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Mike Harrington: Pegula is right when he says Sabres need to fix character flaws

Terry Pegula talked a lot about character during those dozen or so minutes he took questions Friday morning. Not a bad topic to touch upon. His organization needs a lot more of it. Fast.

We've seen a lot here in the last 12 months, outside of whatever shenanigans Evander Kane got himself caught up in.

Players spent several months talking down and ignoring a Stanley Cup-winning coach to the point where his existence in the organization was untenable. Then the general manager dissed the coach in his end-of-season news conference last week. On Friday, the owner clearly took swipes at his ousted GM and one of the marquee players in franchise history, a man named to the NHL100 earlier this season whose jersey still hangs in the KeyBank Center rafters.

All this coming from an organization that spent two years selling losing as winning. Yep, an infusion of character might be a good idea.

It was good to hear Pegula talk about his team for the first time in 3 1/2 years. All kidding aside. His opening statement had some of the necessary reverence and accountability you hoped to hear.

It was baby steps. The whole give and take was only 15 minutes, which left lots of questions unanswered. But to say it wasn't informative would be wrong. And it was about the best look we've seen from the owner since the day he cried at the sight of Gilbert Perreault. Still, it wouldn't have killed him to give reporters -- and the fans -- a half-hour of his precious time. After all this time.

There were plenty of buzzwords we learned. In addition to character, we now have discipline, structure and communication. Pegula said them so much he must have fallen asleep while practicing them Thursday night.

No truth to the rumor Sean McDermott was going to burst through the backdrop, Superman-style, and join Pegula at the dais. Or that those giant sponsored banners in the arena pavilion will have the words on them come fall. (At least, we think that won't happen).

Of the story which claimed Jack Eichel said Bylsma had to be gone before he pondered a contract extension, Pegula called it a "complete fabrication." Perhaps he should have a meeting with his broadcast rightsholder that put the story out. By the way, that's offensive to call a reporter's story a fabrication. That implies intent. Maybe sometimes people get things wrong. Or just maybe they get them right and you don't like what they say.

But to accuse a reporter of fabricating a story? Not a lot of character shown there.

As for Murray, both Terry and Kim Pegula clearly think he lacked in that department as well. Murray had a well-known ribald personality in NHL circles. The owners clearly had tired of him. But Pegula obviously was a flawed judge of character when he extended Murray last October.

"What happened a year ago is not important," he said. "We're looking forward. I don't want to discuss that."

It's hard to say if Murray wouldn't fire Bylsma when ordered to or simply didn't give the Pegulas enough good answers. But Terry Pegula doesn't care about contracts. He'll just write checks. Guarantee you no other NHL franchise would can a coach and a GM with three years left on contracts.

The Pegulas don't care about contracts when they can pay you off to leave and be quiet. Black Thursday easily cost them around $15 million. As simple as a steak dinner to you and me. There was talk Friday of more firings going on among the team's hockey staff in ancilliary areas too.

Then there's Pegula's bizarre comparison to the Sabres not getting the same rope given the Cleveland Browns for going through a rebuild (the Cleveland Browns?). Pegula wouldn't say if he authorized tanking or agreed with it. We know Pat LaFontaine was not on board with tanking and, lo and behold, he was quickly gone in the spring of 2014, with Pegula expressing regret Friday he wasn't part of the process when LaFontaine hired Murray.

Pretty much tells the tale. Shady doings indeed.

My disdain for The Tank is well known but the fact of the matter is it could have worked here. You might even say it should have worked. But Murray simply blew it with bad moves and bad contracts.

If the Sabres win now, it won't remotely be because they tanked. It will be because Pegula & Co. somehow found a way to hire experienced executives to fill out the roster, make deals and draft better. Murray's 2016 draft looks like it has some solid potential. But for all the correct bagging on Darcy Regier's poor drafts, it doesn't get enough play how bad Murray looks in 2014.

After a 52-point season, the only player the Sabres got in Murray's first draft who has played in the NHL is Sam Reinhart. Brendan Lemieux was traded to winnipeg in the Kane deal and still hasn't made the Jets yet. As for the rest, only Eric Cornel has even advanced to be a regular in Rochester. Vaclav Karabacek, Jonas Johansson, Brycen Martin, Max Willman, Christopher Brown and Victor Olofsson remain unknowns, and none of them are regarded as more than fringe players if they ever make the NHL.

One thing easily overlooked: The Sabres are blowing the entry-level contract years of Eichel and Reinhart with their dysfunction while Toronto is winning on the cheap while Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are on ELCs. Same with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton.

So the Pegulas aren't even getting the best bang for their tank bucks. And will we ever forget Murray's need to give Matt Moulson, of all people, five years and $25 million -- when Larry Quinn and Tom Golisano wouldn't give those exact terms to Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in 2007?

Whomever is brought in will preach patience now. Imagine that. After all this time. Patience! At least it's not suffering. Pegula seemed to have the answer for what the Sabres need. Would love to see his PR handbook for this one.

"You've got to have character throughout the organization on the ice," he said. "And they have to be in a disciplined, structured environment where everybody knows what everybody is doing and everybody is talking. And that's how you win."

If you say so, Terry. Get better people in your house and prove it. And hopefully we won't have to wait until 2020 to hear from you again.

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