The numbers don’t lie. Not only has it been 276 days since the Buffalo Sabres last played a National Hockey League game, but hockey fans across North America have just spent 113 days enduring the league’s second work stoppage in seven years. Sabres president Ted Black knows the toll it’s taken on his team’s loyal fan base, and he expressed his sentiments to them at a press conference on Tuesday at First Niagara Center.
“We really appreciate the patience of our fans. In many ways, the fans patience can be tested to its limits and sometimes broken. We hope that hasn’t happened here in Buffalo. The relationship we have with our fans in the most important thing in our business; and I’m probably speaking for our players saying the same thing. Certainly the fans are entitled to an apology from everyone involved in this. On behalf of the Pegulas and the Sabres, we do apologize to our fans for having to go through this.”
Black is headed to New York on Wednesday to attend an NHL Board of Governors meeting, where the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be presented and voted on by the league’s 30 teams. Following that, the NHL Players’ Association will conduct a ratification vote that is expected to last into the weekend.
If all goes well, training camps could start as early as this Sunday, and several reports have the regular season set to get underway on January 19. The Sabres were already scheduled to host a home game on January 19, but Black said there’s a chance Buffalo could open the season at home on Sunday, January 20. Official announcement of the regular season schedule will be made in the next few days.
The new CBA agreement calls for a 10-year deal, with an opt out clause that kicks in after eight years. Black said that is one of the most appealing parts of the new deal to him. He understands what a lengthy deal means to NHL fans in terms of rebuilding the trust between not only teams and fans, but players and owners.
“The thing that I’m most excited about is that this potentially will be a 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. We don’t have to listen to this stuff for a long time. Hopefully, and most importantly, the fans won’t have to deal with this crap for the next 10 years.
“We really appreciate the fans’ patience. We’re back in business and we’re looking forward to it. We haven’t played hockey in nine months. That in itself is way too long. Hockey means so much to this area; to this region; to the people; to our fans; to our players, and to Terry and Kim Pegula. It’s exciting to have it back. We’re going to do whatever we can to get on track to the mission that Terry has laid out for us, and that’s to win a Stanley Cup.”
General manager Darcy Regier joined Black at today’s press conference, expressing his relief of the lockout finally coming to an end, and the collateral damage it’s done to the local economy.
“It’s exciting to be back. The fans in this community have been outstanding whenever we’ve bumped into them,” explained Regier. “I feel a lot better about people that work in and around the game, not necessarily the ones directly working for our organization. Whether it’s the local pubs or whether it’s the people that do the difficult work of cleaning. Whatever it is, if this allows them to get back to work, make a living and help themselves and their families, then it’s a good day.”
Here are some of the other key highlights from today’s 30-minute press conference:
- Black said that previously announced ticket prices will remain unchanged, and the variable pricing structure will remain in effect. Game designations will be determined once the schedule is finalized.
- Black estimated that only 30 season tickets were cancelled during the lockout, to go with the 50 that were cancelled during the summer. The team still has a season ticket waiting list of more than 3,000 people.
- Regier said 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko will attend training camp, and be given every opportunity to make the team this season. The 18-year-old center has 29 goals and 50 points in 30 games with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts this season, along with six points (2+4) in seven games for Russia at the World Junior Championship. Regier said he has no concerns about “burning” the first-year of Grigorenko’s entry level contract, and that any decision on his playing status would be based on “whether he can step in and contribute.”
- Regier is aware of the ankle injury sustained by Tyler Myers while playing in Austria, but won’t have any further details until the Sabres hold training camp physicals this weekend. Nathan Gerbe (back) and Cody McCormick (hand) are also injured, and may not be ready for the start of the season.
- Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson have effectively been pulled out of the Rochester lineup, and will attend training camp. Defenseman TJ Brennan could also attend camp, but he will need to clear waivers to return to the AHL.
- Signing unrestricted free agent Jochen Hecht “remains a possibility” according to Regier. Hecht is currently playing in his German hometown for Adler Mannheim, where he was centering Jason Pominville for the last few weeks. Pominville skated at the Northtown Center today, and said that Hecht is fully recovered from the concussion issues that plagued him last season, and is playing very well.