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Are the Pegulas the new Harold Ballard?

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Cheapskate, overly involved owners who are meddling in Hockey Operations? Sounds familiar.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres Press Conference Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Oh boy Sabres fans. I do not like the looks of things down there.

I know, I know, it’s hard to take me seriously, since I’m the “guy who we all got mad at for pointing out how dumb it is to pay for development camp scrimmages but all I did was try to warn you before it was too late.

I’m not here to tell you how much better the Leafs are doing than the Sabres. You have eyes, and you’re in the best TV market for the NHL in the United States so you’re probably watching the Maple Leafs take the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals to at least six games in the playoffs.

I want to give everyone a heads up that you’re in for a bumpy ride for the next few decades. No, I don’t mean what’s happening with the team on the ice, I’m sure that will improve soon. A full season of Jack Eichel will do that for any team.

No, what I’m talking about is what happened yesterday. Remember when Jack Eichel was reportedly saying “I won’t play here anymore if Dan Bylsma is around” and then his agent being all “uh-uh, nope”. Well, after that fiasco, less than 24 hours after it, Buffalo Sabres Owners Terry and Kim Pegula acted, and fired Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma.

The owners fired them.

To make matters worse, in today’s press conference Terry Pegula said he was not involved enough in the last search for a general manager or coach.

Okay, this is what I’m saying you should be worried about.

Pegula Sports & Entertainment owns the Buffalo Sabres, the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Bandits, and the Rochester Americans.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Marlies, and Toronto FC.

Both are “Sports & Entertainment”. Both own four teams. What’s the major difference though?

Brendan Shanahan, Masai Ujiri, Bill Manning, and Brad Lynn.

Those are all team presidents, in charge of their respective teams, and they report to ownership. They decide to fire general managers, scouting staff, or work with the GM’s on coaching situations.

Who are listed as the people in charge of the PGSE teams?

See what’s wrong? The Rochester Americans have a team president. Where’s the president for the Sabres, or Bills, or Bandits? While Russ Brandon is listed on almost every team site, he’s working for PGSE, not the teams.

The Buffalo Sabres once had Pat Lafontaine as President of Hockey Operations in 2014, he hired Tim Murray as GGeneral Manager. Lafontaine left three months into the job, and in today’s press conference he said he does not regret the decision to not hire a new President of Hockey Ops.

Why do we go right from the Pegulas to the General Manager?

The success the MLSE teams have seen lately is due to ownership picking the right people to be put in charge of the teams. People that are trusted to make the right decisions, and not force ownership to get their hands into every nitty gritty detail.

You know who did get into every detail? Harold Ballard.

Harold Ballard drove star player Darryl Sittler out of town. He was hiring and firing coaches and general managers. It’s been told that Ballard was so involved with Leafs scouting that to sign Borje Salming, the Leafs European scout had to wait for Ballard to be in jail for fraud to get the defensive star on the team.

How did the Maple Leafs do under the tight control of Ballard?

From 1971 until 1990 the Maple Leafs appeared in the playoffs only due to the divisional formatting, finishing with a sub .500 record 19 times, finishing with less than 30 wins 9 times. They made the semi-finals just once in that time as well.

He had star players traded away: Tim Horton, Darryl Sittler, and Lanny McDonald. He refused to compete with the WHA for players, letting like Dave Keon, Bernie Parent, Paul Henderson, and Marcel Pronovost walk away from the team.

There was no on-ice success for the Maple Leafs during this time. The team became a laughing stock that didn’t fade until three years after his death, when the 1993 playoff run happened. Even now, it’s hard to shake the results of his meddling from the minds of hockey fans everywhere.

Ballard, like the Pegulas and their development camps, was also famous for being a cheapskate and looking for a buck where ever he could.

Harold Ballard is said to have turned off the water fountains at a Beatles concert at Maple Leaf Gardens to get people to buy more concessions.

When the WHA’s Toronto Toros signed a lease with Maple Leaf Gardens (via Ballard’s son), the Toros skated out to a dimly lit arena. Ballard wanted an extra $3,500 for the rights to use the lights in MLG.

(Ballard wasn’t the only problem owner the Leafs had. Steve Stavros didn’t want Wayne Gretzky, when the Great One wanted to finish his career here and refused to let Cliff Fletcher sign him.)

I’m not trying to scare you, Sabres fans. I just want you to start demanding better right now.

The Pegulas want a fresh start for their team. They fired the coach, general manager, and scouting staff. They’re copying the Maple Leafs moves from two years ago. One part they have yet to copy though, is getting their own Brendan Shanahan.

That’s the important part.

I hope the Pegulas learn from the Leafs mistakes, otherwise it will be sad to see Jack Eichel become the new John Tavares.