BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula had more to say than usual heading into the new—and shortened—hockey season.
On Saturday, Pegula first apologized to all those affected by the nearly four-month lockout, and then announced a contract extension with general manager Darcy Regier, who is about to begin his 16th year in the position.
“We apologize to the whole hockey fan base, the media, our sponsors, and our supporters for the hardship we may have put people through,” said Pegula, whose team will open the season Sunday at home against Philadelphia. “Sometimes things happen that you don’t plan for. I can tell you this, we truly are excited about being back.”
Pegula then threw his support behind Regier, who has led the Sabres to four appearances in the Eastern Conference finals—most recently in 2007. However, Buffalo has missed the playoffs in three of the last five seasons.
“He’s a talented guy,” Pegula said. “From what I read, maybe not everyone agrees with that, but he has all the resources now. We work very well together and we’re looking forward to the future.”
Terms of the agreement, that Pegula said was in place for quite some time, weren’t announced.
“I’m very grateful and honoured to be able to continue in this capacity,” Regier said, “working with this ownership and people that I’ve had the honour to work with for a lot of years. We continue to grow and improve.”
Pegula also backed the stance taken by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the other club owners during the lockout that forced the season to be cut from 82 games to 48.
“I’m part of a team of owners, so I definitely felt we all needed to be united in the things we wanted to get for the league,” Pegula said. “Deep down inside, you have to help some of these teams that are really struggling. That’s how you keep a league, or we’ll be back to the Original Six before you know it. It was worth it for the health of keeping a 30-team league. I told Gary some things that I’ll keep to myself.”
But he did disclose one thing he told Bettman.
“After the last work stoppage (which cancelled the entire 2004-05 season), I swore I’d never watch another hockey game again,” Pegula said. “I said that to (him) before this all started.”
Now with the labour issues resolved, Pegula is looking forward to the on-ice developments, including the never-ending analysis of coach Lindy Ruff’s performance.
“The one thing I noticed about Lindy is that he can change,” Pegula said. “He coached the highest scoring team in the league a few years back and can also coach a team that is responsible defensively. He’s pretty open-minded.”
Pegula and Regier also looked beyond this current season, when three of their most-productive players—goalie Ryan Miller, captain Jason Pominville, and forward Thomas Vanek—will have one-year remaining on their contracts.
“We’ve had some conversations about the direction of the team, and obviously those players and others are involved,” Regier said. “It’ll be something we’ll continue to work on and review as we move forward. It’s obviously in our focus.”
Making Buffalo a place that players will want to play in and remain in is also on Pegula’s agenda.
“We do a lot of talking about how (team president) Ted (Black) mentions (us as) a hockey destination,” Pegula said. “We want players to come here and stay here. We work on not only Ryan (Miller) but the guys you want to be here. We’re always working on that.”