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Sully's Mailbag: Has Pegula lost touch with fans?

This week, it's my turn to ask a question or two. It occurred to me while working on our annual golf preview section -- which runs in the paper on April 19 -- that my series on taking up golf and trying to break 100 appeared in 2000.

That means my golfing career directly parallels the Bills' 17-year playoff drought, which began shortly after I finished the series in late August of that year. Might there be a connection? Oh, and when is the right time to switch to the senior tees? On to the Mailbag.

Herbert Mosher asks: We were thrilled when the Pegulas bought the Sabres and Bills. Now, have you noticed a lack of excitement with Terry and Kim now that the bloom is off the rose of big-league ownership?

Sully: I haven't been granted an audience lately. But a lot of Sabres fans are certainly wondering if the Pegulas have misplaced the passion that saw Terry weeping at the sight of the French Connection and promising that the team's only reason for existing was to win the Stanley Cup.

One long-time fan, Tim Hirschbeck, questioned ownership's commitment to the fans in a powerful post on SB Nation early this week. Hirschbeck said Pegula is sending out mixed signals and criticized the decision to hand out 10,000 pairs of "crappy" sunglasses on Fan Appreciation Night.

Hirschbeck is no raving troll. He's a guy whose love for Buffalo and its sports teams, and his appreciation for Pegula, came shining through in his piece. But he spoke for many fans who were disappointed by the lack of a year-ending awards ceremony in favor of a sponsored video presentation.

It's a continuing puzzlement how an owner who spends lavishly on his teams and passes himself off as a real Joe Fan can be so dismissive of his customers. As Hirschbeck wrote, "a first-class organization treats its fans with affection and respect, no matter where the team is in the standings."

Of course, this is the same owner who raised ticket prices on Fan Appreciation Night a few years back, then suffered the added embarrassment of having Ted Black pick a fight with The News the next day.

I hope the Pegulas read the SB Nation piece. They seem to understand they have a PR problem, having hired a media consultant to work with the Bills. He needs to remind them it's bad business for the fans to suspect that ownership is going through the motions.

@Jwingspread asks: If you're Tim Murray, how do you fix the Sabres?

Bob Refermat asks: What kind of help could the Sabres get in the Free Agent market this summer?

Sully: Since Murray's presser was the story of the week (and with Triple Crown season right around the corner) I'll make that an entry.

The first thing Murray needs to do, and he knows it, is to get Jack Eichel's signature on a long-term extension as soon as possible after July 1. Eichel will be a restricted free agent after next season. While RFAs rarely move, it's important to make Jack a franchise cornerstone for years to come.

As for the immediate product, he needs to improve the defense, which he allowed to deteriorate in recent years. Brendan Guhle, who had a solid year in juniors, finished the season in Rochester and could have been with the big club at age 19, almost surely will be in Buffalo. Murray is said to be the frontrunner to sign Viktor Antipin, 24, a top KHL defenseman.

That would be a start, but they also could use another top veteran D. It's not likely to come in free agency. Free agents come at a dear price, and the Sabres have overpaid for too many players as it is. There's little chance they could pay the Caps' Kevin Shattenkirk, the top defenseman on the market.

So a trade is the most likely vehicle, and we know Murray isn't shy about dealing. The best option is trading a forward for a top four defenseman. Evander Kane is a prime target. He's coming off a big year, but questions remain about his off-ice comportment and his commitment to winning.

Kane can be an unrestricted free agent after next season. It would look bad for Murray if Kane walked and he got nothing in return. Kane's value might never be higher, so the GM has to decide if this is the right time to move him.

mclennon99 asks: With the Bills holding private workouts for the top QBs in the draft, should we believe they may actually take a QB with the 10th overall pick? Teams don't buy into that "smokescreen" hogwash, do they?

Sully: As Vic Carucci wrote, NFL teams are famous for sending up smoke screens before the draft. It might well be that the Bills are holding these private workouts -- with Terry Pegula on hand -- to dupe opposing teams into trading up for the 10th pick to move up for a rising quarterback.

But their interest in a quarterback is genuine. They've made another half-baked commitment to Tyrod Taylor, so they're not convinced he's their franchise guy. In fact, with so many teams needing QBs, why wouldn't Taylor have tested the open market? Because no one else believes in him, either.

The Bills could be middling it, as usual -- holding on to Taylor for another year because he gives them the "best chance to win now" while angling for their QB of the future. It's a dangerous game. If they love a guy and he's there, they have to take him, even with the 10th overall pick.

Pegula might be looking at quarterbacks because he knows deep down that Tyrod isn't the answer. Maybe it's a smoke screen, but once the smoke clears, will they be better off at quarterback?

Paul Waas asks: If you could give one past great a "healthy" final year,  would you choose: Bill Walton, Bobby Orr, Bo Jackson or Sandy Koufax?

Sully: Great question. I always loved multiple choice back in school. It's a tough call. Those are four of the greatest athletes ever, all of whom suffered serious injuries that cut short their primes. But as an NBA guy, I have to go with Walton.

Of the four, Walton suffered his major injury the earliest. He broke his foot in his fourth NBA season, one year after leading Portland to the title, and was never the same. He missed three full seasons and retired at 34, one year after playing a full season as a reserve for the Celtics' championship team in 1986.

Bob Ryan, perhaps the most respected NBA writer ever, has called Walton the most complete center he ever saw. In his autobiography, "Scribe," Ryan said if he had to win one basketball game to save the planet, his first pick would be a 'healthy' Bill Walton.

Grayson Tumult asks: Which happens first: Doug Whaley gets fired or the Warriors win the NBA title again?

Sully: While it wouldn't surprise me if Whaley got the axe soon after the draft, I'm hearing it won't happen quite that soon. So I'll go with the Warriors' title. They won 13 in a row down the stretch without Kevin Durant. It's hard to see them losing with him.

Vic Carucci's Bills Mailbag: Cornerback tops needs list, receiver not far behind

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