Q: Larry, I’ve been somewhat confused all year what the goal is as you move forward. Is it to make the playoffs, is it to win the Stanley Cup, is it to make money? What is the direction of the franchise?
When Tom [Golisano] bought the team I think the first goal was to stabilize the franchise that came within, I think, weeks of leaving Buffalo. I think you all recognize that so what we are trying to do is first make a franchise that can pay its bills and fulfill the needs of the hockey department and stay in Buffalo.
That is the overriding thing.
I think our goal, Darcy asked me this last week, and I said our goal is to win a Stanley Cup. We can’t, well suggest that we even do it that way, but we are probably not going to be able to do it by going out and buying the most expensive free agents and we’re probably not going to be able to do it all the time by going to the cap.
Although I want to tell everybody here that the last three years, well the last two years anyway, last year we were just at the cap and this year I think we were $4 million under it. The cap is a number that is supposed to be $8 million above where you should be to be economically sound.
The whole basis of the collective bargaining agreement is to spend about 56 percent of your revenues on hockey players and we’ve spent about 65, almost 70 percent of our revenues on hockey players in the last two years. We’ve been able to keep ourselves in the black because quite frankly we operate very efficiently here.
We’ve got tremendous support from our fans, but to set the record straight, the viability of the franchise has to come from the revenues being more than the expenses.
With the possible exception of a Tom Golisano or somebody else wanting to write checks to something because it’s a hobby, which Tom could do it and I don’t think there’s any question that he can do it, and he has done it. He has invested $20 million in losing seasons here before the collective bargaining agreement. But in the long term, the franchise has to stand on its own two feet and that’s the best way for all of us to ensure that this continues here forever.Q: How do you get that 70 percent, as you say, closer to 56 percent?Larry Quinn:
We never will here. Q: Well closer to 65 percent?Larry Quinn:
I think a lot of it depends; it’s a balancing act. What we’ve tried to do here is make hockey affordable for families in Buffalo. We recognize that 90 percent of people that come to our games work for a paycheck and use that paycheck to buy a ticket.
There are no corporations giving tickets out here, there are no special promotions that make it possible. I think that model has been very successful because if you look at the age of our audiences, it’s filled with young children, it’s filled with families and that’s the future of our sport.
I would suggest that a lot of teams that have high ticket prices and have an older corporate audience, that isn’t the future of the sport quite frankly. It’s that balance, you’ve got to make it affordable for people here, it’s got to be a democratic audience. It cannot be an elite audience and at the same time, these two guys [Regier and Ruff] I think are as efficient as they are in the NHL and yeah this year we didn’t make the playoffs.
Yes, Drury and Briere didn’t stay here. I understand all that, I think that’s been made perfectly clear. But when all is said and done, I absolutely believe that we can win here. I think these two are the best in the business and we’ve got a great young team. Yeah the downside is that they are young, and the upside is that they are young. We are going to sit down and figure out a way to make this grow and improve it. Q: One of the criticisms that has been leveled at management is a lack of anticipation of where the market was headed. Is that a fair criticism and moving forward, how important is it to target young talent and get it locked down under long term?Darcy Regier:
Well I think it is important, I think that everyone recognizes what you are talking about whether it’s from our side, from the agent’s side or from the players’ side. It’s a recognition and one of the things we have done is taken time to assess the talent, to recognize it, to lock it up.
We have locked it up whether it’s Derek Roy
, Thomas Vanek
and before that Toni Lydman, [Henrik] Tallinder, Jochen Hecht
. We’ll continue to do that but it may not be driven by the July 1 marketplace. That is a very excessive marketplace. People know, agents know where that market is going to go July 1, which often prevents players from being locked up prior to that date.
It’s played with from both sides, but in the final analysis we look at players and say this is someone we want for the long term. Sometimes you are going to be successful and sometimes you’re not going to be successful. That’s how we will continue evaluating.
|Lindy Ruff (photo: Getty Images) |
And to your question about the market, again when we bought this team I think oil prices, and I could be wrong, was probably $30 a barrel. It is now $100.
And you are going to say ‘why is that relevant?’ Well the Canadien dollar has exploded. I think more than half of the growth in the cap this year, which was excessive, was I think an anomaly.
This on-par dollar, if this dollar drops to 85 cents, which a lot of people say it is likely to do, the cap actually might drop. It’s a very fluid situation, it’s tough to do. I don’t think either one of us would ever have thought we would be looking at a $56 million cap three years into this process. If somebody could have predicted that, then they are obviously much smarter than we are.
We’re dealing with that, we are trying to make judgments about it. Thank God we have a great development program with a great scouting staff and people that can develop players through our system. A team that doesn’t develop players through their system is really going to be at the mercy at this thing and I think Darcy has done a wonderful job making sure that we are not one of those teams.Q: Along those same lines of identifying talent and making the decision to lock them up maybe ahead of time, Larry said over the weekend the importance of identifying both Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller. To sort of address that situation early on, I know they both have one year left on their contract, Darcy how important is that to get that going this summer and how committed is this team to getting both those very important players?
Well it’s very important. We’ll do everything we can to, as Larry mentioned to lock them up. That process doesn’t start until, the earliest point is July 1, and we’re hopeful that we can get it moving as soon as possible. We’re not locked on, we’re not going to look at it as though if it’s not done by July 2, that we are losing players or anything in that line. It’s something we will work on.Q: But you don’t want to get into the season, I think everybody realizes it’s dangerous. You would like to have it done before the season starts, just to be clear?Darcy Regier:
You would like to but there are plenty of players that are signed during the season as well, including top goaltenders as recently as last fall.Larry Quinn:
And I think we are going to keep this process between us and the players. As we go forward, you are not going to hear us talking about it. Q: Lindy, Ryan [Miller] said the other day he basically wasn’t good enough this season and he lacked focus. How would you assess his season?
His season was a little bit of a roller-coaster ride and Ryan, he dealt with some personal adversity early in the season. I think that hurt him. There was a good period of time where I felt he got his game locked down, but it wasn’t as consistent as the year before. There were games that looked like he was getting closer to the form.
We kept thinking, ‘let’s play him again’ and try to get him locked in. There were times when we really didn’t protect his backside in games too. We work hard at trying to prove ourselves defensively in some key situations. I think it’s a time of year where players are going to be hard on themselves when we knew we weren’t good enough at the end.
There are areas that every player in that dressing room can improve in and get better. We are a very young team and Ryan is a very young goaltender still, that has had some good success and has dealt with some adversity now.Q: Would you want him to play 70-plus games again?Lindy Ruff:
I’ve already said that ideally, no, not the number of games he played. It was a very trying season for him in a case where you don’t know what you are going to get out of your goaltender until you go there.
Can you look back on it and say ‘boy, I wish he didn’t play that number of games?’ Hindsight is always a tough place to go. I think where he lost a little bit was some quality practice time in a real tough schedule when you go to February and March, where he couldn’t take like three days to just work on basic stuff that has nothing to do with shots, but with positioning and tracking and all the little drills that you would do, you get right back to the background at playing goal.
For him it was try to get him some rest, then play him, then try to get him some rest. I actually encouraged him at times not to go on, where he liked to take shots.