Terry and Kim Pegula have begun the Sabres’ hiring process. They’re also exploring whether to keep their minor-league hockey team in Rochester, debating who the Bills should draft and developing more buildings in Buffalo.
“It’s a long, busy week with a lot going on,” Kim Pegula said.
The Buffalo sports magnates added to their empire Wednesday. They announced Labatt USA will put a restaurant and brewery in a Pegula-owned building across from KeyBank Center. Along with the NFL Draft on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it’s a hectic time.
Kim Pegula said they’ve still found time to start looking for replacements for the deposed Sabres duo of General Manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma.
“We’re keeping it under wraps, but definitely put a lot of work this week in, and next week,” Kim Pegula said outside the Sabres’ arena.
There is no timeline for the hirings, which will likely start with a general manager or president of hockey operations before moving to coach. The Sabres have interviewed Pittsburgh Assistant GM Bill Guerin, according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun. Guerin serves as a liaison between Penguins players and management.
Russ Brandon, the president and managing partner of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, said the Rochester decision will come after a GM is in place. The Amerks do not have an agreement with the city to play in Blue Cross Arena next season.
“We’re going to continue to work with the officials in Rochester,” Brandon said. “Obviously, it’s a very important regional element for us. We’ll continue to discuss that when there’s another general manager in place and head coach in place.
“It’s a very important affiliation to the Buffalo Sabres.”
The Sabres and Rochester have a long history, partnering from 1979 to 2008 and 2011 to the present. When Brandon was a student at St. John Fisher College during the late 1980s, he was a regular at Amerks games. He wants to improve the experience for today’s Rochester patrons.
The Sabres have said for years that Blue Cross Arena needs upgrades. The team wants substantial say in the repairs while using money from the city and New York State.
“What we really we want to have,” Brandon said, “is a public-private partnership with the mayor – they’ve been very responsive – with the state, and look at the arena holistically and see what makes sense for us as a business and then from a hockey team standpoint.
“From a business standpoint, we just want to continue to enhance the experience for our fans. As someone who went to college there and went to loads of Amerks games, it’s a very important part of that community. We just want to continue to enhance.”
The state last year awarded $10 million for arena improvements. According to studies reviewed by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the arena could use rinkside club seating (there presently are movable chairs and high-top tables on a platform) and improvements to concession areas, suites, bathrooms and the entrance.
The locker rooms are also subpar, though Rochester has a top-notch workout area for its players. An advertising marquee has been added near the building entrance.
The Sabres say they want to keep the Amerks in Rochester, but other options are available for the American Hockey League team. Albany is losing its team, and Buffalo is even an option. The San Jose Sharks share their city with their minor-league club. The Sabres fired a warning shot last year by moving an NHL preseason game from Rochester to Penn State University.
Rochester has a hockey history dating to 1956, and its proximity to Buffalo makes it one of the most convenient affiliations in the minor leagues.
“I love the fact that Buffalo is an hour and 10 minutes away because of the ability to call up guys or send guys down,” Amerks coach Dan Lambert said. “There was a few times where it’s 1 o’clock and I get a call, ‘Oh, by the way, we need so-and-so.’ If you’re in Florida and we’re here, that’s not happening.
“There’s tons of reasons why this is a great relationship. It’s a great city and great fans here. Even in a losing season, the fans were still there.”
Rochester ranked in 17th in the 30-team league in attendance, averaging 5,328 fans for its 38 home games. The Amerks went 32-41-3 while missing the playoffs for the third straight season. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2005.
“The fans are passionate,” said Sabres and Amerks forward Justin Bailey, who has played two seasons in Rochester. “I just want to thank them for sticking with us and sticking with the process the last two years, not making the playoffs and still supporting us throughout the community and being at the rink every weekend.”