I'm thinking Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black felt about the same Monday afternoon as Ryan Miller did in this photo when he couldn't do anything about a puck that was about to hit the back of the net. During the Sabres end of season news conference, any hopes Black had to offer some reasoned commentary ended when two members of the media peppered him on the timing of the Sabres season ticket price increase announcement and the perceived lack of availability of team owner Terry Pegula. And while I won't apologize for the press for asking the questions, I will raise my hand and at least say it was the "way" and "tone" that the questions were delivered that derailed the season-ending session.
But here's what I'm thinking.
What happened at that press conference was a manifestation of how this town feels about its sports teams. They come up short of the playoffs, we're told we're "rebuilding" and some of the key names who occupy the top management offices remain in place. All that while, in some cases, the price of a ticket goes up. If you've spent any amount of time in Buffalo, you've heard this before. And you'll undoubtedly hear it again.
Ted Black and Darcy Regier saw up close and personal the frustration of many a fan through the tone of the questions lobbed by Jerry Sullivan and Mike Harrington. It was heated indeed. And Ted Black admittedly lost his cool too, even offering a rare apology at the end of the session.
While many are taking sides and pointing the finger at the media or the Sabres management in the verbal spar, I'm saying it's just the same conversation that's being had on the streets of "hockey heaven". Fans are frustrated. And I think it's a good sign Ted Black has a temper to lose. Does anyone honestly think he wants anything other than the same thing the fans do? A winning season. Playoffs. Maybe even a cup.
I'll completely agree that fans receiving a season ticket price increase notification in the mail on the day of the final game and "fan appreciation day" is a timing blunder, but I'd challenge anyone to find many entertainment options where the price is staying the same or going down. If the cost of tickets needs to go up, so be it. But at least think twice about when you send out the notice. And the fact that Terry Pegula is a billionaire really shouldn't have anything to do with how much a ticket costs. The Sabres, or any professional sports franchise for that fact, aren't a charity or not for profit.
Finally, as for Terry Pegula being made available for the media? How many owners have a press conference at the end of a losing season? I think we can all agree that Pegula has done more good than bad for this community by snatching up the Sabres and investing millions in our waterfront. Pegula has entrusted Black and Regier to lead the team. That's where the anger should be directed. Had we gone to the playoffs and Pegula didn't do an end of season news conference, would we be having the same conversation? I think not.
Sports is simple. When you win, people smile. When you lose, people are mad.