Thursday's media conference announcing the sale of the Buffalo Sabres from Tom Golisano to Terry Pegula comes almost three years after a Hockey Night in Canada sitdown with the soon-to-be-former owner.
Initially, we were working on a piece about the Sabres' decision to cut back its scouting budget, emphasizing video instead. But Golisano was so impressively blunt in discussing the overall business of his hockey team that we dropped the narrow focus and stayed general.
Since then, there were several attempts to revisit the video scouting process, but general manager Darcy Regier politely declined at least once a season. He didn't want to reveal too much. Too bad, because I remain very curious to see how the whole thing works. And, I wanted to ask him one question in particular.
While researching how different organizations approached scouting, several other teams ripped Buffalo's approach. At the time, Golisano considered that self-serving, because those people stood to lose their jobs if "The Sabre Way" caught on. But, what interested me most was a common thread throughout many of those conversations. It went like this: "I'll explain to you why video scouting is a bad idea. But, I'm not going to rip Darcy because he's at the mercy of his owner."
In the interview, Golisano didn't exactly disprove that theory.
"These scouts are traveling all over the world. All these expenses, could they accomplish a lot more staying in one place with the use of video?" the owner said. "And they believe they can. If somebody interprets that as not being progressive and being regressive, that's too bad. But we think we're far more efficient and have a much better scouting organization than we did three years ago."
History indicates otherwise.
Director of Pro Scouting Terry Martin, who helped make the decision to acquire Daniel Briere, bolted for Colorado in 2006. Director of Amateur Scouting Jim Benning (now in Boston) and assistant general Manager Larry Carriere (Montreal) left in 2004. For almost a decade, the Sabres found a later-round gem in the NHL draft. There was Brian Campbell (6th round, 1997), Ales Kotalik (6th, 1998), Ryan Miller (5th, 1999), Paul Gaustad (7th, 2000), Dennis Wideman (8th, 2002) and Patrick Kaleta (6th, 2004). Since then, nothing much, although it's too soon to evaluate recent selections.
You cannot argue with the results. Back-to-back Eastern Conference finalists in 2006 and 2007 (and President's Trophy winners that second year), the Sabres are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. Golisano did some great things. He saved the franchise, obviously. After losing Briere, Chris Drury and Campbell, he said he would re-sign Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville, and delivered.
But, winning ownership is more than just signing players. It's finding them. (The Sabres deserve credit for snaring Tyler Myers, but they had someone on the ground in the Kelowna, B.C., area.) By cutting back on their scouting at both the professional and amateur levels, Golisano compromised the Sabres' chances to win. That's why Lindy Ruff hasn't signed an extension, even though he wants to stay. As mentioned in this week's 30 Thoughts, word is Pegula wants to keep both men. (I still lack confirmation on Craig Patrick, but I've heard it's some kind of senior advisor role, with the possibility of becoming president somewhere down the line.)
Before Brian Burke and Ron Wilson ended up in Toronto, there were rumblings Regier and Ruff would be approached. One night, at HSBC arena, Regier and I ended up together in that metallic freight elevator. I looked at him and said, "you looking forward to moving to Toronto?" He smiled. "I don't need that much attention."
What he needs is to be freed from the scouting shackles. Regier's proven he can win under competitive circumstances.
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