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Regier got extension last fall; Sabres GM received new 2-year contract

It appears the Buffalo Sabres will finally announce the sale of the team to Pennsylvania billionaire Terry Pegula on Thursday. No surprise there.

But here's a stunning transaction they've never publicized: A contract extension was handed out some time last fall to embattled General Manager Darcy Regier, who was widely believed to be on his way out once Tom Golisano sold the franchise he purchased in 2003.

The News has learned Golisano gave Regier a two-year extension, a deal the team has never announced. The contract's total value is believed between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Asked by The News Monday if Regier has been given an extension, managing partner Larry Quinn did not confirm -- or deny -- the move.

"I'm not going to confirm that today," was all Quinn would say.

Regier, a polarizing figure to fans in the wake of the team's struggles the last four years, might still be replaced but it apparently won't be as easy as simply thanking him for his service since 1997.

One would think Pegula discovered the surprising contract extension while recently performing his due diligence on the franchise. It has been assumed all season Regier was in the final year of his deal.

Regier's status certainly figures to be one major topic of conversation for Thursday's news conference in HSBC Arena to announce the change in ownership. Golisano, Quinn and minority owner Daniel DiPofi are all expected to attend.

From that point, approval from the NHL's Board of Governors appears to be a formality. It's believed Pegula, who has yet to speak publicly, would like the deal completed prior to the NHL's Feb. 28 trade deadline so he can get a jump start on the team's direction for next season.

Although Quinn denied Monday that an actual purchase agreement was in place with Pegula, it's highly unlikely the Sabres would schedule a news conference without a deal being completed. Pegula is expected to purchase the team for $189 million.

Pegula met with the NHL Board of Governors' executive committee Saturday in Cary, N.C., as that body convened during the league's All-Star weekend. It will take 23 votes from the full board to approve Pegula's bid and there does not appear to be any stumbling blocks.

Less than an hour before the latest news on Pegula broke Monday afternoon, the Sabres had their first workout after the all-star break in the Northtown Center of Amherst. Pegula's meeting with the NHL in North Carolina was a big topic of conversation.

"It does look a little bit more serious now," said goaltender Ryan Miller. "It's still a business deal so until everything is signed and they announce it with a press conference and they run their flag up the pole and it's their ship, it's got to be status quo. What we do here is the way we run things."

Winger Jason Pominville said it's hard for players to not think about what may happen under a Pegula reign.

"Things might work a little bit differently than they do now," Pominville said. "Who knows what he's got in mind? That's kind of what you think about. You just have to worry about what you can do right now, and that's helping the team.

"If that's a distraction I don't think our mind is in the right place. We've got ourselves back to where we're playing better and into the hunt [for a playoff berth]. If our mind is on [the ownership change], it's definitely not good."

The Sabres were 9-3-1 in their final 13 games prior to the all-star break and are six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand over No. 8 Atlanta.

Coach Lindy Ruff pushed aside Pegula questions, insisting he was focusing only on Friday's game at Pittsburgh. Ruff, it should be noted, also has an expiring contract.

"We're really just focused on winning a game Friday and carrying the momentum from before the break," Ruff said. "The ownership questions were there before. We put on a pretty good run and it's up to us to keep this run going."

"It's not going to be a situation where everything changes. We haven't even had any discussions about it," Miller said. "It seems to be a standard business deal. They'll get it done and tell us last because technically we're employees and everyone around the organization is an employee. We have to do our job and the best thing to do is play good hockey. We want to make the postseason no matter who is in charge."

***

The Sabres' late-afternoon workout Monday lasted more than an hour. Ruff said the team will mix some scrimmaging with special teams and systems work over the next three days. Thomas Vanek and Craig Rivet were home with the flu.

Tim Connolly (hip) and Patrick Kaleta (hand) practiced fully, with Ruff saying he felt Connolly looked better but Kaleta was still limited and not likely to play Friday at this point. Steve Montador, who crawled off the ice early in overtime last Tuesday in Ottawa, was fine. Paul Byron and Matt Ellis are back in Portland for now but could easily be recalled if needed.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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