Friday column: Presser chock full of Sabre bits

I’m cheating on the blog today, simply because my column was too much like a blog entry anyway. I’ll expand on many of these tomorrow. Here’s what we printed in Friday’s editions …

By Tim Schmitt
The mood was befittingly morbid. Long faces. Visible disappointment.
Thursday’s press conference with managing partner Larry Quinn, general manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff at HSBC Arena was the kind of somber post-season event you’d expect after a fall from grace like the one the Sabres endured.
Here’s the Cliffs Notes version, with a sprinkle of opinion:
• Quinn meant it as a compliment to Thomas Vanek’s agent, but it came out clumsily when he said how smart Steve Bartlett was, adding that, “If Thomas had a stupid agent, maybe we could have done something.”
Think teams aren’t already leery of dealing with an organization that’s ushered all its veteran leaders to the door?
• Don’t expect the Sabres to make a big splash in free agency. Although the overriding sentiment is that management accelerated the team’s implosion through poor player dealings, Quinn essentially said the Sabres will stick to their plan of finding efficient ways to do business.
“A team that doesn’t develop players through their system is going to be at the mercy of this thing,” Quinn said. “The downside is they’re young. The upside is they’re young.”
• Quinn added that a common theory is that teams should spend about 56 percent of their revenue on player salaries. Because of Buffalo’s low ticket prices, that figure was closer to 70 percent for the Sabres.
He said he expects the Canadian dollar to drop, and that would make the salary cap follow suit.
“I don’t think anybody expected we’d be at $56 million three years into this thing. If someone could have predicted that, they’re obviously a lot smarter than us,” Quinn said.
• Don’t expect Jocelyn Thibault to return. When asked if backup goaltending was a priority, Regier admitted it was. He also said he’d yet to speak with Thibault’s agent.
• Regier said he made a passionate argument to Brian Campbell in favor of signing a three-year contract, hoping Campbell would realize he could have “two kicks at the can.” At 28, Regier tried to rationalize that a short-term deal would allow Campbell to get even more money at 31.
“Dollar-wise, that was a fair offer,” Regier said. “There is a positive opportunity in that contract offer. It could have been very good for the player.”
• Expect Lindy Ruff to work hard at getting Steve Bernier up to speed in the offseason, but that doesn’t mean the big winger needs to shape up.
In fact, Ruff said Bernier “is in elite shape. As good a shape physically as any player that’s walked through our training room. He’s a young player that needs a lot of direction. He’s an elite athlete.”
• The lightest moment came after a TV cameraman passed out in the middle of the press conference, and was finding his bearings. Paramedics were on their way, and order was restored when all realized amiable shooter Jim Acton was OK.
Regier weaved through the media, put his hand on Acton and said, “I didn’t like the question either.”
• Finally, Quinn said he couldn’t comment on the fate of the team’s minor-league affiliation, which most expect will end with Rochester this summer.
Instead, a story in Thursday’s Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said the city won’t extend a lease to the Amerks for Blue Cross Arena unless current president Steve Donner is ousted.
City Corporation Counsel Tom Richards said Rochester has already extended lines of credit to Donner, and has denied any more loans.
“How do we look in the eye the little old lady who loses her house because she can’t pay her taxes if we’re going to extend credit to Steve Donner?” Richards asked.
Stay tuned. Tom Golisano would be wise to snatch the Amerks up if Donner’s party is eaten alive.

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