uberfan who bought the franchise for $189 million, raised expectations when he declared that the team‘s “only reason for existence” – as he famously declared the day the sale was finalized – “is to win the Stanley Cup.”
Needless to say, that got the fans attention. And why not? Buffalo is an area whose median income generally hovers somewhere around $30,000. It’s population has steadily declined since the 1970’s, the heavy steel and manufacturing industries having long fled leaving a region struggling to once again find its identity – much less its relevance – and all-too-often channels its search for identity through either of its two professional sports franchises.
What’s that gotten them? Four Super Bowl losses, two Stanley Cup losses, No Goal, Hole Goal, The Rigases … the list goes on.
So Pegula immediately raised expectations when he declared the financial mandates placed on the hockey department, which had hamstrung GM Darcy Regier, would be lifted. After a late-season deal for forward Brad Boyes came the rapid off-season remodeling of the now-renamed First Niagara Center. State-of-the-art upgrades to the dressing room heralded upgrades to the team’s roster as well, including the free-agent additions of forward Ville Leino and defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff.
Pegula spent a shade over $30 million in one day in bringing in Leino and Ehrhoff, who signed the longest, richest contract of any Buffalo professional athlete when he inked a 10-year deal worth $40 million.
They’ve spent close to the cap this season ($64 million according to Capgeek.com) for Leino ($4.5 million), Regehr ($4 million), while solidifying deals with Miller ($6.2 million) Myers ($5.5 million starting next season) and Drew Stafford ($4 million).
What did that buy? Leino has just two goals and three assists in 20 games and is a minus-6, and has yet to establish himself either at wing or center, where he’s been a disappointment after projecting to be the team’s No. 1 center. Ehrhoff has a goal and nine assists but is a minus-4 and has had a season of egregious giveaways. Regehr, counted on to bring toughness to the blue line, is minus-2 and was bloodied Saturday in a scrap with Sabre castoff Raffi Torres.
Ironically, it’s been backup goalie Jhonas Enroth (7-2-0, 2.06 GAA, .931 SV%) at just $625,000 who has saved Buffalo’s early season, while Miller has struggled and is now sidelined. Enroth began the season 6-0 and was 13-0-1 for his career before losing 5-3 to New Jersey.
Memo to Sabreheads everywhere: It’s still early, so don’t jump off the Peace Bridge JUST yet. Winning a Stanley Cup requires more than just a boatload of cash, however. It demands that “it” factor, which doesn’t necessarily come attached with a price tag. Thanksgiving Eve, the Sabres come face-to-face with the red-hot Bruins, winners of nine straight. They know something about having that “it.” And Sabres fans hope the Bruins wont take ‘Terry’s Boys’ to school …
TAKIN’ CARE OF “BIZ-NESS”
If you’re on “The Twitter” (yeah … it’s “Twitter,” I know, it’s a joke …) then you’ve GOT to follow Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonette – or @BizNasty2point0. With more than 177,000 followers at last count, it’s an irreverent, no-holds barred trip through the “livin’-the-dream’ world of the 26-year-old forward who has complied 221 penalty minutes in his NHL career. The pop-culture references include the likes of Adam Levine, Taylor Swift, Troy Polamalu, Drake & Eminem. In fact, when addressing the Aston/Demi divorce, BizNasty’s reply was, “Did Demi Moore clear waivers?”
Awesome. By the way, he also scored the game-winner Saturday in Buffalo – his first goal in 67 games.
“It’s probably blowing up big-time,” Bissonette said. “These are nights where most people like to congratulate me, because most of the time I’m getting flak because I’m such a plug.”
But of course there’s more to the story. About 50 or so family and friends from nearby Welland, Ont., about 25 miles from Buffalo, came to watch Bissonette play Saturday, including his ill mother and his grandfather. His mother had never seen him play an NHL game.
“Especially to share it with my family & friends, it’s a special thing,” he said. “My grandpa can’t hear very much, so to get him out of the house to do anything is special. It’s a good day.”
Before their 4-3 comeback win over the New Jersey Devils and former coach Peter DeBoer, the Florida Panthers, 11-6-3 with 25 points and sitting in first place in the Southeast Division, had a franchise record of 1-293-13 when being down by three goals in a game.
Geebus! About time, guys …