BUFFALO – To his supporters, Darcy Regier’s a victim. Poor ownership handcuffed the general manager multiple times. Look at the Sabres teams he built, they say. The 1998-99 club came within two games of the Stanley Cup. Two dynamic post-lockout teams also nearly won it all.
If he had been given more tools or just some help re-signing his own talent, who knows how far the Sabres could’ve gone?
Regier’s detractors believe he should’ve been axed 10 years ago. He’s too enamored with his own players and afraid to make bold moves, they say.
They wonder why he’s still in charge after more than 15 years. The Sabres have missed the playoffs six times in 10 seasons, including last year.
Regier’s this city’s most polarizing sports figure, a title he likely won’t shed until the Sabres win a Cup. Luckily for Regier, he has strong support where he needs it most – ownership.
He’s working for his third owner now, and Terry Pegula doesn’t want to let him go.
On the eve of the Sabres’ season-opening home tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, Pegula announced Saturday the team has signed Regier to a contract extension. No details were provided. Regier last inked an extension in the fall of 2010.
“I am very grateful and honored to be able to continue in this capacity working with this ownership,” Regier said inside the First Niagara Center’s Lexus Club. “ … I think the beautiful thing about this organization is we continue to grow, continue to improve.”
In his first chat with local reporters since the summer of 2011, Pegula said he approached Regier about the extension. They reached an agreement well before Saturday’s official announcement.
“Darcy’s a talented guy,” Pegula said. “I know from some of the stuff I read not everyone agrees with that. But he’s got all the resources now. We work very well, and we look forward to the future. We have a great communication in our hockey department. No egos. Everyone’s pulling in the same direction, and it’s a very good situation. … It really runs very well behind curtains.”
But that hasn’t translated to the ice yet. The high-priced Sabres finished a disappointing ninth in 2011-12, Pegula’s first full season as owner.
Regier said the pressure he feels to win is “more intrinsic than it is external.”
“The intrinsic relates to Terry and ownership,” he said. “As everyone has spoken to, there’s a very strong family unity within this group. It’s more connected. And I think the other part of it, quite honestly, is when you’re involved with the team in this community, having lived here as long as I’ve lived here, you’re no longer an outside-hired GM. You feel an obligation. …
“Quite honestly, it’s a good pressure to have.”
But is there a mandate this season? Do they need to at least make the playoffs? Pegula famously said the “Sabres’ existence is to win a Stanley Cup” when he bought the team almost two years ago.
“You’ve got to look at every season to try to win the Stanley Cup,” Pegula said. “Look what happened last year. Since I’ve been owner I’ve watched two teams win the Stanley Cup (Boston and Los Angeles). Both of them took about 40 years to do it. It’s not something you win every year as an organization.
“I think that our team is a lot different than the team I inherited when I bought it. I would say it’s got a new imprint on it, new mark. It looks like a good hockey team.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, Pegula said, will adapt to anything.
“He’s pretty opened-minded,” Pegula said. “It seems right before you talk about saying maybe we need to do this or that, he’s already thought about it. He’s very perceptive in what his shortcomings or obligations have to be moving forward.”
Did Pegula tell Ruff he had to make changes this season?
“No, he just seems to be able to juke and jive and do it on his own,” he said.
Before Pegula began fielding questions, he apologized for the 113-day NHL lockout, something the Sabres have said they supported. Team president Ted Black also apologized earlier this month.
“We apologize to the whole hockey fan base – the media, our sponsors and our supporters – for the hardship we may have put people through,” Pegula said. “But sometimes things happen that you don’t plan for in life.”
Pegula believes the work stoppage “was worth it for the health of keeping a 30-team league.” He felt all owners needed stay united.
“You got to help some of these teams that are really struggling financially,” he said. “That’s how you keep a league, or we’ll be back to the original six before we know it. I don’t know of anybody in our group that was calling to just go ahead and settle.”
Pegula said he spoke with NHL commission Gary Bettman frequently during the lockout to share things and get updates. But he wasn’t among the league’s vocal owners.
“I’m a new owner, so I’m not about to go in there and say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do, guys,’” Pegula said.
He relayed one story he told Bettman, though. Following the 2004-05 lockout, Pegula swore he’d never watch another hockey game. He couldn’t believe the NHL said it was stronger than before after losing a full season.
“I said, ‘I know one guy you didn’t come out stronger with. It was me,’” Pegula said. “My daughters actually got me back watching hockey again. I said, ‘I’m sick of these situations.’ …
“I can understand that some fans are extremely upset because I was one of them at one time. We have to do our best to win those people back and try to get them under our wing again.”