Sabres Report: Notes from the Edge of Bankruptcy

By Ken McKenna

Like the proverbial avalanche (perhaps Colorado and Buffalo should swap nicknames) descending rapidly on the little village below, the financial woes of cable entertainment company Adelphia threaten both the existence of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, as well as the economic outlook of the already economically fragile Western New York region.

The Rigas family, who in recent days relinquished control of Adelphia, also have (or perhaps had) ownership of the Sabres. While there has been much speculation as to the ultimate fate of the team, some information that has come out in the past couple of days gives the impression that, at the very least, the near future for the Sabres could be somewhat rocky and unpleasant.

A story in the May 24th edition of the Buffalo News made reference to the team not meeting certain financial obligations during Adelphia’s ongoing fiscal crisis. No specifics were given as to what bills (or salaries) weren’t paid, but the fact that the team is having these kinds of problems does not bode well for the Sabres making any significant improvements to the Buffalo lineup for the 2002-03 season.

In addition to not improving the current Sabres’ squad, another problem arising from Adelphia’s fiscal woes has to do with the signing and development of draftees and prospects. The signing deadline for some of Buffalo’s 2000 draftees is approaching (June 1st), but the tightened purse strings that will surely result from this mess could affect which, if any, players are signed.

The prospective 2000 draftees eligible for signing include D Gerard Dicaire, G Ghyslain Rousseau, C/LW Paul Gaustad and RW/D Sean McMorrow. None of these players are likely to develop into superstar material, but at least 3 from this group possess skills that could make them useful for the Sabres within the next 2-3 years. Given Buffalo’s depth at the goaltending position, as well as his mediocre performances over the past 2 seasons, it is quite possible that Buffalo will pass on signing Rousseau. But the signing of the other 3 prospects would seem to be in some jeopardy, as well.

In addition to those four 2000 draftees, the Sabres have a couple of college prospects that need to be dealt with, as well as two Russian prospects from the 2000 draft who would probably be worthy of a contract in a better financial situation. There is also a 2001 draftee who must be signed by the 6/1 cutoff if the Sabres want to keep his rights.

Mike Pandolfo, the big LW who recently completed his college career with Boston University, would seem to be a player that the Sabres might want to bring into the fold, but the team doesn’t need to make a decision on him before the 6/1 deadline. The same is true for ’99 draft pick Ryan Miller, who may not turn pro until after his senior year is completed at the close of the 02-03 NCAA season. Artem Kriukov and Denis Denisov are the two Russians who could merit a signature should the funds magically appear, but once again these two do not have to be signed by June 1st. The only other player that would have to be signed by the deadline is 20-year-old defenseman Ryan Jorde, Buffalo’s final selection in last year’s draft.

As if this weren’t enough of a burden, Buffalo also has some younger players already in the organization whose current contracts will expire in the near future. Players such as Martin Biron and Mika Noronen, to name two, will be seeking bigger paychecks in the off-season, so that is just one more headache to add to Buffalo GM Darcy Regier’s Not-So-Excellent Off-Season Adventure.

To top it all off, the Rochester Sports Group, whose holdings include the Rochester Americans, recently announced a loss of $225,000 for the 01-02 season. While this figure seems miniscule compared to the millions the Sabres are supposedly losing each year, it is a pretty decent financial hit for an organization that operates with much smaller profit margins than an NHL hockey club. Combine this loss with the uncertainty of the Sabres’ situation, and you have the makings for what should be a fairly turbulent summer for the entire Sabres’ organization, possibly the most tumultuous in team history.

The Memorial Cup is Ice-d

On a more positive note, the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, featuring Buffalo defensive prospect Gerard Dicaire, today captured the Memorial Cup with a 6-3 victory over the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres. The Ice went 3-1 in the Cup tournament, with the lone loss being to Victoriaville in what was for Kootenay a meaningless game. The Ice had already secured a spot in the final by winning their first 2 games, so they were the more rested team going into the final vs. the Tigres.

For his part, Dicaire generally filled the role that was expected of him when the Ice acquired the defenseman from the Seattle T-Birds at the WHL trade deadline. Gerard’s main strengths would appear to be his skating and passing, skills he puts to good use at both even strength and on the power play. Dicaire is not a physical presence, which can cause him some problems in his own end, but once he controls the puck in the defensive zone, Gerard is effective at making the first pass to get the offensive rush started.

Gerard picked up just 1 assist in the four tournament games, with that assist coming on the eventual Cup-winning goal. Dicaire totaled 15 points (1G, 14A) in 26 post-season games for the Ice.

Congratulations to Gerard and his Kootenay teammates for a great 2001-02 season!