Sabres season ends; new owner’s job just beginning

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Sabres‘ season is suddenly over, which means owner Terry Pegula’s job is just beginning.

In two months since purchasing the Sabres, the Pennsylvania billionaire provided the franchise direction while re-energizing its fans, who have begun referring to Buffalo as “Pegula-ville.”

Pegula’s presence and enthusiasm were credited for playing a role in the Sabres‘ remarkable second-half run to clinch a postseason berth. Turns out, it wasn’t enough to get them past the first round of the playoffs, which ended with a 5-2 loss in Game 7 to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

It was a loss that left the Sabres disappointed, especially after blowing a chance to end the series in Game 6 on Sunday, when they squandered a two-goal lead in a 5-4 overtime loss.

“What hurts the most is we had our chance,” goalie Ryan Miller said Tuesday. “Chances don’t come around as often as you think, so you have to take advantage.”

That leaves the Sabres preparing for an offseason under a new owner with deep pockets, a willingness to spend and a sole stated objective of delivering Buffalo a championship.

Pegula’s influence can’t be underestimated.

He began placing his stamp on the Sabres at the trade deadline, when he approved the team’s acquisition of forward Brad Boyes _ and the $4 million left on his contract next season _ in a deal with St. Louis.

Pegula is expected to become more involved in overseeing the Sabres‘ approach to free agency, as well. The Sabres are expected to be active in adding to their roster this summer. And they also have numerous decisions to make regarding their own free agents.

Buffalo has the eight players eligible to become restricted free agents. It’s a group that includes forward Drew Stafford, who scored a career-best 31 goals, and goalie Jhonas Enroth, who is anticipated to gain an expanded role next year as Miller’s full-time backup.

The Sabres also have seven players eligible to become unrestricted free agents. It’s a group that includes underperforming and injury-prone center Tim Connolly, as well as respected veteran forwards Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer.

Another issue is re-signing coach Lindy Ruff, who declined an offer to have his contract extended by Tom Golisano before the former owner sold the team. Sabres president Ted Black, last month, said he’s confident Ruff will be re-signed.

Ruff is the team’s winningest coach, and has provided no indication he’s interested in going elsewhere. He’s been particularly impressed by Pegula.

“He’s a man with tremendous passion for this team, and Buffalo in general,” Ruff said, two weeks ago. “What more can you ask for?”

Pegula’s passion has been infectious since his opening news conference in February, when he first shared his vision to win by saying: “From this point forward, the Buffalo Sabres‘ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup.”

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