Sully's Mailbag: Pegulas Drag Bills, Sabres to Rock Bottom


It’s a tough time to be a Buffalo fan. The Pegulas have one team that finished dead last in the NHL last season, another that could well be the worst in the NFL and wind up with the top pick in the draft next spring.

The Sabres lost their sixth straight home opener Thursday night, getting booed off the ice at the end of the first two periods. They scored a combined five goals in those games. On Saturday, they’ll try to avoid starting the season 0-2 at home for the sixth year in a row.

My advice is to be patient, and keep asking questions. This week’s Mailbag:

@geeme1097 asks: The Bills aren’t rebuilding. They’re in the tear-down state. Right?

Sully: Coach Sean McDermott referred to the “build” during the week. LeSean McCoy and Micah Hyde objected to the term “rebuilding”, saying the goal was to win now. I guess it’s a matter of semantics. Is there really any difference between building and rebuilding? And are they even at that stage?

You call it a tear-down. I call it a bottoming out. They began the process last season when they began moving out big names (Marcell Dareus, Sammy Watkins, et al) to shed salary and get rid of Doug Whaley’s guys. Making the playoffs was an unexpected gift for the fans. They did it with six-win talent. This year, the bottoming out ensues in earnest.

There really wasn’t much to rebuild with a team that had missed the playoffs 17 years in a row. So Brandon Beane and McDermott are building with their own players. When you strip away so much talent, leaving yourself with a $50 million hit in dead cap money, you’re essentially just pouring a new foundation with young draft picks.

They won while looking to the future a year ago, earning the faith of long-suffering fans. They did add some talent this season, but didn’t do enough to address issues at cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line. It was a modest nod to winning, but I believe they expected to lose big this season and get a high pick in the next draft.


Anthony Sepci asks: Concerned with the Pegulas. Bottomed out in the NHL, on their way to rock bottom in the NFL; is this incompetency or trust the process?

@Legulaville asks: When will the Pegulas be held accountable?

Sully: The Pegulas have done an amazing job of mismanaging two franchises and having it come off as some kind of grand strategy. I lean toward incompetence by amateurish owners who were over their heads running a single professional sports team, never mind two.

They were too slow or stubborn to recognize dysfunction in the men running the teams (Darcy Regier, Doug Whaley, Russ Brandon, Tim Murray) and too quick to jettison leaders who challenged them (Pat LaFontaine). It only compounded the problem. They’ve also been too willing to anoint inexperienced coaches to turn things around (McDermott, Phil Housley). We won't even get into Rex Ryan.

Fans want to believe both teams are headed in the right direction. It certainly couldn’t get any worse. But this leap of faith tends to obscure the boneheaded decisions that dragged the teams to the bottom in the first place. Fans should be more wary of ownership and not so quick to swallow the company line.

The Pegulas have done great things for the city, true. They kept the Bills in Buffalo (though I’m not sure the franchise was going anywhere). But they should be held accountable, as owners are in any city. If you treat them with kid gloves out of some sense of gratitude, you come off as a small-time community that’s content to simply have the teams.


Tom Mullen asks: Do you think Housley has a short leash? I think if they're looking like last year at New Year’s, he will be toast.

Sully: Last spring, when fans had turned away from the Sabres and you could fetch a ticket for $4 on the street, I wrote that Housley would be in trouble this season if the issues persisted. Clearly, last season was bad for business, and business is what matters most with Terry Pegula (he could do more for the hockey game experience). It trumps any goggle-eyed loyalty he holds for the Sabres heroes of his youth.

Thursday was just the opener. The Sabres are more talented than a year ago and should improve by 20 points or so. Expectations have been raised, which raises the stakes for Housley. He was a rookie head coach last year and it was wishful thinking to assume he’d be a great choice. He overestimated their ability to play an uptempo game last year and seemed soft and uninspiring in his public comments.

Housley should be on the hot seat. If the Sabres don’t show immediate improvement and settle in as at least a .500 hockey team by Thanksgiving, he’ll be in danger of losing his job. If the offense continues to sputter and fans become newly disenchanted, it’ll be bad for business, and big trouble for the redhead.


Reverend Bob asks: Does Eichel deserve captain?

Sully: They had to make him captain. They gave him an eight-year, $80 million deal last year, making him the highest-paid player in franchise history. They went without a captain a year ago and it was time. There was no other worthy candidate. Not giving him the C this season would have been a slight and suggested Housley didn’t trust him as a leader.

Whether he’s a good captain remains to be seen. A letter does not bestow automatic respect and leadership. Eichel hasn’t been known as a great leader in the past. But he came to camp with a new attitude and does burn to win. He needs to show the way with his play, his voice and his actions within the team. He has to be the forceful leader to counter Housley’s personality.


Dan Meyer asks: Evaluate the Hall of Fame chances for these three MLB players: Ryan Howard, Victor Martinez, Chase Utley.

Sully: Utley is the only one of the three with a solid chance at getting into the Hall. Utley retired after this season with only 1,885 hits. But his on-base, slugging and defense all lifted him to the level of a HOF second baseman. According to Jay Jaffe, my go-to source on such matters, Utley’s career WAR was around the middle for a Hall of Fame second baseman.

It’s not so for Martinez and Howard. Howard averaged 45 homers and 135 RBIs over a four-year period, but was a one-dimensional player who had more strikeouts (1,843) than hits (1,475) and was a liability against left-handed pitching.

Martinez, who just finished a long career, was one of those good, not great, players who don’t make the cut. The former Bison had 2,153 hits, 246 homers and 1,178 RBIs. His career OPS (on-base plus slugging) was .815. That’s similar to Joe Torre (.817), who made the Hall of Fame as much for his managing career as his time as a player.

Martinez was mainly a designated hitter for the last eight years of his career. There’s a far more worthy Martinez — Edgar — who hasn’t made the HOF because he was a DH for most of his career. If Edgar hasn’t made a case, Victor has no shot.

Comments (5)
No. 1-4

I watched tonight's game against the Rangers and I hope it wasn't a mirage. To be clear, you can't expect your goalie to make 40+ saves a game on a regular basis and expect to be a 500 team.



I said they would improve by 20 points or so, Shnooks. I understand that they have a lot of young talent. Of course, we've overestimated talent that was 21 and younger before. I've learned to be skeptical, and I watch the games, pal. I'll bet you were one of the sheep who had them contending for a Cup three years after drooling over the tank.


Standards will be lower for the hall too me. Averages will down with all the shifting and power pitchers. The games is homers or whiffs. Other than a few, pitchers will get little quality starts also. 200 wins and .280 batting averages lifetime will see enshrinement.


The Sabres have a lot of young talent that will only get better with experience. People who actually follow and know hockey, unlike you, praise their young talent and pool of prospects. They have some of the best young talent in the league, but they're all 21 years old and younger. They also have 3 first round draft picks next June.

Botterill needs more than one year to clean up the mess he inherited with Moulson, Bogosian, and the massive lack of prospects from failed previous drafts.

Stick to football.