The Buffalo Sabres have been leading the Northeast Division all season primarily because of the play of goalie Ryan Miller
, Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman today on "The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"I think we've been good from the goaltender on out," Regier said. "It really starts with Ryan Miller
. He's been outstanding this season and it's not just the saves he makes, it's the confidence everyone else gets from him making those saves. ... He's led the way in that regard.
"We're also getting very good contributions, not just from the veterans, but from young players on the blue line, like Chris Butler and equally important, Tyler Myers
, whom we drafted a couple of years ago. ... He's 6-foot-8 and 222 pounds, still a skinny young man with a great sense for the game ... and someone who will get a lot of notoriety over the course of his career.
"And we are getting great contributions from our forwards."
Bettman told Regier he believed Miller has a good chance of being the goalie for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February and asked him if he worries about injury or a variety of other issues affecting Miller down the stretch. Regier said he worries "about all of those things.
"But I might argue we are getting some of the benefit of him looking forward to the Olympics. With the maturation process that goes with players, I think he's just entering his prime, which is older for goaltenders. At training camp, he was more locked in than I've ever seen him. I think part of that is him looking forward.
"Also, we missed the playoffs the past couple of years by only a couple of points each year. We had success early in his career and I think we are reaping the rewards of that growth right now."
Bettman noted the NHL had to step in and take control of the Sabres a few years ago when the previous owner went bankrupt in his outside business and it spilled over into his hockey holdings. The NHL found a new buyer in upstate New York businessman Tom Golisano.
The NHL stepped into another team's bankruptcy this summer and now controls the Phoenix Coyotes while it looks for a suitable buyer for the team. Bettman noted Don Maloney, the Coyotes' general manager, and Regier once worked together for the New York Islanders.
"You feel like you are in somewhat of a no-man's land," Regier said of working in that kind of situation. "You are owned by the League and the thing you understand and appreciate is that you have someone who is helping everyone in the organization and helping people in the community. If it were not for the League coming in, the other NHL owners led by you, protecting the organization for the people within the organization and more importantly, the community, it's easy to think a community can't support a hockey team.
"But we are a good example of the benefit of getting new ownership and being stronger than this organization has ever been. We've been fiscally responsible and we are having a level of success. Hockey is supportable in this community. Come to a Sabres game and see kids, blue-collar types, white-collar types, every kind of mix and we are supported tremendously.
"I think it is very important for the NHL to have stepped in and found good ownership. It worked."
Bettman asked Regier how League ownership impacted his hockey decisions and Regier said not at all.
"They didn't interfere with our hockey operations, and I would describe it as very responsible ownership," Regier said. "They asked what we were doing and why on issues of trades and signings, but at no time did they interfere on the hockey side."
"That was because we had confidence in the people there doing what they had to do," Bettman said.
Regier said things changed fast when Golisano took over. Every aspect of team operations came under review and big changes were made. Regier said the first meeting was far from a love fest.
"It wasn't easy to get to know Tom," Regier said. "After that first meeting, I might have crawled out of his house, it was that harsh, blunt and intense. ... Tom has made it clear he will be demanding and tough but he'll also give you the time to grow.
"Tom has a lot of short-term pressures, but is really a long-term person. He's someone that doesn't want to have a lot of change. He wants to see people challenged and grow and he wants to see something being built."