By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — Buffalo Sabres president Ted Black and general manager Darcy Regier sat down with the media for their annual end-of-season press conference Monday afternoon at the First Niagara Center, putting the disappointing 2012-13 season out of its misery.
The Sabres (21-21-6) finished 12th in the Eastern Conference (22nd overall in the NHL) and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. The team is now playoff-less in two full seasons since being purchased by Terry Pegula, and the lack of success led to the firing of 16-year head coach Lindy Ruff and questions about the job security of Regier, who took control of the team with Ruff in 1997.
Black was asked about Regier's status to open the press conference and confirmed that he would remain in control of the team through the draft and into next season. The two then preached a slight shift in organizational policy, talking openly about the possibility of taking a step back to build a Stanley Cup contender in the future.
"We're in a process right now of trying to rebuild, reboot, revamp, whatever 're' word we are comfortable using, that started with the last draft in 2012," Black said in reference to Regier's refusal to admit to rebuilding following the trade of captain Jason Pominville at the trade deadline.
"You have to pay the price to win the Stanley Cup," Regier added. "That hasn't always been the goal. You have to suffer or (rebuild) to acquire top players. Not every franchise is willing to do that, so you satisfy yourself and the fan base by making the playoffs, but you have to do more than that if you want to win the Cup."
The Sabres may be well on their way to paying the price. They've got four picks in the top 55 (Nos. 8, 16, 38, 55) of June's entry draft, as well as the youngest roster in the league after dealing veterans Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and Pominville at the deadline.
There are also questions surrounding the status of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, arguably the team's top two players. Both are set to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2014, and both have made comments that suggest they may not be keen on sticking around through a rebuild.
Regier said no decisions have been made on the pair's futures.
"Both are under contract, I have spoken to them and they are aware this is about the Stanley Cup. ... We don't know what the marketplace will make available, and we don't know if we'll be in a position to sign both," said Regier, who added that both were "upper-echelon" players capable of leading a Cup-winning team.
Though expectations appear to be waning, ticket prices increased for the second straight season. Season ticket prices jumped by four p ercent for next year, a decision Black attributed to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Ticket revenue counts toward hockey-related revenue, half of which goes to the players under the new CBA. Black said prices needed to jump to increase revenue and keep the team eligible for revenue sharing. Despite Pegula's deep pockets (he's worth around $3 billion, according to Forbes), Black said staying eligible for revenue sharing was an important backup plan to keeping the franchise economically stable in the future.
NOTES: Regier said he'll enter contract negotiations with John Scott (UFA, 2013) and Steve Ott (UFA, 2014). ... Regier said young center Mikhail Grigorenko made "very good progress" this season. ... Ville Leino, a potential amnesty candidate whose season ended early do to injury, will have a procedure on his hip and should be 100 percent by next season, according to Regier. ... There were questions about defenseman Tyler Myers' conditioning coming into the season after signing a 7-year, $38.5 million contract extension. "I met with him and addressed it," Regier said.Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.