BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres owner Terry Pegula wants to keep goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek in Buffalo beyond next season, while acknowledging both players will have a say in determining their futures.
“Yes, we want them here,” Pegula told the Sabres-controlled segment broadcast on Buffalo’s WGR-Radio on Tuesday. “I can tell the fans I’m concerned, too. … They have a say in that decision. What that decision is? No one’s been re-signed. So we’re still working.”
Miller and Vanek futures are uncertain with both entering the final year of their contracts. They represent essentially what’s left of the Sabres’ veteran core after the team elected to rebuild its under-performing roster with youth and stockpiling draft picks over the past year.
Vanek, Buffalo’s top offensive threat, has gone as far as to say that he isn’t interested in staying in Buffalo if the team is planning on a lengthy rebuilding process.
In response to Pegula’s comments, Vanek’s agent, Steve Bartlett said it’s premature to discuss his client’s long-term future. Bartlett said, he’s had no talks with the Sabres, which he doesn’t consider unusual because NHL rules prevent the team from signing Vanek to a contract extension until next month.
“From our standpoint, there’s no animosity and no demands. This is nothing Thomas and I have spent a lot of time talking about,” Bartlett said. “We’re not coming at this any more positively or negatively.”
The Sabres have declined interview requests for Pegula, who had not spoken publicly in two months.
Media-shy to begin with, the Pennsylvania billionaire has grown even more reluctant to grant interviews in the face of growing criticism regarding his under-achieving franchise and his decision to retain general manager Darcy Regier.
The Sabres have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, four of the past six years, and not won a playoff series since 2007.
Pegula defended Regier, calling him “a very qualified person.”
“When you look at the history, even with the Sabres, what’s he done wrong?” Pegula asked with a laugh. “Help me out here.”
Regier has overseen the team’s youth movement, a process that will continue in the NHL draft on June 30, when the Sabres open with two first-round picks, Nos. 8 and 16. The team has expressed an interest to move up further in the draft to land one of the top-three prospects.
Before saying he had no intention of criticizing the team’s previous owner, Tom Golisano, Pegula said Regier might have faced financial limits in re-signing players and building the team.
“Maybe someone was holding the painter’s hand while he was doing the painting, I don’t know,” Pegula said. “I have a different management style. And Darcy has a chance to flourish under our management style. … I’m giving him more latitude in the way we operate the team with less financial restrictions.”
Pegula has taken a free-spending approach since completing his purchase of the Sabres in February 2011. In Pegula’s first six months, the Sabres committed more than $140 million in salary to adding free agents and re-signing players.
Pegula joked that some fellow NHL owners might not agree with his open-wallet approach.
“You might talk to some of the other owners around the league and they’ll tell you, ‘Who’s this new owner? What is he crazy,'” Pegula asked. “But it’s my style. So I’m going to do things my way.”
Pegula also backed Regier’s decision in promoting Ron Rolston to take over as head coach without conducting a search last month. Pegula said, Rolston had earned the job in closing the season as the interim coach after Lindy Ruff was fired in February, following Buffalo’s 6-10-1 start.
Pegula noted Rolston went 15-11-5 and had the Sabres in playoff contention entering the final week of the season even after the team dealt three core players, including captain Jason Pominville, in separate moves leading up to the trading deadline.
“Ron didn’t give us much choice last year,” Pegula said. “You take away some of his good players and then, by the way, he does pretty well.”