The Pegula Process: Why Sabres Fans Should Be Worried

Regardless of the industry or endeavor, you’re more likely to find success if you follow a rigorous, thoughtful process. A good process will, over time, lead to more good outcomes. A bad process, on the other hand, will often lead to bad results.

Fans (and many sports columnists) often focus on the result and not the process. This sort of results-based analysis often misses what matters.

Paul DePodesta was an assistant to Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (and a key figure in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball book). DePodesta has a blog and, years ago, he wrote about a scene at a Vegas casino that captures the difference between focusing on the process and the result.

Many years ago I was playing blackjack in Las Vegas on a Saturday night in a packed casino. I was sitting at third base, and the player who was at first base was playing horribly. He was definitely taking advantage of the free drinks, and it seemed as though every twenty minutes he was dipping into his pocket for more cash.

On one particular hand the player was dealt 17 with his first two cards. The dealer was set to deal the next set of cards and passed right over the player until he stopped her, saying: “Dealer, I want a hit!” She paused, almost feeling sorry for him, and said, “Sir, are you sure?” He said yes, and the dealer dealt the card. Sure enough, it was a four.

The place went crazy, high fives all around, everybody hootin’ and hollerin’, and you know what the dealer said? The dealer looked at the player, and with total sincerity, said: “Nice hit.”

I thought, “Nice hit? Maybe it was a nice hit for the casino, but it was a terrible hit for the player! The decision isn’t justified just because it worked.”

So what visibility do we have into the Pegula process?

Well, when he first arrived, he declared that his diligence indicated Darcy Regier was one of the best GM’s in the league. There was a lot of evidence to the contrary, of course, but that was Pegula’s conclusion based on his process.

When asked about his head coach, Lindy Ruff, he defiantly stated that Lindy “ain’t going nowhere.” The Pegula decision-making process led him to keep the GM and coach he inherited from the previous ownership and not clean house when he first bought the team or during the off-season – a time that would give a new GM and coach an opportunity to get acclimated.

In January 2013, the Sabres gave their unpopular general manager, Darcy Regier, a three year contract extension as Pegula declared Regier a “talented guy.” Notably, Pegula also emphasized that he and Regier “work very well together.” According to multiple people, Pegula was (and is) very active in discussing personnel with his general manager – another worrisome sign for the Pegula process.

Then, as the season of ‘suffering’ led to an increasing amount of fan discontent, Pegula suddenly reversed course and Ruff was fired as was Regier. So, less than a year after giving his GM a three year contract extension, Pegula fired him.

Remarkably, Terry Pegula, after having met Pat LaFontaine just twice, offered him the Sabres’ general manager job during a dinner with the former Sabres player. Keep in mind, LaFontaine had never been a general manager. LaFontaine turned it down pointing out that he didn’t have the skills for that job. Here are Pegula’s own words about his LaFontaine courtship:

“One thing led to another and it was like, ‘Wow, this guy is pretty impressive,’ so I guess I popped the question,” Pegula said. “I asked him if he thought he could be a GM. He said, ‘No, but here’s what I think I can do.’ ”

What kind of hiring and firing process is this?

It’s one that seems spastic and inconsistent. This unorthodox and unrigorous process has resulted in at least one bad outcome: a newly hired President of Hockey Operations who resigned after just a few months on the job, leaving the Sabres with yet another public relations nightmare.

Now, during his time here, LaFontaine did hire Tim Murray to be the GM and it may be that Murray turns out to be a stellar personnel man. But, if it does, it has the feel of the blackjack player who hit on 17 and got a 4. It would be a lucky outcome from a bad process.

It’s still relatively early in the Pegula ownership regime but for long-term fans of the Sabres franchise, the Pegula process is something to be very worried about.

About the author  ⁄ bluedevil

11 comments
bfranklin
bfranklin

After listening, and listening again to what has happened over the last few days, then looking at the bigger picture of Pegula's ownership, you might be able to reasonably piece together the following.

No one is being called out here...not bashing ownership or LaFontaine.

Murray makes the clearest statements about what happened.  He let us know that he passed along all trade calls to LaFontaine.  But he also informed Pegula (that was the advice he received from the other GM's, and Pegula signs his check).  

Being in upper management, in some companies this is normal, in others, it's really frowned upon.  If Pegula wants to know, he should get it through LaFontaine.  I've been in some businesses that it's close to a 'fireable' offense to speak to an employee that doesn't fall under you....other places it happens everyday.

Go back and read what Pegula thinks about Tallinder (Google it).  We've been told by Murray that calls were made before the Olympic break, GM's seeing who was available, etc.  That puts the time frame in better perspective.  Probably started almost a month ago.

We've heard that there was interest in Tallinder.  Murray in a simple conversation with Pegula mentions the Tallinder interest, and Pegula says you can't move him.  Period.  I gave him my word he'd retire a Sabre after we brought him back.  It was  a big mistake when we let him go earlier.

Murray then at some point has to tell LaFontaine that there was a call about interest in Tallinder, but Pegula says can't trade him.  This is Pegula being loyal to Tallinder, probably not thinking that much of it....but it undermines LaFontaine.

In my opinion, that would be cause for LaFontaine to stand his ground and say you can't make that decision, and you shouldn't be talking to the GM (that's reasonable behavior, and what goes on in the work place everyday).  That wouldn't fly with Pegula (it's my team, I'll talk to who I want)...  Go ahead and rewatch everything.  Every person, even Black (bit of a stretch) would be telling the truth (not really discord, just one fracture).

There wasn't enough time for this to be about infighting (LaFontaine 90 days, Murray 6 weeks, 4 on the road).  But it was something that neither could get past.  It plays to Pegula's loyalty (to Tallinder first), and to the idea that LaFontaine felt he was running the hockey operation.  Watch the first press conference, the two are not on the same page.

brownscanoe
brownscanoe

This is article is based of of little known fact and mostly assumptions 

janreimers
janreimers

I'm surprised Perrault and Robert aren't Assistant GM and Director of  Scouting.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Great developments.  Next year I might crack into the triple digits on the waiting list!  Sayonara 1,000+ waiting listers.

jonny99
jonny99

I was at first shocked and dissapointed but I am begining to think this is not that big a deal, and not the first time that Pat has quit early into a job. He quit a similar position with the NYI soon after being hired. There are many indicators that Pegula is a sound business man making a huge comittment to the organization and community. There might have been a rift in the management structure but who cares really, it has nothing to do with the product on the ice. Tim Murray has given every indication that he is an intense individual hell bent on turning things around on the ice. The trades so far have been neccessary and it seems we got a fair return, especially if the Blues have a successful run at that cup ( 2 first round picks).  Murray has been honest with the media and has openly said he is comitted to keeping Nolan, which should be a popular move with fans and the right thing to do for the team. Go Sabs (and Blues)

bfranklin
bfranklin

Regardless of vhrix lengthy defense of the team below, it's apparent that quite simply, this franchise is broken.  By any measure, from Corsi, to wins, or keeping your Hall of Fame face of the franchise on the team (LaFontaine, not Miller), it's a bust.

I'm a huge Sabre fan.  I wish things were better, and have supported Pegula et al up until about 24 hours ago.

At the press conference today, it was interesting to know that Black knew about the LaFontaine issue "a few days ago".  Pat was gone long before the Miller trade, but no one from the organization would like to push that, because it goes against the easy to swallow dialog that LaFontaine disagreed with Murray over the Miller trade.

At some point LaFontaine made the decision that Pegulla no longer deserved his service.  What that event was, we'll probably never know.

vhrix
vhrix

A strong argument, but one that neglects a few key items.


1) Pegula inherited a playoff-caliber team just coming down off an impressive run.  At the time, we envisioned a team centered on Vanek, Roy, Pominville, and Myers (among others) as a team that could contend.  No reason to change a GM or a coach at that juncture.

2) Firing of Ruff and advancing of Rolston due to the fact that the Sabres were underperforming, young guys couldn't get in the lineup, and the team was treading in ever lower and lower levels of water.  An optimal time to make a trade.  The fire sale began in true form.  Rolston was retained.  This may have been a mistake in retrospect.  But let's not ignore the fact that the Sabres actually performed better under his tenure record-wise at the end of last season than they had under Ruff.

3) Firing of Regier/Rolston and hiring of LaFontaine/Patrick/Nolan became especially necessary after losing infinity games in a row (which is never acceptable, even on an actively taking team) and commencing the season scoring at an NHL history-low level (never acceptable).  A change had to be made, and the brass sought to rejuvenate the fanbase by bringing in familiar faces.  

4) Hiring of Murray was made after a surprisingly exhaustive search process (given that all parties involved were contacted in the middle of the season), was likely not a LaFontaine decision so much as it was a LaFontaine/Patrick/etc. decision.  Many local folks (not me, as per my posts on DBTB, here, Reddit, etc. will demonstrate) thought that this process was far too lengthy, but it was a thorough executive search process.

5) LaFontaine's departure is a PR blow for the fanbase, but what effect does it have on hockey operations?  These likely function the same, perhaps even better, without one additional hand in the kitchen.

Each of the first four items was made in line with where the organization was and is completely justifiable.  The implicit assertion in your article that the organization is running helter skelter is nonsense given proper contextualization.  And I am NOT referring to the quotations and sound bites you did as proper context.  The full context must also take into account the status of the team at the time.  

Moreover, in evaluating the administration and not just the team, your article completely ignores all of the non-Sabres-related moves the administration has made, from the erection of the Harbor Center complex, to the establishment of a hockey development program, to the efforts to lure the NHL scouting combine to Buffalo, and so forth.  All signs point to excellent business development that, over time, will grow the brand immensely.

Lastly, I would point out that never in my memory as a Sabres fan can I remember a time when so many players were so actively involved in local community service, whether that be team-sponsored events, stuffed animal sales, hospital visits, or what have you.  Zenon Konopka, a scrub, was visiting kids with leukemia within the first ten days of his acquisition.  Such efforts can only happen under an administration that supports and promotes such activities.  

whateverr
whateverr

@bfranklin  

I agree with you that Pegula and his executive staff outside of LaFontaine's reporting chain should not have involved themselves with trades or any decisions that affect the roster or coaching staff - if any of that is what happened.  As you wrote, it all should've flowed through Pegula to LaFontaine to Murray and vise versa, and Pegula should've only wanted to be informed not to dictate.

I'd be surprised if the camel's back was broken by anything related to Tallinder, although it's possible.  It could've been about whether to at least offer Miller an extension (even though Miller would've very likely declined), or same for Ott, or maybe about something  we've never heard yet.

My guess is even if LaFontaine ever overruled Murray about anything, Murray would've respected that even if disagreeing or feeling it's micromanaging - since chain of command would be followed and within domain of a President of Hockey Ops.  But if that guess is wrong and if Murray tried lobbying through Pegula (or Battista, Black, Sawyer, etc.) then that would also reflect very poorly on Murray in addition to Pegula or any others involved.

Regarding Black's comments, however, I think any of the above at all  - even Pegula meddling about Tallinder - would/should count as discord. So if any of it happened, then Ted Black was  blatantly lying to the public with his  “I can tell you there was no discord.”  Also, the way Black quickly added hypotheticals about other reasons LaFontaine might leave (previous job in league office or wife preferring NYC) sounded deliberately false considering the timing & manner of LaFontaine's parting. 

vhrix
vhrix

@bfranklin  Seeing a team losing (and losing often in terrible fashion) is not an indication that the franchise is broken.  Seeing a team losing despite spending an exorbitant amount of money on salaries, seeing an ineffective coach and an ineffective general manager, seeing a team with no assets in the way of prospects or picks... should you see that, you would be looking at a broken franchise.  In other words, I would invite you to take a look at the New York Knicks, the New York Mets, the Brooklyn Nets, New York Islanders, or Carolina Hurricanes.  

By all accounts, the Sabres have an excellent farm system deep with prospects, a plethora of picks, a competent coach, a competent general manager, and no significant salary cap restrictions.  That they are losing is a function of having no developed NHL talent, but this is not an indication that the franchise is broken whatsoever.

When LaFontaine left or for what reason is immaterial as long as we ask ourselves what kind of decisions need to be made for the benefit of the franchise.  Is a person there to make those decisions?  Yes.  Is that person qualified to make those decisions?  Unlike LaFontaine, yes.  Is LaFontaine such an excellent developer or evaluator of talent that his departure, for whatever reason, negatively impacts the chance of the Buffalo Sabres to evaluate or acquire talent?  Absolutely not.  

Now, we don't know the whole story behind his departure.  In fact, we don't know any of it.  We know he is gone, and we can evaluate that, as I said above.  It could be that he was dissatisfied with the administration because he wanted to build something much more fundamentally *BUFFALO* than what we are now building.  It could be because he wasn't getting his way, because he suddenly found himself trapped with little to do in between a plethora of people with extensive hockey knowledge.  It could be any one of a number of things.  Being unable to evaluate the truth of any of these gives us no choice but to evaluate the present circumstances, as I have done in my two replies, or else make wild, unsubstantiated, and irresponsible claims, as you did in your reply, as the original author did in his thread.  

moontothesail
moontothesail

@vhrix  thank you for this.  i'm confused/disappointed by PL's departure but his position never seemed permanent.  also, they won the last 3 games!  

bfranklin
bfranklin

@vhrix "...or else make wild, unsubstantiated, and irresponsible claims", where did I do this?  

Saying all is right with this organization, as you seem to be arguing, would be the most wild claim made in this thread.


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