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Sabres' brass comes across thin-skinned

Well, I was wrong. The Sabres didn't need Larry Quinn, after all. Ted Black, the current team president, relegated the "mulligan" quote to the dustbin and came up with a new, even more imaginative way to rationalize missing the playoffs.

"Sometimes," Black said Wednesday afternoon, "winning and success aren't necessarily the same thing."

As presidential quotes go, it's not exactly "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Nor does it rise to the level of Terry Pegula proclaiming, on the day he became owner, that the team's "reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup."

But Black's quote will have to do for now, since the Sabres decided not to conduct a season-ending press conference. Evidently, Pegula did not feel compelled to explain why he kept his general manager and coach for a 16th season. For now, at least, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff will be spared the indignity of having to speak for themselves.

Most NHL teams don't trot out the owner after the season. Then again, most teams don't have an owner like Pegula, an avid fan who is the unquestioned face of the franchise and has promised a passionate fan base that he'll do whatever it takes to win a Cup.

Fans deserve answers, especially from Ruff and Regier. What, did they need time to cool off and collect their thoughts after the heroic run? Ruff looks especially weak after tearing into his team before a meaningless finale in Boston. The players answered the tough questions Monday. How do you think they feel, knowing their coach and GM weren't required to do the same thing?

If they weren't terrified of actually speaking the truth, many of the players might ask if there's a double standard. Players can take the heat, but management can go off and hide.

On his first day as owner, Pegula sat in an editorial board meeting and said media criticism was hurting the Sabres. He cited Tim Connolly as an example. Pegula said his daughter, a pro tennis player, would quit if she got criticized the way the Sabres did by our newspaper.

Here's my question for Pegula: If public criticism hurts players, what did you think when two of your core guys, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek, suggested that Ruff was guilty of that very thing? Is it OK for the coach if he's one of your idols, but a problem when the criticism comes from the mean, nasty media?

I don't expect management to be happy when people are calling for changes. But by hiding, they seem as thin-skinned as the previous regime. Pegula has been treated like a conquering hero in this town. He can handle a few tough questions. No one will ask him about hydro-fracking or the Penn State scandal.

It's not enough to keep the status quo and send Black out as the mouthpiece. People deserve answers to fair questions. Ruff seems vulnerable right now. A couple of major players took shots, which leads you to believe there are others who are fed up with him. It happens. Ken Hitchcock has been fired three times since beating Ruff in the '99 finals.

Regier and Ruff won five playoff series in their first two seasons here. They have won five series in the 13 years since. Success and winning might not be the same thing, but not winning more often than that sure seems like failure.

They talk about making this Hockey Heaven. A big part of that is becoming a destination, creating a culture in which players can thrive. Most of the Sabres regressed this past season. Pegula, the Great Enabler, has no obligation to answer questions. But he should be asking them. Is Ruff still the right guy? Has he begun to lose his players?

Someone in charge should be smart enough to know that when players take the heat and management doesn't, you lose them even more.