BUFFALO – The Sabres want their rabid fan base to understand something, general manager Darcy Regier said. The organization’s new philosophy – one that embraces building for a Stanley Cup, not simply making the playoffs – could require some suffering.
“We have gone with more determination in a very distinct direction, which is about the Stanley Cup,” Regier said Monday during a contentious and even bizarre 46-minute season-ending news conference inside the First Niagara Center. “So I feel good about it. I love the opportunity. I understand what we’re talking about here. I understand our fan base and I would like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win a Stanley Cup.
“I’m willing to do it. I believe our fan base is willing to do it. We certainly don’t want to extend it for a long period of time. We want to make it as short as possible, and that’s the goal.”
Monday’s news conference – remember, the Sabres wouldn’t hold one after missing the playoffs last season – might become part of local lore.
President Ted Black was hammered on the Sabres’ decision to announce their 4 percent season-ticket increase on Friday, Fan Appreciation Night, and owner Terry Pegula’s availability to the media.
Black sparred with reporters, at one point telling one to “behave yourself professionally” and that he was showing his bias. Black later apologized.
The long session served as another reminder Pegula’s original plan – the one about winning the Stanley Cup in three years – is history after the Sabres’ 12th-place finish.
“We’re in a process right now where we’re trying to rebuild, reboot, revamp – whatever ‘re’ word we’re comfortable using,” Black said.
That process, Black said, started at the NHL Entry Draft in June. Regier, who’s staying on as GM, Black said, took it back to the 2012 trade deadline, when the Sabres traded veteran Paul Gaustad for a first-round draft choice.
Back then, Regier said the Sabres had an eye on the present and future. Now, it’s totally on the future.
The Sabres pick four times – eight, 16, 38 and 55 – in the first two rounds this year after trading several high-profile veterans, including former captain Jason Pominville.
They could have a long and arduous road ahead of them, so Regier’s preaching patience to a fan base that’s seen its team miss the playoffs four of the last six seasons and seven of the last 11.
“You satisfy yourself and the fan base with a playoff,” Regier said. “But you have to do more than that if you’re set on winning a championship.”
Regier, the team’s GM since 1997, called making the playoffs “an acceptable level around the league.”
“It’s just not the standard here, and I recognize I’m saying that in light of two missed playoffs,” he said.
Regier said Pegula’s trying “lots of things” to deliver that championship.
“He is in search of creating a Stanley Cup championship,” Regier said. “That has not changed. In fact, it’s been reinforced. It’s stronger than ever. It may require some suffering. It may require some suffering.”
Regier added: “Fans should expect we will acquire top players, and enough top players to contend and win a Stanley Cup. What that involves, the hope is that’s the shortest timeframe possible.”
It’s unclear whether that timeframe will include goalie Ryan Miller and winger Thomas Vanek, two franchise cornerstones. The stars each have one year left on their contracts.
“There’s just so much that’s undecided right now,” Regier said. “It may involve both of them being here. It may involve one of them being here. It may involve one of them being here.”
Both are cognizant their long Buffalo careers could be ending. Vanek has said he doesn’t want to be part of a long rebuild. Miller, who played his 500th game Friday, seemed to be saying goodbye last week.
Regier said he and Pegula have spoken to Miller and Vanek.
“I would love to keep them here going forward,” Regier said. “It’s an unknown right now. They’re under contract for next season. We’ll do everything we can to make them a part of this. But we’ll have to see.”
The future of interim coach Ron Rolston, who took over for Lindy Ruff on Feb. 20, hasn’t been determined, Regier said. He plans to meet with Rolston, who went 15-11-5, over the next week or two.
“I think he did a very good job under trying circumstances,” Regier said.
Regier’s now operating under trying circumstances. In any other city, he probably would’ve been fired years ago, something Regier understands.
“I don’t take any of this for granted in any way, and I am extremely grateful, not just for this opportunity, for being here on a day like today,” Regier said. “I think this is great. The reality of it, if I didn’t have the confidence that, I, in the general manager’s position along with the people I work with could accomplish building a Stanley Cup winner, I wouldn’t be here.”
He added: “There’s unfinished business there. I have a lot more insight into an experience and I’ve learned a lot more in that process. I’m not an old man. My goal is to come to work every day learning something new.”