Inside the Sabres: Canadian TV deal didn't work - The Buffalo News

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Inside the Sabres: Canadian TV deal didn't work

OTTAWA – After brokering a deal to put the Sabres on Canadian television, Ted Black called Steve Romanin. The then-Sabres president knew Romanin had been a season-ticket holder since Day One, and he wanted to personally deliver the news to the Ontario resident.

Like Black, Romanin was thrilled. He canceled his cable account and signed up for Bell Fibe, the television provider that had exclusive access to the Sabres. For three seasons, Romanin watched Buffalo’s games from his home near St. Catharines.

He settled in to watch the start of the fourth season last month. The guide still had the Sabres on Channel 1442, but when Romanin turned on the game all he saw was a message. It told him that in order to watch the Sabres, he had to subscribe to NHL Center Ice.

Three years after trumpeting their arrival in Canada, the Sabres quietly went back over the border.

“The agreement expired, and both sides chose not to renew it,” says Mark Preisler, executive vice president of media and content for Pegula Sports and Entertainment. “We’re fine with it, and I know Bell is fine with it.”

It turns out the deal wasn’t quite as “momentous” as Black hoped. Despite thousands of Sabres fans in Southern Ontario, not many cared about watching the team on television. There were a few, however.

“It’s certainly disappointing to see they discontinued it,” said Peter Repple of Niagara Falls, Ont., who recently switched to Bell. “Did they drop it because people weren’t watching? Well, people weren’t watching because the team was historically bad. How can you come to conclusions after the last three seasons?

“The team is supposed to get better, and if it seems if they’re going in the right direction more people might get interested.”

The Sabres had tried for years to get back on the air in Canada, and Black broke through the international barriers in 2013. The team worked out a three-year deal with Bell, and the provider gave its subscribers 50 games in 2013-14, 53 in 2014-15 and 68 games last season.

The deal came with a major drawback. Because the Sabres were on television in Ontario, the area became a home market. Blackout rules came into effect. Fans, bars and restaurants that didn’t have Bell could no longer watch Sabres games through the Center Ice package.

The blackout rules are gone. Sabres fans in Canada who want to watch the team can get all the games by purchasing Center Ice or the Game Center app. Some fans have suffered through blackouts when Buffalo played Canadian teams this season, but an NHL spokesman says that is a glitch in Bell’s system that is being investigated.

So, as strange as it seems, the Sabres’ departure from Canada means more people there can actually watch them.

Kane's legal counterpunches

Evander Kane has fought 21 times during his hockey career, according to HockeyFights.com, and the boxing-trained forward is aggressive when the gloves drop. When it comes to court battles, he’s a counterpuncher.

After Rachel Kuechle filed a lawsuit against Kane following their police-investigated encounter last December, the Sabres forward filed a counterclaim alleging the lawsuit was brought for the “sole purpose” of defaming him.

After Kane’s latest court appearance on Halloween, his lawyer was prepared to demand orders of protection against two women who accused Kane of grabbing them and pulling their hair.

Demanding an order of protection against allegedly abused women? It was yet another sign the 25-year-old Kane has a warped sense of reality.

If there’s another Kane incident in the future, would his legal moves discourage alleged victims from reporting a crime?

Checking the list

The Sabres have made a lot of hires and personnel moves, so it’s necessary to check the media guide to see how the hierarchy breaks down.

In the “executive team,” the list is of course headed by owners Terry and Kim Pegula. They are followed by Russ Brandon, president and alternate governor; Mike Gilbert, vice president of administration and general manager of HarborCenter; GM Tim Murray; and Assistant GM Mark Jakubowski.

The first person listed on the scouting staff is Rob Murphy, director of scouting. He’s followed by Greg Royce, director of amateur scouting; Jerry Forton, assistant director of scouting; Anders Forsberg, director of European scouting; and Kevin Devine, director of player personnel.

It's a sign

The Pittsburgh Penguins have long made themselves at home on the road, bringing signs, rugs and other logoed items into the visiting dressing room. Former Pens coach Dan Bylsma is starting that with the Sabres.

As Buffalo’s players exited the room Saturday in Ottawa, they walked past signs that read “Hard to play against” and “Expect to win,” with both emblazoned by the “Sharpen Your Swords” logo the team is using this year.

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