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Sabres' rebuild continues without Regier

by Mike G. Morreale

Darcy Regier always was one to look at the glass half full as the longtime general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.

He maintained a positive mindset, always was cordial with the media and was steadfast in his belief that building from the ground up was the proper approach. He stood by that philosophy after his team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs four times in the previous six seasons, including two straight, and was engaged in a full-scale rebuilding effort.

Regier, who turns 56 on Nov. 27, won't be around to see the final product.

The Sabres are off to the worst start in franchise history at 4-15-1 and sit 30th in the League standings. A shootout victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday was the only way to keep from tying the worst home start in NHL history; the team is 1-8-1 at First Niagara Center.

That win wasn't enough, however, and Wednesday saw Regier and coach Ron Rolston fired. Pat LaFontaine was named president of hockey operations and Ted Nolan was hired as interim coach. LaFontaine's No. 16 was retired by the Sabres after he played for the team from 1991-97. Nolan previously coached the Sabres for two seasons (1995-97).

Regier's reign as the longest-tenured GM in the 43-year history of the franchise came to an end in his 17th season. Making that move wasn't an easy one for Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

"Darcy was a dedicated Sabre employee," Pegula said during a press conference Wednesday. "I have a lot of respect for Darcy Regier. I even have more respect for him after I talked to him [Tuesday] night."

Pegula did not provide an exact reason why Regier was fired, but did say it was time.

When Pegula took over ownership of the franchise in February 2011, he wanted Regier to spend money in an attempt to lure some of the big fish in the free-agent market. In July of that year the Sabres signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and forward Ville Leino for six years and $27 million.

But the team has struggled since then while Regier has made trades to fill the cupboard with top prospects and draft picks.

Regier had sold Pegula on a plan to build through the draft. Trades the previous two seasons had netted the Sabres two picks in the top 14 at the 2012 NHL Draft and two in the top 16 at the 2013 draft.

Last season Regier traded forward Jason Pominville and defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold, which combined to bring back to the Sabres top prospects Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett, and four picks in the 2013 draft -- a first-round pick, three second-round choices and a conditional fourth-round pick. All told the Sabres had a franchise-record 11 picks in June. The team selected defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at No. 8, the highest the franchise has chosen since taking Thomas Vanek with the fifth pick in 2003.

"The nature of this game is it's a short-term business but a long-term process," Regier told the Buffalo News last month. "The talent will only grow at the rate it will grow, and it takes time."

There's no question Regier was a staunch advocate of building through the draft. In 2012-13 six of the team's top 10 scorers were drafted by the Sabres and spent time with the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

This season the Sabres have four teenagers in the lineup, leaving little doubt players taken in the 2012 and 2013 drafts will help aid the organization for the foreseeable future. Regier played a big part in that, as there is an impressive foundation of young talent within the pipeline. In addition to Ristolainen, the Sabres drafted defenseman Nikita Zadorov (2013, No. 16). The 2012 draft saw the Sabres select forwards Mikhail Grigorenko (No. 12) and Zemgus Girgensons (No. 14).

The 2013 draft also produced power forward Justin Bailey (No. 52), who was coached by LaFontaine on the Long Island Royals Midget Under-16 National team in 2011-12. Under LaFontaine, the team captured the Under-16 Tier I national championship.

Defenseman Mark Pysyk (2010, No. 23) is among the Sabres' top-four defensemen, while 6-foot-3, 187-pound Finnish forward Joel Armia (2011, No. 16) appears to have a prominent future.

"The preference is to build for a Stanley Cup rather than a playoff spot," Regier said over the summer. "It's no fun being where we are. There's no enjoyment, but there is an opportunity."

On Oct. 29 he made his last significant transaction when he dealt Vanek, due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, to the New York Islanders for forward Matt Moulson (another impending unrestricted free agent), a 2014 first-round pick and 2015 second-round pick.

The speculation about Regier's job security began to surface when former coach Lindy Ruff was fired 17 games into the shortened 2012-13 season, ending a run of 15 seasons behind the bench. It was a tough decision for Regier, but he realized something had to be done in order to provide some sense of hope for fans seeking answers. To replace Ruff he promoted Rolston, who had been coaching in Rochester.

Under Regier's regime the Sabres posted a regular-season record of 590-458-168 while advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999. They also went to the Eastern Conference Final four times: 1998, 1999, 2006 and 2007.

Prior to joining the Sabres, Regier served in various roles with the New York Islanders, including assistant coach and assistant general manager. Legendary Islanders coach Al Arbour and GM Bill Torrey were significant contributors to Regier's career in hockey.

Born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Regier was the fifth choice (No. 77) of the California Golden Seals in the 1976 draft. He appeared in 26 NHL games in three seasons with the Cleveland Barons and the New York Islanders, totaling two assists and 35 penalty minutes. He played parts of eight seasons of professional hockey and was a member of three championship teams. In 1982 he was named a First Team All-Star with Indianapolis of the International Hockey League, where he learned from current Detroit Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano, who then was the team's GM.


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