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Welcome to the sideshow that is the Sabres

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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 9:58 am

I don’t attend Sabres’ press conferences ... that’s TH contributing writer Bill Hoppe’s bailiwick.

But I sure wish I had been at the First Niagara Center on Monday when team president Ted Black and general manager Darcy Regier conducted their season-ending meeting with the media.

That, in itself, was news as the Sabres had no such interaction with the press last year after missing the playoffs ... as if nobody noticed.

And that might happen again next season — and the one following that — after what unfolded two days ago in the team’s own building.

All that was missing was a ringmaster from a session that became so contentious that it has already taken its place in Sabres’ lore.

CAPSULE version, Black took umbrage at questions about the absurd timing of the team announcing a 4 percent increase in season-ticket prices on Fan Appreciation day and the persistent unavailability of owner Terry Pegula  to the media.

Black lamely maintained the price increase was Collective Bargaining Agreement related and the Sabres needed to grow their income to qualify for revenue sharing. He also absurdly suggested that Pegula was, in fact, available to be interviewed.

The later response ignited a tense exchange.

When Black said, “Terry’s certainly available and speaks publicly,” a writer snapped, “When is Terry available? He wouldn’t answer questions that one time (Harbor Center groundbreaking). Come on, Ted, that’s ridiculous.”

Later a reporter accused Black of lying about Pegula’s availability, to which he replied, “That’s defamatory ... Terry’s available to speak and he does. He’s a very dynamic speaker.”

I’M NOT sure whether that final line drew a guffaw ... but it should have.

Terry Pegula is as nice and unpretentious a person as you’ll ever meet and his employees unfailingly call him “the best boss ever.”

What he isn’t, is an orator.

He labored through his introductory press conference, the most real moment coming when he spotted Sabres’ all-time great Gilbert Perreault in the crowd and actually teared up.

That moment said more about him as a person and owner than all the words he spoke.

Terry’s a geologist and petroleum engineer ... he’s neither comfortable nor well-schooled in conducting a press conference.

Indeed, at the Harbor Center groundbreaking, Pegula was roundly criticized for an “inside joke” during his speech that had seemingly innocent but obvious racial overtones.

That’s why many speculate his inner circle so carefully regulates his availability to the press and why, as that reporter suggested, Black’s contention about availability was “ridiculous.”

AND WHILE his group of advisers seems to be protecting Terry from himself, would that they had that same sense about themselves.

Isn’t there anybody close to him who has even a shred of sense about marketing and public relations?

What about that 4 percent season-ticket price increase couldn’t have waited a month to be announced?

No let’s announce it on Fan Appreciation Day when the faithful are still seething about a second straight playoff  miss and fourth in six years by a franchise whose goal, Pegula had assured, was “winning Stanley Cups.”

Nobody close to him could figure out that timing was preposterous?

OF COURSE, there was a winner at Monday’s press conference ... Regier.

Black announced that, despite his epic lack of success in recent years, the GM would return for a 17th season.

What, Pee-Wee Herman wasn’t available?

Regier’s message about the team becoming a Stanley Cup contender was, “It may require some suffering (by the fans). I would like to think that people will give up some suffering in order to win (one).

“I’m willing to do it.”

You should be Darcy, it’s your mess and upper management is apparently willing to let you try to clean it up ... and at your own glacial pace.

How’s that for cementing your job security?

Regier’s resume becomes more dubious as the playoff misses mount, but clearly he doesn’t lack for gall.

The guy who promised immediate improvement when Pegula bought the team, faced with a second straight post-season miss, suddenly decided the Sabres were rebuilding.

He cited the 2012 deadline trade of Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a first-round draft choice as the first step in his reconstructing the Sabres.

With a little revisionist history, he becomes the visionary who foresaw this team needed to take a step back before going two steps forward.

Best of all, Regier appears to have bought himself at least two more years with that “suffering” monologue.

“Of course we’re lousy ... we’re rebuilding.”

Small wonder Pegula’s phalanx of “yes men” think the Sabres’ GM is a genius.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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