Share this article

print logo

No news is good news with Pegula

Billionaire businessman Terry Pegula continues working quietly behind the scenes while making sure every detail is covered before he buys the Buffalo Sabres. Required background checks on him are a memory. An NHL source confirmed last week that Pegula has signed a letter of intent.

Don't worry, folks, things are moving along.

The timetable for him officially taking over isn't quite clear. The letter of intent is one step among many required in the legal process. Every indication is that he will follow through with his intention, sign a purchase agreement and eventually close on the $175 million deal with Tom Golisano.

"Things are proceeding," a league source said.

Business types are typically leery about discussing major transactions until they're completed because most have had major deals collapse. Pegula hasn't returned telephone calls left in his Florida office, but his silence is neither surprising nor alarming while he pores over the legal mumbo jumbo.

It could be another six weeks or longer before he officially becomes owner, but this is a fait accompli. Why such confidence without having actually spoken to Pegula, you ask? Common sense. Golisano's business practices in hockey are open to debate, but he's not going to throw a wrench into the process for this reason above all others:

He wants out.

Golisano never planned to own the Sabres for the long term. The opportunity before him now is too attractive to turn down. Pegula has a $3 billion fortune backing up his passion. Golisano stands to make an enormous profit, and he exits knowing he saved the organization and left it in good hands.

Pegula is buying the team because he loves the town, loves the team and wants to win for both. It's strange in these parts, but sources insist it's true. Fans should understand that him taking over one day doesn't mean the Sabres are going to overnight a top playmaking center and the necessary snarl the next.

He's more likely to spend months evaluating the organization -- you know, a real evaluation -- and getting the right people in place. Sources have said repeatedly that Pegula is an intelligent, humble man with great vision, so it's hard to fathom him showing up the first day with a pocket full of pink slips. That said, changes are coming.

A new owner usually means a new general manager, and the rumor mill has been churning about him replacing Darcy Regier and allowing the next GM to make a decision about Lindy Ruff.

It makes sense.

We'll see what happens when -- and the smart money is on "when" rather than "if" -- he takes over.

***

Devils falling apart

Devils boss Lou Lamoriello followed orders from ownership when he signed Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Hall of Fame general manager also made his share of mistakes en route to the current disaster. Lamoriello had only himself to blame after firing rookie coach John MacLean.

"The responsibility is right here with me," Lamoriello told reporters in Newark. "I put the coaching staff together. I put the players together."

Kovalchuk remains an easy target after signing a ridiculous $100 million contract as a free agent. The winger formerly known as one of the NHL's top snipers is on pace for 19 goals and 43 points, which would be his worst season by a mile. He was last through 33 games among 759 players with minus-25.

"I'm not the reason he was fired," Kovalchuk said.

The bigger problem is that Lamoriello has almost no flexibility on a roster loaded with long-term deals and/or no-trade clauses. Their defense has been atrocious around Martin Brodeur, whose terrible year has fueled trade rumors. They're old, slow, expensive and ineffective - a dreadful combo to be sure.

"[MacLean] is the guy taking the fall, but really it's on all of us," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "I don't think anyone in here should feel exempt from that."

New Jersey had $66 million payroll but remained under the $59.7 million salary cap because $6.7 million was attached to players on long-term injured reserve. It could get worse with star winger Zach Parise set to become a restricted free agent July 1.

***

Angry Leafs fans turn to Eggos

Leafs fans are inventing ways to keep busy when they're not A) bored to tears while watching them play or B) breaking down in tears from watching them play. Their latest practice, when they're not chanting for coach Ron Wilson to be fired, is tossing waffles like Frisbees onto the ice.

It started Dec. 9 in a loss to the Flyers when a fan leggo his Eggo in protest of the state of the team. Last week, a copycat wearing a Santa cap emptied a full box of waffles over the glass at the Air Canada Centre, stopping play and a rare Leafs' odd-man rush while trailing 5-1 against Atlanta.

"That's stupidity right there,' winger Kris Versteeg said. 'It's one thing if it's during a TV timeout, but it's not what you want to see during the play. It's a free commercial for Eggo, that's what it is."

Santa Waffle was escorted out of the ACC and indefinitely banished from all Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment venues. Word from Toronto was that Santa Waffle appealed the punishment and demanded he be banned for life.

***

Fehr offers stability

Donald Fehr was known as a bulldog while leading major league baseball's player union for 25 years, but his appointment to chief of the NHL players' association should be taken as good news for all concerned. He gives the union stability and sensibility, two requirements for working with the league.

The Fehr factors: Commissioner Gary Bettman now has a negotiating partner for the first time in 15 months, and players have a strong leader who understands professional sports. The combination usually leads to better health, which is good for fans who are worried about labor strife when the CBA expires Sept. 15, 2012.

Fehr was ripped royally for leading baseball players into a strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, but that wasn't entirely fair. He stood his ground against owners who attempted to work over the players. Baseball eventually recovered and since has had labor peace.

"We treat a work stoppage or a strike as a last resort," Fehr said during a conference call. "It's something that you consider only when all other avenues have failed. We certainly hope that the owners will treat it as a last resort on the other side, too. So if you were to ask me if I anticipate a stoppage, the answer is no."

***

Quotable

Toronto goalie James Reimer after coming off the bench against Atlanta and making his NHL debut: "My first thought was 'holy cow, you're in the NHL.' My second thought was 'don't think, just stop the first puck.' Your life flashes, from where you were to where you are now. There was me and my brother playing mini-stick kitchen hockey or my buddies and I playing downstairs or in my dad's shop."

***

Around the boards

*Sidney Crosby sent Capitals winger Andrew Gordon a congratulatory text after Gordon scored his first NHL goal. They played together in Nova Scotia, when Sid really was a kid. "He's good like that," Gordon told reporters in Washington. "As big as he is, he's still got that small-town kid in him. I hate to break all your hearts, but he's a good guy."

*Tim Kennedy remains in AHL Hartford, but I still say the Sabres blew it when they bought out his $1 million arbitration award and sent him packing. It's costing them more money than if they accepted the award, and they have less depth. Nathan Gerbe and Rob Niedermayer have one goal and 13 points in 48 games combined. It sent a bad message, was a poor hockey decision and made no financial sense.

*Bruins coach Claude Julien could be on deck for the chopping block if the Bruins inconsistency continues. They have underachieved given the talent, leadership, toughness and goaltending. GM Peter Chiarelli is willing to give Julien more time to figure out why the Bruins have lacked energy. Stale message, perhaps?

*Martin St. Louis looks like he's getting better with age. He skated into the weekend third in scoring with 14 goals and 43 points. "The guy is a machine," Bolts coach Guy Boucher said. "Thirty-five years old, he looks like he's 23. You ask anybody on the team who's the hardest-working guy, who's the guy who trains the most? They all say Marty St. Louis."

*Defenseman Ryan Whitney leads the struggling Oilers with 26 points and only two defensemen among the top 30 in scoring, Pittsburgh's Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, have better plus-minus ratings. Whitney is worthy of all-star consideration, but he hasn't cracked the top 50 in the voting.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com