When Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres
last February, he promised to bring a Stanley Cup to the team he long rooted for.
At this point, it looks like that championship decree won't be coming in the 2011-12 season.
The Sabres enter Friday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs
with two wins in their last 10 games and 11th in Eastern Conference, five points behind eighth-place Washington.
However, Pegula has not given up hope, and believes injuries are the main reason for his team's poor record.
"I have to believe we're a better hockey team than we were last year," Pegula told the Buffalo News in an interview Thursday. "We just didn't have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody's place in the organization. How do you evaluate what's going on?"
"I have to believe we're a better hockey team than we were last year. We just didn't have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody's place in the organization. How do you evaluate what's going on?"
-- Terry Pegula
Expectations were raised sky-high entering the season, as the Sabres spent big in the offseason, signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
to a 10-year, $40 million deal, and forward Ville Leino
to a six-year, $27 million contract to be the team's first-line center. They also convinced defenseman Robyn Regehr
to waive his no-trade clause for a trade from the Calgary Flames
Combined with a holdover core group that went 16-4-4 in its last 24 games to make the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, some experts made the Sabres preseason conference favorites.
That hasn't happened, as poor play and an avalanche of injuries have conspired to push the Sabres down the standings. They've lost 188 man-games to injuries -- a number 90 higher than at this point last season -- and only Jason Pominville
, Thomas Vanek
and Luke Adam
have skated in all 42 games.
"What everybody is missing is that I've been carrying around 167 man games," Pegula said. "Forget about the season. I'm talking about the last 25 games. We've had 18 players go down. It's like a merry-go-round every night. You look on the ice and what are your defensive pairs tonight? Hell, who knows? Who's healthy?
"I think what's important is the number of guys. You can have 167 man games with four, five, six guys out for a long period. Eighteen? Cut me a break. I told (GM) Darcy Regier
one time, 'If I was you, I would be afraid to get on the plane.'"
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They currently have three players on injured reserve and another two -- top-six forward Derek Roy
and Ehrhoff -- who are hurting and questionable for Friday's game.
Numerous other key players have missed big chunks of time with injuries. Tyler Ennis
, currently on the injured list, has missed 27 games with an ankle injury; Brad Boyes
missed a month with a lower-body injury; Leino is two games back after missing 10 with a broken foot; Nathan Gerbe
missed almost a month with a concussion; Jochen Hecht
has been limited to just 16 games due to a concussion and a lower-body injury; top defenseman Tyler Myers
missed five weeks with a broken wrist; and goalie Ryan Miller
sat out three weeks with a concussion and whiplash.
When healthy, however, many of those players just aren't producing. Miller is 37th in the League with a career-worst 3.01 goals-against average and 35th with a career-low .902 save percentage; Leino has bounced from center to the wing and has been a healthy scratch, while producing just 3 goals and 10 points in 31 games; Roy, a four-time 20-goal scorer, has just 8 goals in 40 games; Boyes, a former 40-goal scorer, has just 3 goals in 29 games; and Drew Stafford
, who had a career-best 31 goals last season, has 7 in 41 games this season, and just 2 goals in his last 15 games.
"I hope you don't think Drew Stafford
is happy with his goal production, or Derek Roy
, or Ville Leino
," Pegula said. "They're pressing. They've played pretty well lately. If we get some consistency in the lineup for a period of time, I got to believe it will fall back together again."
Pegula said he refuses to blame coach Lindy Ruff
or Regier for the team's struggles.
"There's nobody in that locker room happy with the record right now and with the way the team is playing," he said. "They (Ruff and Regier) want to make it better, but it's hard to evaluate something that has been torn apart the way this thing has."
Rather, Pegula said he just wants to see what his team could do if all the parts got healthy.
"My attitude now is, let's put Humpty (Dumpty) back together again," he said. "I want our players to know that I thought we had a pretty good hockey team until all this happened. Let's paste it back together and start a new season."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK