BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres owner Terry Pegula is choosing optimism over making predictions regarding his young, retooled team.
“I can’t predict how the season’s going to go,” Pegula told The Associated Press on Thursday. “But I know that the guys in the locker room are pretty upbeat.”
That might not be exactly what Sabres fans want to hear from an owner who ushered in Stanley Cup-caliber expectations when Pegula purchased the team in February 2011.
And yet, many have had to scale back their enthusiasm over a franchise that’s suddenly rebuilding through youth after missing the playoffs for a second straight year.
“You can’t set a timetable for contending for a Stanley Cup. One team wins it every year,” Pegula said. “We’re not going to give up, let’s put it that way.”
Pegula spoke by phone after leaving Buffalo, a day after watching the Sabres improve their preseason record to 4-1-1 following a 3-0 win over Columbus.
The Sabres, who open at Detroit on Wednesday, have a new coach, Ron Rolston, who took over after Lindy Ruff was fired in February. And they’ve spent the past eight months overhauling an aging, high-priced and underachieving lineup.
Buffalo has the potential of having numerous rookies on its opening day roster, including 18-year-old defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, who was drafted eighth overall in June.
The Sabres’ lack of success has led to criticism directed at general manager Darcy Regier, who has overseen a team that has missed the playoffs in four of the past six years, and not won a playoff round since 2007. Regier has also been questioned for his decision to stick with Rolston as coach and not look outside the organization.
Rolston, who previously coached at the USA Hockey and college ranks, was only into his second season coaching Buffalo’s minor-league affiliate in Rochester when he took over the Sabres on an interim basis. He was promoted to full-time coach in May after finishing the season 15-11-5.
Pegula expressed his confidence in Regier and Rolston.
“They’re doing a heck of a job with the organization and the team,” Pegula said. “The optimism is there for sure. I don’t think those guys even read what’s being said about them. They’re pretty dedicated.”
Pegula reiterated his desire to re-sign goalie Ryan Miller, who is entering the final year of his contract.
“Maybe you should ask Ryan that,” Pegula said, when asked what the chances were of the goalie remaining in Buffalo.
“I don’t know. We’ll see. We obviously would like to see Ryan back,” Pegula said, before pausing to correct himself. “Instead of saying ‘wanting him back,’ I should say, ‘staying with us.'”
In other news, the team announced Thursday that rookie forward Joel Armia is out indefinitely with a broken hand. The team’s 2011 first-round draft pick was hurt when he was slashed in the second period against Columbus.