Hockey teams, like all sports organizations have hockey units and business units in their front offices. The hockey operations group is in charge of filling the roster with the best talent they possibly can, while the business department handles pretty much everything else, including (but not limited to) sponsorships, facilities, and marketing.
The heads of the business operations departments are titled team presidents. They are the presidents of the companies, and not necessarily in charge of the hockey operations. More often than not, team presidents are separate from the ownership group and hockey operations and have no experience in hockey operations.
The Sabres have a corporate structure that separates the business operations from the hockey operations.
On last Monday’s weekly segment with Schopp and the Bulldog on WGR, Jerry Sullivan rehashed his confusion/criticism about whether Black is Regier’s “bawss” or not. That confusion/criticism stems from Sullivan’s displeasure with Regier still having a job as the Sabres’ General Manager.
Darcy Regier probably shouldn’t still be around due to the disappointing results his teams have produced during his term as general manager. The Sabres had a good run from the 1997-98 to the 2010-11 seasons, only missing the playoffs five times out of thirteen seasons, but Regier’s teams have consistently flirted with missing the playoffs. The graph below compares Buffalo’s points per season to the eighth highest points totals in the Eastern Conference (the expected cutoff for the playoffs, with the exception of a weak division’s winner taking the three seed).
The fact that Regier is still around maddens many. Should Black, the team’s president, be Regier’s boss and the guy we should scrutinize for keeping Regier?
Ted Black worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins and FSN Pittsburgh before coming to Buffalo. He was a part of the Penguin’s return to greatness, but he’s really an entertainment executive, not a hockey expert or consultant.
Twenty-four other teams in the NHL have a person with no General Manager or scouting experience as their team president. The graph below shows how rarely team presidents have experience as a general manager.
The career paths of team presidents are highly varied. Chicago Blackhawks President John McDonough has spent his entire career working in the business operations departments of various Chicago teams, spending twenty years as the president of the Chicago Cubs. Ottawa’s president, Cyril Leeder, began his career as an accountant and worked his way up to become the president of a real estate development firm before joining the Senators. Ken King, President and CEO of the Flames, had a thirty-year career as a newspaper executive. None of these men had careers in hockey until joining their respective teams.
Black’s lack of experience in hockey operations doesn’t inherently put the Sabres at a disadvantage. Twelve of the sixteen teams in the playoffs this season have Presidents that aren’t “hockey people.” Regier remains the Sabres General Manager because Pegula likes him, despite his mediocre (and worsening) track record.
Speaking of Pegula, should he be more involved?
He’s a pretty hands-off owner, which would seem good. He writes the checks while the industry experts can do their jobs without interference.
Of the twenty NHL teams that are privately owned, only four owners have appointed themselves team presidents. The sixteen teams that do not have involved private owners filled over half of the playoff field this season (nine teams).
Think of the messes overly involved owners like Jeffrey Loria (Miami Marlins, MLB), Donald Trump (New Jersey Generals, USFL), Al Davis (Raiders, NFL), Donald Sterling (LA Clippers, NBA), and Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys, NFL) have created over their tenures. It really could be worse.
Buffalo’s structure doesn’t seem to be the problem. But it’s not really helping either.