Buffalo Sabres fans — pretty much any professional sports fans — want desperately to trust their team's front office. Those suits have a lot of say in whether a team wins or loses during the season, postseason and offseason. And just like coaches, they rarely get praise when things go well — usually the players steal the limelight then. But when things go south, poor draft choices, poor trades or poor contract negotiations are to blame.
Most franchises have their share of good and bad. I'm bias, but the Sabres franchise has joined the dark side on more than one occasion in recent memory. Former owner John Rigas is now in jail. The team almost left Buffalo and went through bankruptcy under the watch of Gary Bettman. Buffalo businessman Mark Hamister was supposed to save the franchise, only to back out at the last minute.
Like an angel from heaven, Tom Golisano flew in, bought the franchise and kept the Sabres from fleeing to southern Ontario, Las Vegas... wherever. He also brought in Larry Quinn as managing partner. Quinn, who was president and CEO of the Sabres prior to the Rigas era, "oversaw" the Ted Nolan/John Muckler debacle and was fired when Rigas assumed control. (Not up on Quinn's antics? Business First ran a great feature on him in 2004.)
We didn't know much about Golisano in spring 2003. Now, we know he's a good businessman (Forbes estimates the franchise worth at $162 million, while Golisano reportedly bought the franchise for $92 million). But questions about his hockey decisions came to the forefront once Daniel Briere and Chris Drury skipped town last summer, and Brian Campbell was traded this spring.
When the team went to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007, Golisano was everywhere, always on the jumbotron at Sabres games. This year?
"I’m still wondering who appeared at more Sabres games this season, Drury and Briere or owner Tom Golisano. The guy was absent most of the year before showing up for the team photo Monday (at the end of the season). Apparently, he had other commitments."-columnist Bucky Gleason, The Buffalo News, 4/8/08
And Tuesday, The Toronto Star ran this story:
"Billionaire Jim Balsillie contacted the owner of the Buffalo Sabres about buying the team earlier this season, a sign the Research in Motion co-founder is still seeking an NHL franchise after two previous high-profile flameouts.
Balsillie phoned Sabres owner Tom Golisano around Christmas, according to a source familiar with the matter. Golisano indicated he would be open to selling the club – but not if Balsillie intended to relocate it."
Oh, are you comforted by the fact that he wouldn't sell unless on his own terms? Because yes, there's all these local Western New York buyers waiting around.
True, the validity of this report is suspect. But Golisano's grace period was officially over July 1. Same with Quinn's.
Sabres fans have always had the right to distrust the front office. It's just a shame that trust was broken again so quickly.
GOOD NEWS: It does exist! In the past two days, Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has signed prospects Nathan Gerbe (Boston College) and Feliz Schutz (German Elite League). I know nothing about Schutz. But I personally witnessed Gerbe's greatness at the Frozen Four in Denver this year, and boy, excited is an understatement. Kevin Sylvester has a terrific interview with Gerbe on Sabres.com.
Tim Kennedy (Michigan State) is next on Regier's list. Kennedy, who just finished his junior year, could elect to become a free agent after next season if he cannot agree to terms with the Sabres.