Thursday, September 1, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Michael & the Buffalo Sabres

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 14 of 30: the Buffalo Sabres


Late in the season, billionare Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres. From the very first day, Pegula made it clear that he wanted his Sabres to be one thing: winners.

He was on the verge of breaking into tears the day he was introduced as the Sabres' new owner, speaking of his history of growing up a Buffalo fan. He said that as a younger man, he dreamed of owning the team. And he spoke of his dreams for success for the team.

“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup,” he stated during that press conference. "And yes, I have said 'Cups', so I guess I can't retract that statement. And we want to win the Cup for our fans. We will aim high; winning is not a goal, it is a belief. And I would like to ask all the fans, the media, to try to pull in our direction, so we can acccomplish that goal.
"Starting today, there will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department. There is no salary cap in the National Hockey League on scouting budgets and player development budgets. I plan on increasing... increasing our scouting budgets, both with bodies on the ground, and in areas we may not be hitting capably, and also enhancing our video department. Starting today, we will bring in more player development coaches, to help these guys become better hockey players, work on their weaknesses, or whatever the coaches think. We will aspire to be the best in the league at finding, developing, and keeping our players in their new Buffalo Sabre family."
Pegula also stated when he bought the team, "I will tell you - I'm a fan," and he also said, "If I want to make some money, I'll go drill a gas well.” He's a business - a billionaire - and there's no doubt he'll also look at make money - eventually - but when your owner is committed to winning, and has the money to back up his desire, good things can happen.

The Sabres have made it into the playoffs for three of the past five years, including facing off in the Eastern Conference finals in 2007. The past two years, they haven't made it past the first round, being knocked out by the Bruins in 2010, and losing to the Flyers this spring in a grueling 7-game series.

Lindy Ruff has been with the Sabres since 1997, giving him the longest tenure as a head coach within the NHL at 13 years and counting. During his time with the team, he has guided the team to a 526-390-78-72 (.564 win %), including 8 appearances in the playoffs, and went to the Final round in 1999. Ruff has consistently done wonders with a group of players and not a lot of spend over the salary floor; Pegula loosened the reins and bought the team a lot of talent this summer. Could 2012 be the year that Buffalo gives more of a challenge to the top of the Eastern Conference and goes deeper than the first round?

The Sabres' biggest star is in net: All-Star goalie Ryan Miller, who also won silver backstopping the U.S. team in Vancouver in 2010 - where he was also named MVP of the men's hockey tournament. Miller has played within the Sabres system his entire pro career. His NHL record is 221-126-41 with 22 shutouts and a career .915 sv% and 2.57 GAA average. He's been to the playoffs four times; been to multiple All-Star games; and won the Vezina Trophy in 2010. He is a goalie who can steal you games - repeatedly - but he can't do it all alone.

Buffalo not only loosened the purse strings, but they brought in a solid influx of fresh blood. In perhaps the biggest headline of their summer, they signed Christian Ehrhoff to a blockbuster contract fresh off Vancouver Canucks playoff run, after trading away one of their top two defensemen, Steve Montador. Ehrhoff has been a very good defenseman for the Canucks, and he's about to make things easier for Miller -- and tougher on the rest of the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres also signed Robyn Regehr, who's been with the Calgary Flames his whole career. He's a dependable veteran who'll fit into the Buffalo system well.

Ville Leino was a particularly interesting signing, not only for the size of his contract, but because he was the player who scored the winning OT goal while playing for the Flyers last spring to knock the Sabres out of the playoffs. Leino is only 27 but he already has a great deal of playoff experience, and he tends to show up big at that time of year.

Beyond that, Buffalo still doesn't have a lot of big names on the team; their best-known players are guys like Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Jason Paminville, Thomas Vanek. One of the team's best centers, Derek Roy, missed most of the second half of the season after suffering a torn quad tendon. He should be in good condition for this year.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from:  Christian Ehrhoff (VAN), Ales Kotalik (CGY), Ville Leino (PHL), Robyn Regehr (CGY)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with):  Chris Butler (CGY), Tim Connolly (TOR), Steve Montador (CHI)

With fresh talent and the owner committed to doing everything possible to help the team succeed, it should be a bright year ahead for the Sabres.

* * *

For the Sabres, we talked with Michael, who can be found on Twitter at @Ein_Bearhoff. He's been a Sabres fan for 22 years.

Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

When I was four, I met Christian Ruutuu, and started watching Sabres games with my Dad. September 25, 1990 I went to my first Sabres game (preseason vs. the Leafs) and I'm pretty sure we won 3-2. I started watching and listening to almost every game after that- compromising my bedtime between October and April many a time - going so far as to swipe my Mom's walkman so I could listen as I fell asleep.

I haven't missed watching a game in years, and try to go whenever financially possible. It's just hard not to love this team. Good or bad, we Buffalonians stick by our teams, and I'm proud to support the blue and gold.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Christian Ehrhoff

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? Who do you think will wear the "C" next?

For one, we actually have defense. It's been a number of years since I've been really comfortable with our defense - I feel with Ehrhoff and Regehr coming in, and the re-signings of Sekera and Gragnani, coupled with Myers and Leopold, Ryan Miller finally has a solid D in front of him.

I would like another center but feel Leino will work for the time being. I think the next Captain should be Paul Gaustad. While not the most prolific scorer, he's a tough player, and gives 110% on the ice. I feel as a Captain, that's what we need.

I feel that this team will make quite a run in the playoffs, but that the Cup is still a year or two away. I'm also really, really excited for the possibility of Zack Kassian coming up. He's impressed me in his junior career and I feel his grit and scoring prowess could greatly help us.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

4th in the Eastern Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

We had an amazing run at the end of the season, and I just hope that we can continue on that fevered pace and have a much better start than last year.

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