“Winning is not a goal, it is a belief.”
Does that saying ring a bell? Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula said that in his press conference after he bought the franchise from former owner Tom Golisano.
At the time Pegula bought the team, he had faith in his general manager Darcy Regier and his head coach Lindy Ruff. They signed some free agents and made some trades to change the atmosphere in the city. But it was apparent that the moves could not help in the team’s success.
After two years, Ruff was out as coach. Almost a full year later, Regier was out. Pegula turned his trust to Sabre legend Pat LaFontaine and brought him in as the president of hockey operations. Pegula believed that the former Sabres captain would help the team in its rebuild and help the team win.
Not four months later, LaFontaine resigned and left the team to take back his old job with the National Hockey League.
There was speculation that LaFontaine was unhappy with the trade that sent franchise goaltender Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. Team president Ted Black and general manager Tim Murray quickly squashed those rumors, saying that LaFontaine never had a part in the Miller and Ott deals.
Another speculation was that LaFontaine just missed his old job with the NHL and wanted to go back to his job in New York City. Another rumor was that he did not have a say in some of the hockey related decisions with the Sabres and LaFontaine was upset about it.
Either way you put it, it was LaFontaine who left the organization. Pegula did not have an influence on LaFontaine’s departure. If LaFontaine does not want to be here, why force him to stay?
Pegula wants a winning atmosphere in Buffalo and he will write the checks and pay the guys who want to win with the Sabres. If LaFontaine did not want to stay here, Pegula should not have to convince him to stay or continue to pay him.
For being part of the organization on a short-term basis, LaFontaine’s presence did have its benefits.
Darcy Regier had his chances to change the team and bring players in to help the team. However, Regier was not the right guy to lead the Sabres’ rebuild. Because Pegula ditched Regier, he had the space to bring LaFontaine in to begin the rebuild.
LaFontaine convinced Ted Nolan to come back and coach the Sabres. Nolan has fared well with a team that started the year 4-15-1 under former head coach Ron Rolston. Since Nolan’s arrival in November, the Sabres have gone 15-26-7. The team has rallied behind Nolan, and has played with more grit and compete under Nolan. But if you cannot score, you cannot win in the league.
LaFontaine brought in current general manager Tim Murray in January to build a new team to win and compete for the Stanley Cup. Murray has been able to get the most out of trades for guys like Miller, Ott, Matt Moulson, and Jaroslav Halak. Murray will now lead the Sabres in all roster decisions without LaFontaine in the picture.
Just 51 days later, LaFontaine walks away from the organization. Pegula gave LaFontaine a great opportunity to build this team the way he wanted it to be. But it seemed like the front office could not keep it together and LaFontaine had enough. Did Pegula have any fault for that? Did Pegula make a decision too quick without knowing LaFontaine in a work environment?
LaFontaine seemed to be the right guy for the job, but we do not know what happens behind closed doors. We do not know what LaFontaine could have been like in the workplace. But if he was not up to the task, why should Pegula be blamed?
The community has a lot of respect for both LaFontaine and Pegula for their contributions to the Western New York area. LaFontaine has been involved in numerous charities with local hospitals and health care facilities. Pegula has brought in a new passion for hockey, and is bringing the national hockey spotlight to Buffalo. Pegula is also building the Buffalo harbor area with the construction of the Harbor Center. Both men will be highly respected men until the day they die.
What happened in the front office over a week ago was a debacle. Until someone talks and gives us answers, we will never know why LaFontaine left the Sabres and the city of Buffalo.
While many things are changing in the Sabres organization, Pegula has reaffirmed the community when he brought in LaFontaine that his beliefs for the future of the Sabres have not changed. His belief is winning, and winning leads to championships. To put the Sabres owner at fault for what conspired in the front office is ludicrous.
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