Ted Black agrees it is a colossal disappointment that the Buffalo Sabres didn't make the playoffs. The team president, along with the rest of Sabreland, fully expected his team to be in the postseason. That said, Black still thinks the organization is moving forward under General Manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff.
It's why the NHL's longest-tenured duo will be back for a 16th season.
Ruff and Regier are safely entrenched in their positions, Black said Wednesday, despite missing the playoffs for the third time in five seasons and sixth in 10.
"They'll be back next season," Black said by phone. "I didn't see a need to do anything otherwise at this juncture. We spent the better part of this week planning next year."
The Sabres' failure to make the postseason after two straight first-round losses has been viewed by most, including goaltender Ryan Miller and captain Jason Pominville, as a step back by the organization. But Black has taken a wider view. He's been impressed by Regier's ability to lure players to Buffalo, with marquee free agents Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino signing deals and Robyn Regehr waiving his no-trade clause to come to town.
"I personally judge them more on the work that they've done since Terry [Pegula] bought the team [in February 2011]," Black said. "As for Darcy, I think you can guess we like the trades and the free agent signings. I think the things that he has done have been pretty solid.
"I think Ryan's view is you make the playoffs one year and you don't make the playoffs the next year, I can't put words in his mouth but if that is the litmus test then it is a step back. I look at it from more of a high-altitude perspective, and the franchise moving forward is attracting free agents, getting players to waive no-trade clauses, acquiring draft picks. I see those things as moving in the right direction.
"The fact that we didn't make the playoffs this year when we had high expectations, that is a colossal disappointment. Sometimes success and winning aren't necessarily the same thing. I think we're building a successful franchise that can win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, this year the results didn't show up along the final number of points."
Early indications suggest there will not be a season-ending news conference for Ruff and Regier. In addition to the meetings looking ahead to next season, the duo has gone about their daily routines by traveling to Rochester on Tuesday night to watch the Amerks play.
They had little reason to stay in Buffalo because the Sabres cleaned out their lockers Monday. On the way out, a few players hinted at cracks in the relationship with their longtime coach.
Center Derek Roy, who joined the organization nine years ago, criticized Ruff for using the media to blame his veterans for their failure to make the playoffs. Forward Thomas Vanek, the team's top offensive player who was benched for taking penalties, said Ruff still treats him like a 21-year-old rookie despite having played 547 career games.
"I don't find either of those two comments or criticisms to be unique to our coach or to our sport," Black said. "I bet if we Googled just about any head coach in any sport you'd fine somebody that says, 'I wish the coach hadn't called me out,' or, 'Jeez, I wish the coach had treated me differently.'
"I guess I don't view those two comments, unless there was something else that was said, as ringing an alarm bell. It's just probably more inherent of the relationship between player and coach that has taken place for decades across different sports."
Black doesn't foresee any relationship drama if all parties return next season.
"I didn't hear any player suggest that they can't work with the coach," Black said.
The Sabres had a going-away dinner Monday night. In speaking with the players, Black sensed two things. He realized they are disappointed, but he feels they are committed to bringing a championship to Buffalo.
"The few players that I've talked to, and it's not in a formal interview process, they universally said that they're disappointed that they didn't win for Terry," Black said. "I think there was a real sense of pride that they play for Terry. I don't want to make it all about him, but I think that's something I take away from this season is the positive that the players want to be in Buffalo. They want to be Buffalo Sabres, and they want to win for this owner."