The Summit – Faith, Love, and Patience

by Corey

The Bloggers Summit was a new experience for me. I’ve been in a press conference situation before back when I worked for WGR, but I haven’t done it in quite the same atmosphere as something like that.

The summit still had the feeling of an event that was not quite fleshed out. I’m not sure the Sabres are quite sure how to interact with the internet writing community yet. I think a lot of writers were happy to be there and were enthusiastic about participating, but maybe didn’t know the boundaries of what to ask and how to ask it. I sure as hell didn’t.

Ted Black, in his capacity with the Sabres organization, is the spokesperson for the franchise as a business entity. Through him, Terry Pegula speaks. This is mostly because Pegula doesn’t talk all that much in the press, which is well within his rights. But if he won’t, someone has to. Black is that guy, but he is far more than that. He has a real impact on how the team operates, and I think it shows mostly in what the team doesn’t do as opposed to what it does.

Brief example: the alumni are exponentially more involved with the organization now than when the previous ownership group was in charge. This isn’t happenstance, it’s a more inviting atmosphere for those who are and have been employed by the team. It’s a huge upgrade that reflects on Pegula’s attitudes but is expressed through Black. We should thank him as much as we should thank the guy with the billions for that.

I have a lot of respect for how well Black has run this team so far, as well with how smart a guy he is. He has done well.

Rather than a blow by blow recap of the summit, I figured I would take the time to explain my questions posed to Black. I would recommend you visit the sites of the other writers who were present. Why should I explain their perfectly good questions? Visit them and give them clicks for Christ’s sake.

I had two kicks at the can. One was a follow up question on the team’s plans for the empty space once occupied by the Ira G. Ross museum. I asked Black if the Sabres would be active or passive in the development of Canalside. Black reiterated that the team is not in the land development business, but that they are invested in the betterment of the community as a whole.

The response seems to indicate to me that the Sabres are not involved in the planning of Canalside. I followed up, asking if the city or ECHDC had come to them to be involved in the process. His response was that they were contacted by the group shortly before the news broke on the new construction at the site due soon. The ECHDC are keeping the Sabres apprised, but now that Larry Quinn is no long with the team they seem to be neighbors of, not partners in, the project.

My second question revolved around the present state of the team. In a question that took roughly a half hour to ask, I suggested that the team was in real trouble on the ice this season, and asked why fans should continue to stick around and watch if there seemed little hope of action on the part of the team to correct it. Black’s response was well thought out, maybe even (definitely) prepared.

(ASIDE: The Sabres were great at the summit, and I’m not accusing them of saying or feeling this, but just in case, you can’t be upset by a non-suggestion question if you had a prepared response to it.)

His answer to my question was equally as long, and can be heard almost verbatim at WGR’s site. Black was on with Howard Simon, Jeremy White, and Dan Fisher this morning. When Simon asked about the atmosphere of the team (at the 7:50 mark) Black took the opportunity to lay out all of the positive strides that the Sabres have taken in the previous ten months, making the case that the negativity surrounding the team was misplaced and that the building wasn’t really burning down.

His points:

— Terry Pegula is fully committed to the team. We have the owner we’ve been dreaming of.
— We were successful in free agency, getting two big FA’s to sign (Ehrhoff, Leino.)
— Got Regehr to waive a no trade clause to come here.
— Re-signed our young talent (Myers, Stafford.) No more watching the talent walk out the door.

I did not take the opportunity to press, because there were 19 other people who had important questions to ask. Simon did, so the audio on WGR is instructive. Black says “I’m very pleased with the overall trajectory. If you want to get involved with the week-to-week, you’ll drive yourself nuts.”

He’s talking big picture, and he is complete accurate. I’m really bullish on the future of the team long term. Sound, competent ownership will take you far in sports, and I think Pegula/Black is there.

But, this doesn’t get me to February or March or April. Black is right to say there is a bright future, but this is entertainment, and nobody is being entertained right now. The team has grown stale to fans, and I’m pretty sure that contributes to the much-maligned atmosphere in the Center as well as the overall impatience of the fan base in this current stretch.

The folks who wear the letters on the team have been here a long time and have not won much. They have won just five playoff games in five years with the keys in the hands of Roy, Stafford, Pominville, Gaustad, and Vanek.

They were great after the lockout. They also had Briere, Drury and Campbell, too. Black has been here ten months, but we have watched this group for much longer. We’ve pretty much made up our minds.

They made the comeback of comebacks to make the playoffs last year, and we still want nothing to do with them right now. Everyone is waiting for the axe to fall, and dropping the axe is decidedly not what Darcy Regier is famous for.

This was also brought up by Simon when he mentioned Brian Burke’s comments regarding Regier being a general pain in the ass to deal with. Black’s response – “Brian who?” – garnered some snark on the Twits after he said it, mostly because Burke has won something while the Sabres haven’t. Advantage: Burke. I can’t hold it against Black for sticking up for his guy. Pegula and Black have planted their flags right next to Ruff and Regier, why not sell out and go the distance for them. I get it.

But the question is what’s important. It’s asked because no one expects Regier to do anything until the offseason. Whether he does or not is unimportant to me as a consumer. He may surprise everyone with a blockbuster trade. He probably won’t. The probably is enough for me to turn the channel.

I know how much the organization has changed, and Black is completely in the right. But all of those changes do not impact how Regier does business in season. The team is bad and there is likely little change on the way and, frankly, Black did little to convince me that I should expect otherwise.

Therefore, I’ll find something else to do with my time. Watching the team is boring and frustrating, so why hang around if the plot won’t change? And really, this isn’t even a negative take! I love the franchise. Just call me when something happens. I’ll jump right back in when it looks like they are taking off and have it right.

Does this make me a fairweather fan? Absolutely. But if I’m not watching a bad team, I’ll be annoyed less and have less spite. It might also make me a better consumer. I’ll also have more fun doing other things. It’s not personal. The product, although it has good future prospects, isn’t good right now. Just have a better product and I’ll come back.

If improvement is what your looking for, the Sabres have it in boatloads. You just have to wait until July.

5 Comments

  1. Your last paragraph pretty much summed up my feelings about the team right now.

  2. Good one, Corey. I agree with this entirely. (I probably wont stop watching, but I probably WILL stop caring soon.) One other thing Id add though: I think Sabres fans/bloggers/media are being a little quick to assume that everything that Ted Black says is the plain truth. I dont mean that hes lying, I just think a good employer stands by his employees… until he doesnt. I mostly agree that the safe bet is that nothing will change until after the season, but personally, I think Regier is going to get the boot the second they finish missing the playoffs. After that Lindy will finally be on the clock.

    But your point is well taken- the current situation is lame and unlikely to improve anytime soon. Wed all be wise to emotionally disconnect a bit.

  3. Where did all my apostrophes go? What kind of apostrophe-thieving blog are you guys running here?

  4. Mike

    Quibbling, but the Sabres have won 5 playoff games in 5 years – 2 against the Bruins and 3 against the Flyers.
    More interesting the Sabres haven’t made the playoffs in the last decade unless Mike Grier has been on the team.