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Trending Topics: Why has Terry Pegula escaped blame for Buffalo Sabres’ disastrous season?

By Ryan Lambert

Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Buffalo Sabres fans aren't happy, and understandably so.

The last time their team won a game away from home, most people were still putting up their Christmas trees, and they've taken just 14 points from 22 games since the start of December. They're conceding goals like their lives depend upon it (19 in the last four games) and have had no luck at all finding someone not named Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville to put the puck in the back of the net.

They're a Hindenburg-level disaster this season, after the organization and fans spent a whole summer fixated on what they were duped into believing would be a earnest, deep run into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The excitement built around that team, which was good but not great the last two seasons, and flamed out in the first round of both of those playoffs, was really quite something.

So to see them sitting 11th in the East, just three points ahead of dead last, has all involved crushingly disappointed.

People have blamed the players, blamed the coach, blamed the general manager. All of that is relatively fair. But one person who has seemed bulletproof in all this, even as he did everything in his power to become a face of the franchise and win over a bemused fanbase, is Terry Pegula.

Pegula swept into the owner's box last year like any long-time NHL fan who had billions of dollars in his bank accounts who just bought his hometown team would: he immediately started behaving like the stereotypically nouveau-riche.

"We're gonna win the Stanley Cup. Then, you know what, we're gonna win it again," he told a Buffalo television station soon after buying the team.

And Buffalo fans, who had long suffered under penny-pinching Tom Gosliano, gibbered with excitement. Finally, a real owner who promised to put real funds into the team and saw it as an expensive toy rather than a money-making proposition ("We'll put the pedal to the metal as capably as we can," he said that same month. "I don't know if it's wise to spend to the cap every year. But we're not in this to save money, that's for sure."). It was almost too much to handle.

And it also looked like that could become a reality when the Sabres stormed out of the gate and won 12 of their first 19. The fans were really quite pleased with themselves.

But one part of that last Pegula quote at least approached the right idea. If the Rangers taught us nothing else prior to the lockout, it's that having the ability to spend money indiscriminately does not mean that you should. This, however, did not prevent Darcy Regier going on a gauche spending spree, like a small child who found a $50 bill on the ground outside a candy store.

At the time, the signings of Christian Ehrhoff (because of term) and especially Ville Leino (because of both term and money, but especially money) seemed like spending for the sake of doing so, a sort of declaration to the rest of the NHL's upcoming free agents that the purse strings were once again open in Buffalo, and to an almost ludicrous degree.

Hard to blame Pegula for wanting to invest in a winner (and good on him for letting the hockey guys do their jobs), but those two signings were unnecessarily splashy, and while Ehrhoff's was certainly one that good have theoretically improved the team, particularly on the power play, Leino's absolutely was not. At least, not at that price point. But these were Name Players, the type Buffalo had long seen leave town without so much as saying good bye, could finally be had, and Regier snatched them up greedily without regard for the consequences.

But then the team started playing badly. And still, as recently as a few weeks ago, Pegula was holding court with the media, blaming the spate of injuries suffered by the Sabres as the reasons for their struggles, rather than the more obvious reasons that this was a team fundamentally broken in its construction and not necessarily playing for each other (witness the whole Ryan Miller flap).

These days, the guy who was once so readily available to any media member whose ear he could bend about the great things his Buffalo Sabres could do now that they had some financial backing is more reluctant to do so. After the Sabres were crushed by Detroit earlier this week, Pegula visited the team's dressing room but was not made available to the media.

Hopefully this promised run at a Stanley Cup (and another next season, don't forget), aborted months before it was to have begun, taught Pegula, and Sabres fans, a few lessons about and what wild promises, unchecked expectations and frenzied spending really gets you in a salary cap world: long, uncomfortable Januaries with more questions than answers, and three more road dates coming up in which the team can embarrass itself further.

So the Sabres beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

But there's always next year, right?

Brian Burke and the Tweeters that probably annoy him

Brian Burke has a shockingly good Twitter account, which I guess you'd probably expect, given his standard personality. As you'd further expect, he's also not shy about voicing his opinion.

In answer to Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf being voted as the most overrated player in the league, he tweeted, "Dion overrated? Are you kidding! Players who voted in this poll can meet w/Dion in Ottawa at the All-Star Game, where he's a starter!"

But far more frequently, he invites questions from fans and regularly answers dozens a day. Of course, giving his 76,000 or so followers an open invitation to ask him questions opens him up to a lot of armchair GMs who are not happy the Leafs are so low in the standings.

Fortunately, you don't have to cull through Burke's thousands of replies to find the real gems, because a new twitter account called AskBrianBurke collects the best ones.

Some choice examples from yesterday alone:

"Going after a top NHL goalie? How bout Ryan Miller?."

"get Rick Nash and all the bandwagon jumpers will come back"

"a lifetime without a cup and 7 year playoff drought is the greatest pain imaginable, please get a starting big centre. i beg!"

And the best, "You've over-hauled the team. Still we are not where we should be. Fire Wilson. Make A Major Deal. You have until Fed 27th."

With the trade deadline right around the corner, it's a pretty safe assumption that these type of Tweet will become even more common as we get closer to the end of Fedruary.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on shocking developments: "A 7 foot college athlete slam dunking a basketball was the top play on SportsCenter again this morning is case anyone missed it."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.


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