In this photo taken Thursday, March 10, 2011, Buffalo Sabres president Ted Black greets a reporter in the lobby for an interview in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - A little over two weeks and 2,100 fan emails into his new job, Ted Black is beginning to appreciate how much work he has ahead as president of the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres.
He has quickly learned the fans are passionate in fully buying into new owner Terry Pegula's desire to win a Stanley Cup. And they're just as adamant in wanting to get rid of the final signs of the widely disliked "flying slug" logo, after the Sabres returned to their traditional emblem of a charging buffalo and crossed swords in September.
"That was the probably close to being the runaway favourite—or unfavourite: Getting rid of the slug," Black told The Associated Press this past week. "So we're in the process of becoming slug-free."
Black has already assembled what he calls a "Slug Task-force," which will tour HSBC Arena to remove all signs of the unpopular logo by the summer—and that includes dismantling the large logos on the video-scoreboard hanging over centre ice.
This is part of a large-scale effort by Pegula to reconnect with the franchise's rich 40-year history since the Pennsylvania billionaire and longtime Sabres fan purchased the team last month. And it will include a fan appreciation day during which every former Sabres player will be invited—and flown in if necessary at the owner's expense—to attend the team's regular-season finale against Philadelphia on April 8.
The cosmetic changes—such as installing a new blue carpet with the team's logo in the locker room last week—are the easy ones, or "makable putts," as Black called them. Transforming the Sabres into a championship contender will require more work, patience and money, which Pegula says he is willing to spend.
"People say, 'Now how are you going to win the Stanley Cup'? And the answer is a million little things and a lot of luck," Black said. "And we're not going to skimp when it comes to the million little things."
Buffalo has climbed into playoff contention with a 6-1-2 run since Pegula took control. That put the Sabres in seventh place in the Eastern Conference entering their game Saturday at Toronto.
That still doesn't put them among the NHL's elite, or come near Pegula's stated objective of winning a Cup within three years.
Much of the heavy-lifting in rebuilding the Sabres will have to wait until the off-season, through trades and/or free agency. And the Sabres are now in the market for high-profile players after Pegula announced he is willing to spend to the NHL salary cap.
That's a switch from the past when Sabres general manager Darcy Regier had spending limits in building his roster. It was a policy that led to some tough choices in re-signing talent, and a long line of Sabres headed elsewhere. It's a group that includes former co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, who left the team in free agency on July 1, 2007.
The player defections led to the team gaining a reputation around the NHL of being cheap.
Under Pegula, it's part of Black's responsibility to change that image.
"We want to be the first stop. We want to be No. 1 one on everyone's list," Black said.
To get there, the Sabres need to prove they're committed to building a winner, open to paying top dollar and offering amenities to make players comfortable. Black said the Sabres are already working on plans to renovate the locker room and players' lounge to make it among the top five in the NHL.
On other issues, Black said he doesn't believe there will be any difficulty in re-signing coach Lindy Ruff to a new contract after his deal expires after this season. Black added there has been internal discussion—but nothing serious yet—of the possibility of the team building a new practice facility downtown. The Sabres currently practice in a public suburban rink when their arena is being used.
Sabres players are already noticing the changes. They were impressed after first seeing the new carpet in their locker room, and immediately began warning reporters that they're not allowed to step on the team logo in the middle of the room.
"Show a little respect," goalie Ryan Miller said.
Getting rid of the final signs of the old logo is a big start for one fan, Drew Celestino, who launched a website protestingthe slug shortly after it was introduced.
"I'm happy that Mr. Pegula and Mr. Black are listening to the fans and embracing the legacy of the team," Celestino said. "It tells me that he gets it. He understands."
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