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Sabres Owner Terry Pegula today announced Hockey HOFer Pat LaFontaine has been named to the newly created position of President of Hockey Operations, while GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston have been let go, according to Amy Moritz of the BUFFALO NEWS. In addition, the team named Ted Nolan interim coach. LaFontaine, who played for the Sabres from '91-97, said that he "knows Buffalo, the passion of the fans and the hard work and effort that the region embraces and that he will actively be looking for a new general manager." He added, "The first thing I wanted to do is something at the player's level. We'll bridge it together." Moritz notes the bridge "will include a culture change, a phrase heard throughout the press conference." LaFontaine: "We have to be patient, smart, selective. It's not going to happen overnight but I can tell you this, we'll get the right people." He added that the next GM "will make the decision on coaching going forward next year" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 11/13). SPORTSNET.ca's Luke Fox notes LaFontaine "served briefly in management" for the Islanders under Owner Charles Wang. Meanwhile, Regier, who joined the organization in '97, "leaves as the longest-serving GM in Sabres history" (SPORTSNET.ca, 11/13).
TWITTER REAX: NHL.com's Dan Rosen wrote on his Twitter feed, "Lafontaine is a great guy, was a great player, someone you want around. But it must be noted that he has almost no front-office experience. ... That said about Lafontaine, you have to gain experience somehow. He has a chance to make a difference in Buffalo again. Good for him." Yahoo Sports' Nick Cotsonika: "Really like what Lafontaine is saying. Sabres have to be patient and smart. He knows what he has to do. Now he needs to execute." NBCSports.com's Joe Yerdon: "You get a very warm, likable feeling from both LaFontaine and Nolan. That might be needed here." ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes, "Terry Pegula was sold on a rebuilding year but I think the level of bitterness and outright anger from fans no longer could be ignored." Buffalo-based WGR-AM reporter Pat Malacaro: "Pegula not laying it all on Darcy, and I can respect that. Saying (paraphrasing) decisions made as a team, not just by one person." Buffalo-based WTSS-FM co-host Rob Lucas writes, "Betting any available single game #Sabres tix for games thru holidays get sold by end of week. A coach can sell tix for a bad team."
Two events Monday night -- Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross' "lack of public support" and the team's 22-19 loss to the previously winless Buccaneers -- "perhaps foreshadow" team GM Jeff Ireland's eventual exit from the organization, according to sources cited by Adam Beasley of the MIAMI HERALD. It is "unlikely that any major move will be made" before NFL special investigator Ted Wells "finishes his review of the organization" that was sparked by the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation. Dolphins President & CEO Tom Garfinkel has suddenly "been thrust into a near-untenable situation," and one of his top priorities is "finding a way out of the current morass." He said, "Our fans should know we’re working to get better." Beasley reports many fans "have already spoken with their wallets," as each of the past three games at Sun Life Stadium "had a smaller crowd than the one that preceded it." The Dolphins are "so worried about the attendance for Sunday’s game against the Chargers, they’ve reached out to season-ticket holders who skipped the previous game to encourage them to attend." Meanwhile, there will be a plane flying over the stadium this Sunday with a "banner demanding Ireland's job" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/13). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes Ireland "already looks as if he will suffer from the fallout judging by the behavior and comments" from Ross on Monday. Ireland was in attendance at the game, but he was the "only prominent member of the Dolphins’ front office absent from Ross’ press conference" (N.Y. POST, 11/13). ESPN's Ed Werder noted Ross did not hire Ireland, so if Ross "decides that he wants to deflect blame and wants to insulate himself from being responsible" for the bullying scandal, he can "certainly blame Jeff Ireland" ("NFL Live," ESPN2, 11/12).
COOL WITH THE COMMITTEE? In Ft. Lauderdale, Omar Kelly reports Dolphins players had not "been informed about Ross' blue-ribbon committee that will develop a players' code of conduct for next season" prior to him announcing it Monday night. Meanwhile, Pro Football HOFer Dan Marino appeared on WAXY-AM's "The Eric Reed Show" yesterday and said that he "accepted a spot on the committee after fielding a call from Ross on Monday afternoon, and there was momentary confusion about a leadership council meeting that's now been re-scheduled." Marino called the committee a "work in progress" and added, "We haven't even discussed exactly what the parameters of it are." Marino said of Ross' offer, "I said listen, if I can help, because I love the Dolphins, and I love our community down here, if I could help him in any way I would. And that's really where it's at right now because I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody else that's even on the committee since (Monday)" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/13). Dolphins coach Joe Philbin regarding the committee said that he is "open to outside assistance." He said, "I’m for anything that can make our organization better. Steve and I talked about this, and I’m in total agreement and support" (ESPN.com, 11/12).
DOING MORE HARM THAN GOOD? ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said Ross has hurt the situation by "forming this blue-ribbon panel to further complicate this." Kornheiser: "Now you've got the NFL investigating, you've got the NFLPA investigating. Now you've got Dan Marino and Tony Dungy and everybody else who's on a Sunday talk show trying to get involved in this and see how to change everything in football. I think this will really hurt the Dolphins." ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the panel will "help the situation" and noted it is better to have "too many prying eyes … than no eyes" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/12). FoxSports.com’s Bill Reiter said, "The task force is an absolute farce. It has no power, it has no meaning -- kind of like its general manager and maybe its owner. It’s a joke." Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman added, "Why do you have a task force? You’re the owner. You do the investigating, you find out what happened and you make the decisions. This task force is a cover to me for what he wants to do later. He wants to definitely fire the GM to me and probably the head coach, so he’s doing this to give cover for that" (“Rome,” CBSSN, 11/12).
REMORSEFUL ROSS: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote Ross "seems to be genuinely sincere regarding his commitment to improving the team’s workplace." Regardless of the "specifics, Ross seems to realize based on the evidence already produced and Martin’s decision to leave the team that something happened that shouldn’t have happened" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 11/12). In West Palm Beach, Dave George writes under the header, "Ross' Heart In Right Place When It Comes To His Miami Dolphins" (PALM BEACH POST, 11/13). Meanwhile, in Miami, Michael Putney writes of Wells' investigation, "I don’t expect his inquiry to drag on too long because this is one more black mark on a multibillion-dollar brand -- the NFL" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/13).
Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner yesterday at MLB's GM and owners meetings "reiterated the team will look to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for next season, but 'not at the expense of fielding a championship-caliber team,'" according to Ken Davidoff of the N.Y. POST. There appears "little doubt the Yankees will achieve their goal, even at the expense of a lousy 2014 performance, so they can save as much as $100 million over the next two years by lowering their luxury-tax rate as well as qualifying for a revenue-sharing rebate." Part of Steinbrenner’s plan to lower payroll, "even temporarily, revolved around relying on a burgeoning farm system, and that simply hasn’t happened." He said that both Yankees Senior VP/Baseball Operations Mark Newman and Amateur Scouting Dir Damon Oppenheimer "would retain their current positions, but that many changes already had been instituted." Meanwhile, Steinbrenner "expressed frustration" with the situation around 3B Alex Rodriguez, who is appealing his 211-game suspension. Steinbrenner: "It gets complicated. I know everybody’s doing the best they can -- the arbitrator, the commissioner, MLB. There’s a lot of evidence I’m sure they’re looking at. A lot of things they’re looking at. It takes time." Steinbrenner added a quick resolution "would be best for everybody involved" (N.Y. POST, 11/13). Steinbrenner noted that he "thinks the Yankees can be bold players in free agency while still trying to cut payroll." He also gave a "limited explanation" why the team gave SS Derek Jeter a raise "despite missing nearly the entire 2013 season due to injury." Steinbrenner said that the raise was "tied to Jeter's stature within the organization" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/13).
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN....: Mets GM Sandy Alderson has made it clear he will not sign a single free agent to a nine-figure contract this offseason, and the N.Y. Daily News' John Harper noting, "This is not the winter to do it" because of the lack of high-profile free agents. Harper: "Even if you have a philosophy about not signing a player for $100 million, why say it? Why not just say, 'We're going to wait and see where negotiations take us.' You're already sending out the message that, 'We don't really have that much money, we're looking to bargain shop,' that type of thing." The N.Y. Daily News' Bruce Murray said this is "not an offseason where there are so many great guys that you'd want to throw $100 million contracts at." However, when team officials promise fans a "certain understanding (of spending), don't say it, just play the game of public relations." Murray said Alderson is "volunteering information that nobody's really asked about." The N.Y. Daily News' Bob Raissman said, "When you promise something but your ownership may be whispering in your ear about something else, you juggle the balls. I think that's what (Alderson) is doing. This guy's a master of double-talk" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 11/12). SNY's Adam Schein said Alderson needs to stop joking about him being "upstairs stacking five-dollar bills." Schein: "Does he understand that Mets fans expect him to spend? They've seen the Mets not spend. You can't make those jokes with the product on the field over the last few years." SNY's Eamon McAnaney said Alderson "just comes across as tone-deaf to the Mets situation, to the Mets fan base" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 11/12).
For the second straight year, MLB teams in '13 were more likely to use a bobblehead to lure fans to the ballpark than any other promotional giveaway, according to SportsBusiness Journal's eighth annual review of team promotional calendars. Twenty-nine clubs distributed a total of 2.59 million bobbleheads across 108 general-admission giveaway dates in '13. That is the most such dates since at least '05 and a 46% increase compared with the number of bobbles distributed in '09. The Red Sox were the only club without at least one bobblehead giveaway for the year. The Dodgers led the bobblehead surge, giving away approximately 560,000 bobbles over 11 dates this year. Both marks were tops league-wide for the second year in a row. Nine of those giveaways occurred on a weeknight. Attendance for the club's three Tuesday night bobblehead giveaway games specifically (one each featuring SS Hanley Ramirez, CF Matt Kemp and former player Rick Monday) averaged 50,552 fans, an 18% lift over the team's 10 Tuesday night games that did not include a bobble. The Dodgers are one of several clubs over the past few seasons that has diverted many of its premium giveaways from Friday nights to different nights of the week, focusing instead on the social potential of Fridays. "Fridays, especially in the summer months, are traditionally very popular for ticket sales, so teams are relying less on promotions to get fans to the ballpark," said Bensussen Deutsch & Associates CEO Jay Deutsch, whose company is MLB's preferred premium merchandise provider. "This particular day of the week has become a more viable non-item, event-only day, which encourages fans to come earlier and stay later at the ballpark, with the weekend the next day."
HELPING TICKET SALES: Giants Dir of Special Events Valerie McGuire said the team tends to put bobbleheads and giveaways "on weekends for a number of reasons: ticket demand is higher on weekends, more kids attend on weekends and many times the sponsor preference is an item on the weekends." McGuire: "We do over 32 'special ticket' games, which often times includes a promotional item in addition to the gate discount. Those are mainly during the week which helps drive tickets sales anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 tickets and also helps keep our sellout streak alive."
The Warriors yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber acquiring ownership of the team and "for most people" the Warriors' success has been "very surprising," according to CSN Bay Area's Monte Poole. When the Lacob-Guber group took over, there was "so much negativity and so many bad seasons over the course of a couple decades, basically, that it was really easy to believe that this wasn't going work, that the ownership would come in talking big and doing little." Lacob and Guber came in "promising that this was going to be a different organization -- run differently from top down -- and they've made some major moves that have shown us that." Poole said the current state of the franchise is a "team where players around the league look at their franchise and go, 'You know what, that would not be a bad place to go.'" He added there has been a "major culture change." Poole: "When you look at what they do inside the arena here, inside the administrative offices and just really rebranding the Warriors, raising the profile and just putting some gloss on what had really been a pretty dull product ... they've just made it more professional." Poole noted Lacob is now focused on getting approval for a new arena in S.F., which is going to be a "real difficult" accomplishment. However, he is "really committed to it and so far, he's not backing off." CSN Bay Area's Jim Kozimor noted Warriors fans initially booed Lacob, but they "got the right guy," as he has "been good for the Warriors." The San Jose Mercury News' Mark Purdy said Lacob has "every right to be proud of what he's done," though there is "still part of Joe that wants to act like he invented fire" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 11/12).
NEW DESIGN: The Warriors yesterday released an updated design for their proposed S.F. waterfront arena on Piers 30-32. The new design reduces the event center area by over 30,000 square feet, expands total open space by 1.6 acres and lowers building heights (Warriors).