By Mike Harrington
In his first words to the media since the day before one of the most disappointing seasons in Sabres history, owner Terry Pegula acknowledged building his team might be a slower process than he thought, especially with the speedy pace of what figures to be a spectacular HarborCenter project.
"It's going faster than we thought, right Cliff?" Pegula said, turning to chief devlopment office and HarborCenter domo Cliff Benson.
The same, of course, can't be said about his hockey team. The Sabres enter today's game against Philadelphia in 11th place in the East and 23rd in the NHL. They're about to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.
"I just look at it optimistically. We'll move forward and do the right thing," Pegula said.
Sabres vice president Mike Gilbert made a couple of efforts to steers questions back to HarborCenter but Pegula did speak in limted tones about the current state of the team.
On the firing of Lindy Ruff: "I don't need to answer that now. This is a different topic today." Told that people wanted to hear his opinion, Pegula said, "Why don't you figure that one out?"
On whether he will address the media and fans after the season, since the team no-showed the media after last season: "We'll see." Asked what that meant, Pegula shot back, "Yeah, we'll see, that's what I said."
On the building of the team mirroring the building of HarborCenter: "One team wins the Stanley Cup every year. We will build towards that goal. We're daily working on that goal."
Pegula then noted that it was 39 years for Boston Bruins owner and WNY native Jeremy Jacobs to win a Cup before the Bs did in 2011. Pegula, of course, had made it clear he had a three-year vision when he took over the Sabres in 2011.
"Jerry Jacobs down the road took 39 years to win a Stanley Cup. I don't know how long," Pegula said. "How can you guarantee anybody anything? You do your best every year. When's the last time the New England Patriots won the Stanley Cup? Or the Super Bowl?"
I reminded Pegula the Pats don't regularly miss the playoffs and he said, "Well, hey." Whatever that means.
Pegula agreed with the notion the Sabres have to go younger and use more prospects. He wasn't asked about the status of GM Darcy Regier. That question was probably going to end the press conference and, frankly, it's getting clear Regier is staying.
In other items, Pegula said he's definitely interested in pursuing the return of the World Junior Championships to Buffalo (they were here in 2011 but Niagara University's Dwyer Arena was used as a secondary rink and the 1,800-main rink at HarborCenter could easily suffice next time). He also said, "Why not?" when asked about a possible Penn State-Canisius game at HarborCenter.
Penn State, of course, is starting a Division I hockey program and building a rink (Pegula Ice Arena) with more than $100 million in donations from the Pegulas. Canisius is expected to move its games from Buffalo State to HarborCenter for the 2014-15 season.
You can click below to hear Pegula's speech to politicos on HarborCenter (did the best I could on audio, apologies in advance). You can also click to hear the testy session with reporters.
Terry Pegula speech on HarborCenter
Terry Pegula meeting with reporters