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SAVE US PEGULA! Could New Buffalo Sabres Owner be the Steinbrenner of Hockey?

Posted on January 12, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

The Buffalo Sabres need a spark to help them stop getting squeezed by the rest of the NHL.

I’ve come to enjoy tweeting with my social media peeps while watching Buffalo Sabres games. Whether I’m at HSBC Arena or watching on TV, it is the next best thing to sitting with a group of friends while watching the action.

As the Sabres slowly let the air out of a 2-0 first period lead on Philadelphia, eventually losing 5-2, last night, more than one of my friends tweeted, “Save us Pegula!” Pegula being billionaire Terry Pegula, rumored to be on the verge of purchasing the Sabres from Paychex mogul, Tom Golisano, for a reported $175 million.

We’ve been hearing that a deal is imminent for a while now, while minority owner and managing partner, Larry Quinn continues to repeat catty non-denial denials, but reports persist. Yesterday Sabres officials confirmed that Mr. Pegula was in Buffalo, in “informal talks” at the Sabres front office, “kicking the tires,” as one report put it, on his putative acquisition, and rumors of Pegula sightings were rampant on Twitter during last night’s game.

Originally from the Buffalo suburbs, Pegula, who now lives in Pennsylvania, is known as a true hockey fanatic, as well as a rabid Sabres fan. Equally important, he has the means as well as the sentiment to end the frustration of Sabres fans everywhere.

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An article about the impending purchase ran at yesterday, citing the suitor as #110 on the Forbes 500 list of wealthiest Americans. According to the article, Pegula sold his energy company, East Resources, last year, to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion and is personally worth at least $3 billion. In September of last year he and his wife Kim donated $88 million to Penn State to build a new hockey arena and upgrade their program to NCAA Division I. Judging from his generosity with Penn State, it is hard to imagine that Pegula would not be even more extravagant with the Sabres if and when he owns them.

Potential Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula gave $88 million to upgrade the hockey program at Penn State.

This is probably the time to make the obligatory mention of the gratitude Buffalonians should and generally do feel toward current owner Golisano. There is no doubt that he single-handedly kept the Sabres from leaving Buffalo.

When the franchise’s second owners, the Rigas family, ran the club into bankruptcy in the process of felony mismanagement of their Adelphia media empire, Golisano stepped up to buy the Sabres from the NHL for $100 million, and firmed up the team’s relationship with the arena. Had it not been for that, the new Buffalo Bisons would be playing AHL games in a half-filled HSBC, while the franchise formerly know as the Sabres would be playing NHL games in a half-filled arena somewhere in the Sunbelt.

That said, Golisano’s relationship with the city and the fans seems to be that of transition boyfriend. As Bucky Gleason observed in his column this morning in The Buffalo News, Golisano was “more of an investor than a savior.” When it came to paying and managing talent, Golisano was responsible for developing then dispatching several key players who almost brought the Sabres a Stanley Cup, and might have yet, had their owner been willing to keep the team that came within a non-goal in triple overtime of staying alive for a game seven in the finals versus Dallas in 2006, together.

How different the Sabres might be if they still had the services of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Jay McKee, J.P. Dumont, and Michael Peca, to name a few.  All of these, it could be argued, could have and should have been paid to stay in Buffalo, and would have been, had Golisano been more of a fan than an investor.

“Save us Pegula!”

No wonder frustrated fans cried out for the new savior while watching Briere himself score one goal and assist on two others against the Flyers last night. Yes, the former Sabre accounted single-handedly for the margin of defeat in the game.

“Save us, Pegula!”

But will he? It seems he might. According to Gleason, “The highest compliments (Pegula’s) contemporaries paid him over the past month, as it pertained to him purchasing the franchise… was that Pegula is committed to winning and smart enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers. If that’s true, the Sabres will be in much better hands than they were under… Golisano.”

Gleason went on to say that Pegula seems to understand in ways that Golisano does not, that owning a sports franchise is nothing like owning a “real company.” Your most talented players will have more power than you do.

If Pegula can deal with that, Buffalo could be in for some very sunny days ahead. In fact, Pegula ranks higher on the Forbes list than two sports owners notorious for wealthy largesse: Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and quintessential “money is no object” spender, the late George Steinbrenner of the Yankees.

Could it be that Pegula will be the Steinbrenner of hockey? Could the Sabres be the Yankees of the NHL? It certainly seems possible if not likely. Whether or not the money to be spent will translate into a Stanley Cup is hard to know. We’ve seen from the Cowboys and Yankees how elusive a championship can be, even with the best talent money can buy. Obviously, chemistry is at least as important as talent, but Pegula seems to be aware of that as well.

So fantasize with me for a moment. What will the Sabres under Pegula look like? Might he bring Briere back, or Peca, who still lives in Western New York? What about bringing Buffalo native Patrick Kane to HSBC to repeat his Stanley Cup magic for the home team?  Add a few key draft picks and a few more strategic free-agent signings and it should happen. Maybe not next year. But soon.

“Save us, Pegula!”

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