BUFFALO, N.Y. – Having ownership’s backing to continue rebuilding the Buffalo Sabres this off-season, general manager Darcy Regier was short on specifics and guarantees.
Asking for patience during an end-of-season news conference on Monday, the only assurance Regier could provide fans was that more “suffering” might be in store before the Sabres can once again be considered contenders.
“It may require some suffering,” Regier said, a phrase he repeated several times during a 45-minute session. “I understand what we’re talking about here. I understand our fan base. And I would like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win the Stanley Cup.”
Regier wouldn’t be pinned down to a timeline.
He had no immediate answer on whether interim coach Ron Rolston will take over the job on a full-time basis next season. Rolston went 15-11-5 in finishing the season after longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired in February.
And Regier said it was too early to tell whether his start-from-scratch plans will include keeping goalie Ryan Miller and leading scorer Thomas Vanek or trade one or both before their contracts expire at the end of next season.
“It’s an unknown right now,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to make them a part of this. But we’ll have to see.”
The only thing certain is that Regier isn’t going anywhere even though he’s taken the brunt of blame for a team that stumbled to a 21-21-6 finish and missed the playoffs for a second straight year, and fourth time in six seasons.
Sabres president Ted Black said the team will honour the contract extension it reached with Regier in January. And Black backed the rebuilding plan Regier began putting into place at the end of last season.
Regier is getting yet another shot in a job he’s had since June 1997.
“I don’t take any of this for granted in any way. And I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity,” Regier said. “If I didn’t have the confidence that I, in the general manager’s position along with the people I work with, could accomplish building a Stanley Cup winner, I wouldn’t be here.”
The Sabres are coming off a tumultuous season during which Ruff was fired after a 6-10-1 start, and Regier continued the process of turning over his aging roster.
In five days leading up to the NHL trading deadline earlier this month, the Sabres dealt three veterans, including captain Jason Pominville. In exchange, Buffalo acquired six draft picks and two prospects.
That leaves Buffalo holding four of the top 55 picks in this year’s draft, including two first-rounders.
The objective, Regier stressed, is not to simply build a team that can make the playoffs, but rather one that can succeed in them.
“It may require some patience,” Regier said. “It’s about a Stanley Cup championship. It’s not just a playoff round.”
The Sabres, so far, appear further from that goal than where they were two years ago. That’s when Terry Pegula purchased the team and announced his aspirations to win a championship within three seasons.
Now, the Sabres reach another crossroad regarding whether to keep Miller and Vanek.
Both have expressed uncertainty about their long-term future on what’s now a rebuilding team.
Vanek has said he has no interest in staying if the Sabres elect to rebuild from scratch. If that happened, Vanek said it would be better for both sides if they traded him in exchange for younger players and/or draft picks.
Miller understands he’s in the same boat. He’s open to staying, while understanding there is a chance he won’t be part of the team’s long-term plans.
Regier said he was unable to provide assurances to either player in meeting them over the weekend.
Black was put into a position of having to defend the Sabres’ decision to raise season-ticket prices by an average 4 per cent going into next season.
Despite Pegula’s deep pockets, Black explained that the decision was made as part of the franchise’s league-wide obligation to raise revenue coming out of a lockout-shortened season. And, he said, the Sabres were required to up ticket prices to ensure they will continue to qualify for the NHL’s revenue-sharing plan.
Black noted the Sabres play in the league’s smallest U.S.-based market, and that their average season-ticket price of about $55 will remain in the bottom quarter among NHL teams.