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SBD/November 14, 2013/FranchisesPrint All
The Sabres' "surprising decision" to name Pat LaFontaine to the newly created position of President of Hockey Operations and fire GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston sets the team "on a new course," according to James Fink of BUFFALO BUSINESS FIRST. Sabres Owner Terry Pegula said of LaFontaine, "Pat is going to add a lot of energy to the organization." Fink reports there "was not a single tipping point that led" to the decision to fire Regier and Rolston, but Pegula "felt a change was needed." The team’s "listless play, angry fan base and growing dissatisfaction were factors in the decision." For both LaFontaine and interim coach Ted Nolan, their return to the Sabres organization is "more than just a sentimental homecoming." Individually, both said that one of their "primary goals is to restore credibility and creating a 'heart-and-soul' work ethic into the locker room." LaFontaine: "People have to understand this isn’t going to turn around over night. I think patience is going to be important. The fans have to understand we are going to get there (win a Stanley Cup), but I can’t tell you when." LaFontaine is "beginning to search for a full-time general manager, a list he said is short" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 11/14). In Buffalo, Mike Harrington notes what LaFontaine is doing is "reviving faith in a front office that had lost all of the belief of its fans." He and Pegula recently went to dinner and conversation "turned to the struggling Sabres." The two "ended up continuing the chat on Pegula’s boat." LaFontaine, who had been working at the league office since the start of the season, said of Pegula, "He was the one who said, 'Well, you just started a job' but he started to get into where he thought I could help the team." Harrington notes Pegula was "dead serious, even wanting to know if LaFontaine wanted to be the general manager." Pegula: "One thing led to another and it was like, 'Wow, this guy is pretty impressive'" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/14).
FAITH IN FAMILIAR FACES: In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason notes LaFontaine and Nolan were "two of the most popular figures in franchise history" and they will serve as a "bridge that connects the organization to a better time in the past, a bridge that takes us back to the pre-Regier days." Their job now is "rebuilding the bridges that Regier burned in the 16-plus years" that he served as GM. Gleason: "We’ll see if he gets the right people around him, but at least you believe he can." That is a "monumental upgrade for this organization" and gives the "impression that ownership is serious about winning" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/14). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes, "Pegula certainly needs to learn from the mistakes he made since buying the Sabres 2 1/2 years ago. Maybe he has." It is a "good sign that he hired LaFontaine," and "another nice touch was bringing back Ted Nolan, enormously popular with the players and fans when he coached the Sabres" from '95-97 (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/14). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted the task ahead of Nolan and LaFontaine "is monumental," but there is "something somehow comforting about this tandem" (ESPN.com, 11/14). Former Sabres LW Andrew Peters said LaFontaine brings "instant credibility" to the franchise. Peters: "From a PR standpoint, this move is unreal. From a hockey standpoint, who is going to say no to wanting to do any kind of business in terms of hockey here in Buffalo when you're dealing with a guy like Pat LaFontaine?" (DEMOCRATANDCHRONICLE.com, 11/13). In Buffalo, John Vogl writes the Sabres "needed something more than words to lift spirits and restore hope." The duo has "long been beloved by fans for being passionate and hardworking, two traits that had disappeared" at First Niagara Center. Nolan said, "Hopefully, I can bring some credibility back into this organization." LaFontaine: "If fans know there’s leadership and direction, and they know there’s good people in place and they start to see it happening on the ice and they see the product, they’re going to support it" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/14).
CHANGE IS A GOOD THING: CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote a change from Regier was "more than needed." The Sabres were not only "looking terrible" on the ice, but fans "would have been nearing the stage of an open revolt if apathy hadn't set in." The First Niagara Center "had begun resembling a church" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/13). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Rory Boylen wrote the Sabres "needed a change." They had "become a clown franchise this season." The changes made yesterday "won’t bump the Sabres any closer to the playoffs, but they will provide a refreshing jolt for the fan base and send a new message to the roster." And they were changes that also "gave the team options to move ahead with the brain trust of its choosing." The Sabres "had become stale." It is "not that Regier was doing a poor job of starting the rebuild -- it’s just that the Sabres desperately needed a new outlook, a new hope." They needed "a new confidence in management" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/13). FS1’s Dan O’Toole said, “The Buffalo Sabres didn’t rock the boat Wednesday. They filled the boat with rocks, sank it and built a brand new boat all together” (“Fox Sports Live,” FS1, 11/13).
FOLLOWING A MODEL OF SUCCESS: In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote it is "almost as though the Sabres looked at the spectacular success" the Avalanche have had this season with former stars Joe Sakic (Exec VP/Hockey Operations) and Patrick Roy (coach) and "decided to copy it almost to the letter." Like Sakic, LaFontaine has "no experience running an NHL team," as he "lasted six weeks in a front office role" with the Islanders in '06. The "first question, naturally, will be whether LaFontaine or Nolan can stick around long enough to actual install a long-term plan" (THESTAR.com, 11/13). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes under the header, "Sad-Sack Sabres Take Page From Avalanche." LaFontaine is "a mirror image" of Sakic. Both are "level-headed, well-reasoned, aggressive in their planning and careful in their execution." Pegula's move "was shrewd because the LaFontaine-Nolan tandem could fix the last-place team's problems over time." But the "immediate impact will be to re-energize a fan base that had become angry or disillusioned over the Sabres' collapse." The Avalanche's model of "hiring former stars to trigger a resurgence is hardly a novel approach," and it "doesn't always work." But what is "happening in Colorado is enough to give Buffalo hope" (USA TODAY, 11/14).
BEWARE OF OWNER: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote ever since Pegula "showed up with his bags of money, the Sabres have gone downhill at breakneck speed." Pegula has been "the worst thing to happen to the Buffalo Sabres on the ice in years." However, "off the ice, Pegula has been nothing but a godsend, both for the Sabres and hockey in general." The bad comes from the fact that Pegula "is basically a fan and he has a fan’s mentality." He is a "fantasy owner with the means to fulfill his fantasies," and that "can be dangerous" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 11/13).
The Lakers' home sellout streak ended at 270 regular-season games Tuesday when they were "a little short of the 18,997 capacity at Staples Center" against the Pelicans, according to Bolch & Bresnahan of the L.A. TIMES. The Lakers "sold out 320 straight games including playoffs before drawing 18,426 fans Tuesday." The last "non-sellout for the Lakers at Staples Center came Dec. 6, 2006," against the Hornets in front of 18,535 fans. Meanwhile, a Clippers spokesperson said that the team has "sold out 97 consecutive home games" dating to Feb. 2, 2011, and remains "on track to reach 100 games Monday against Memphis" (L.A. TIMES, 11/14). In L.A., Shahan Ahmed wrote although Lakers G Kobe Bryant’s absence due to injury "likely played a role, he cannot be seen as the deciding factor in breaking the sellout streak." The likely "common ground between the 2006 team and the 2013 team is that the vast majority of critics, analysts, and fans did not give that Lakers team [a chance] of contending for a title just as the majority of onlookers do not believe the current group can make a serious run at a championship." Additionally, L.A. "clearly does not have a large number of transplants from Louisiana" (NBCLOSANGELES.com, 11/13).
Pro Football HOFer Curtis Martin is one of the five people Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross said will be on an independent advisory group to look at the Dolphins' organizational conduct policies on the heels of the team's bullying scandal, and Martin said he agreed to participate because this "incident is something that is important not just to the Dolphins, but to the league," according to Gary Myers of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Martin said, "At the end of the day, I’m always interested in things that involve the culture and the name or the brand of the NFL." Myers reports while Martin "has no direct connection to the Dolphins organization, he does have a relationship with Ross." Martin when he first retired "solicited the advice 'of people who were where you want to be' and he met with Ross to 'pick his brain.'" Ross in the midst of the recent turmoil "thought it would be a good idea to hear what Martin has to say." Martin: "I just received a call and he said, ‘You’re someone that I really respect the way you think and the way you look at things. I know you’re an honest person who has a good opinion.’ They would like to pick all of our brains when it comes to how to deal with this." Myers notes Martin "was not aware Ross was forming an advisory group until he got his call, but was not surprised he asked him to be a part of it 'just because of the relationship that we have'" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/14).
LESSON LEARNED? In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes Ross "finally surfaced at a news conference Monday to discuss forming blue-ribbon committees, tacitly blame General Manager Jeff Ireland and say he scheduled a meeting" with Jonathan Martin, but the "biggest issue is he talked to everyone in the sports world except the people he should have talked with first." Ross "never talked to his Dolphins players," and he "still hasn't." Hyde: "Isn't that the central topic in this story? Talking with players. Keeping lines of communication open. He wasn't going to talk to players in the hours before Monday's game. But in the days before?" Players were made known of Ross's comments by the media after Monday's game and they "had never heard of any formed committee." Meanwhile, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on Tuesday said that the players' leadership council was "meeting with him that night." Hyde noted that was "interesting" due to Richie Incognito's place "on it and the role of a lack of team leadership in this story." Dolphins DE Cameron Wake and LB Dannell Ellerbe, who are both on the council, were asked about the impending meeting and indicated that they "had no idea one was called." Hyde: "Again, doesn't this suggest the Dolphins haven't learned enough from this episode?" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/14).
IRELAND'S FUTURE: In West Palm Beach, Greg Stoda writes Ireland should lose his job "when the housecleaning happens -- and it ought to if the Dolphins don’t make the playoffs." The Dolphins "probably can save Ireland by qualifying for the post-season, because winning erases, or at least masks, problems even as deep as the morass in which the franchise finds itself." Otherwise, the "stench" from the bullying situation, if "added to another disappointing record, should be enough to push Ireland out the door" (PALM BEACH POST, 11/14).
In Boston, John Tomase writes while the "euphoria of this latest championship will carry him through much of the winter," Red Sox Owner John Henry "recognizes there’s new work to do." With new TV contracts "fattening up teams' bottom lines" by at least $25M each, Henry "expects the free agent market to be costly." The Red Sox last year "moved away from the big-contract model" and Henry "hopes never to go back." He said, "We had a long history of overpaying and going too long in contracts. ... We moved away from that (approach) for the first time I think in 2012. You saw that and you’ll see that now continuing" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/14).
BYRD BRAINS: In Philadelphia, Ryan Lawrence notes Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is "well aware" that signing RF Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16M contract earlier this week will "generate a different kind of buzz" locally than the Cliff Lee signing three years ago. But he and his team are "at a different time and place." A "great deal of money has already been spent," and after failing to finish above .500 two straight seasons, both the Phillies and Amaro "have to get things right this winter." Amaro said, "I have to be cognizant of what the fans think -- but we have to do what we can to improve the club, and this move I believe will improve our club" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 11/14).
SHOW ME THE MONEY: In N.Y., Tim Rohan writes if the Mets do not sign free agent SS Jhonny Peralta or someone else within the next few weeks, their fans "could get restless." Mets GM Sandy Alderson said of the fans' anxiety, "Do I sense it? Yeah, to some extent. Do I tune it out? Yes, to the largest extent possible. Because for us this is a day-to-day proposition, and it’s not that predictable. So I just sort of have to take it out of the equation to some extent but be aware of the overall environment as well" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/14). On Long Island, David Lennon writes under the header, "No One Will Take Mets Seriously Until They Spend Money And Sign A Free Agent" (NEWSDAY, 11/14).
WIN AT ALL COSTS? In N.Y., Joel Sherman notes Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner since taking over for his late father George has "tended to stay in the background," letting GM Brian Cashman and President Randy Levine be the "main faces and voices for the organization in personnel and business matters." But with the Yankees not making the playoffs this past season and "questions abounding about the direction of the franchise, Hal apparently wants to be more present in showing leadership and re-confirming his family’s mantra of going for championships has not changed." He also has "clearly become more comfortable in the role after several years in charge" (N.Y. POST, 11/14).