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Sabres need sweep -- with a big broom

Where is Larry Quinn when we need him? If old Lar' were still running the Sabres, he'd stand defiantly in front of the critics and declare the season a "mulligan," while general manager Darcy Regier silently wiped a tear from his eye.

Yes, the Sabres' heroic run to eighth place fell short in the end. Now it's time for excuses, time to reassure the fawning masses that great things lie ahead for this plucky but star-crossed band of hockey overachievers.

Get them back to full health, allow Regier to weave more of his personnel magic, get the players even more dedicated to Lindy Ruff's precious system, and a Stanley Cup will surely follow.

Owner Terry Pegula will likely bestow a mulligan on his club. I'm sure he felt the Sabres justified his undying faith in them by refusing to quit after falling to 15th place in the Eastern Conference.

Pegula made excuses when things were at a low point in January, comparing his team to Humpty Dumpty. So what's the chance of the owner renouncing his affection for Regier and Ruff after that stirring month of March?

Only in Buffalo could a team go five years without winning a single playoff series and pass it off as progress.

Do you remember what Pegula said outside the visiting locker room in December, after the Sabres got smoked, 8-3, in Pittsburgh? "If they think they played well," he said, "we've got more problems."

Well, right back at you, Terry. If you think your team played well this season, and if you think one good month makes everything OK, then you have real problems.

Regier can't be trusted to lead Sabres to next level

This isn't about one month. It's about five years, an extended run of failure in the most critical moments. Actually, it's about 15 years -- the overly long and unfulfilled reign of Quinn's boys, Ruff and Regier.

Go ahead and blame injuries. It's always something. Every time Ruff opens his mouth nowadays, he makes some sort of excuse. It's like muttering about desperation and the system. He can't help himself at this point.

That'll happen when you have an ownership to back up the excuses. Pegula created a lot of justified hope when he took over the team. He was a fan. He was willing to spend the money. But by showing blind faith to the two guys in charge, Pegula has become the Great Enabler. In that sense, Pegula is no different from the owners who came before him. He came with deep pockets, but he has also deepened the organizational dysfunction.

As long as Regier and Ruff are in place, there won't be a fundamental change. My feelings on the GM are well-established. On the day Pegula arrived in town, I said he should get rid of Regier, or find someone to look over his shoulder.

Regier can't be trusted to lead them to the next level. His first move under Pegula was trading for Brad Boyes at the deadline. Boyes, a $4 million cap hit this year, was a scratch in the biggest games of the season. Regier badly overpaid for Ville Leino, who underachieved for much of the season.

I don't have space to analyze all of Regier's moves. He has made good ones, of course. Pegula opened his checkbook and led Regier by the hand to sign Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Darcy gets credit for drafting Marcus Foligno, the latest bright hope, in the fourth round. Nashville gifted him a first-round pick for Paul Gaustad and a sixth at the deadline.

But when a team goes five years without winning a playoff series, when it misses the postseason six times in 10 years, you evaluate the big picture, not 20 games.

Even if you swallow the notion that the Sabres are a young team on the rise, that doesn't justify maintaining the status quo. The core of this team is still fragile and flawed, unable to rise above the most difficult circumstances and win games that truly matter.

We'll never know if this year's team was more suited than its predecessors to winning in the playoffs, when it becomes a much more physical and mentally exhausting proposition. But I have my suspicions.

The loss in Philly on Thursday was telling. The Sabres hadn't blown a third-period lead in regulation all season. They did it in the biggest game of the year. Shades of the 2010 playoffs, when they blew two such leads after going 30-0 during the regular season. I imagine they would have found a way to lose in Boston if it mattered, too.

Don't tell me about injuries. The Flyers were without Daniel Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Chris Pronger. Buffalo lost out to a Capitals team that played more than half the season without Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

The Sabres need to put together a team that rises to the biggest challenges -- not a squad that meanders along for half a season, then stages a late, futile rally that its apologists try to pass off as character.

Pegula and Ted Black, the team president, need to fire Regier and bring in a GM who can evaluate the operation and tell them why the Sabres are such a wildly inconsistent, soft and emotionally fragile team.

The new man could decide on Ruff's fate, if Pegula would allow it. Ruff deserves a big share of blame for the team's failures. Why have his teams had such poor starts in games and seasons? Why didn't they respond better during the record 12-game road losing streak?

Ruff miscast Boyes and Leino as centers, while taking too long to recognize that Tyler Ennis could play in the middle. He has mishandled his goalies for years. He promised a regular rotation this season. But when the chips were down, he played Ryan Miller every game and buried Jhonas Enroth. Miller let him down at the end.

For the record, Enroth and Miller entered Saturday's finale at Boston with identical save percentages: .916. Miller's career percentage is .915, about average. Maybe a new GM would question the myth of Miller as an elite goalie and shop him around the league while his value is still high.

If fans want to believe the Sabres are on the rise, so be it. They're the ones buying tickets. But they should be wary of accepting a low standard and mistaking bursts of success for true progress.

The culture won't truly change until the Sabres bring in a leader who isn't interested in excuses, only solutions. It's long, long overdue.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com