The Hockey News - Money & Power
FOR THE PAST few years, a bustle of activity has surrounded the Sabres’ downtown Buffalo home, KeyBank Center.
Before Terry Pegula bought the Sabres for $189 million in 2011, the area had little to offer. But the oil and gas tycoon has poured tens of millions of dollars into a slew of endeavors, helping reinvigorate downtown Buffalo.
HarborCenter, a $172-million practice facility connected to the arena, opened in 2014. An 18-story hotel and a restaurant are also part of the complex, on land that once served as a parking lot. Other attractions are popping up around the rink and along the nearby waterfront. Construction cranes are a common sight.
On the ice, however, the Sabres have mostly been a disaster during Pegula’s tenure. The Sabres have one playoff appearance under his watch, way back in 2011. That’s the NHL’s second-longest post-season drought, trailing only the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres finished dead last in the league in three of the past five seasons, including 2017-18, a wretched campaign widely regarded as the worst in franchise history.
Pegula has tried just about everything to put a winning team on the ice. Early on, the Sabres filled the roster with high-priced free agents. Remember Ville Leino’s ill-advised six-year, $27-million contract? After that plan failed, the Sabres veered in a different direction, bottoming out for two seasons, which Pegula, not surprisingly, termed a rebuild.
After they emerged from back-to-back last-place finishes with center Jack Eichel as their new center- piece, they showed some signs of progress. But after finishing last in the Atlantic Division in 2016-17, Pegula decided to start over again, firing GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma.
The Sabres’ current GM, Jason Botterill, is the third under Pegula. Phil Housley, meanwhile, is the fifth coach. And don’t forget franchise icon Pat LaFontaine, who served as the president of hockey operations for less than a season before resigning.
Pegula and his wife, Kim, the NHL’s first female team president, have backed up their desire to win by pouring money into all facets of the team, increasing the staff and resources while making Buffalo’s facilities among the league’s best. Still, like other owners, Pegula’s business success hasn’t translated to the ice.
Pegula has made billions. He sold East Resources, a Pennsylvania-based oil and natural gas company, for a reported $4.7 billion in 2010. Before purchasing the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2014, he sold other assets for $1.75 billion.
Pegula owns JKLM Energy in Pennsylvania, which produces natural gas. He also owns the AHL’s Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League and the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts.
Despite owning two major league teams and being worth billions, Pegula is a low-key guy. He takes pride in being an everyman, devoid of ego. He rarely speaks to the media. Instead, others usually do the talking for him.
Kim, who’s also president of the Bills, is much more visible. Her new role as a dual president, after Russ Brandon resigned from both teams in May, didn’t come as a surprise.
Not long after the purchase of the Sabres, some of the team’s brass starting referring to the ownership as Terry and Kim. Years later, they purchased the Bills together.
The Pegulas’ children are also involved in their various businesses. Their daughters, Jessica and Kelly, developed The Healthy Scratch, a health food restaurant that started in HarborCenter. All three of their children – they also have a son, Matthew – work with the One Buffalo clothing brand. Terry has two other children, Michael and Laura, from a previous marriage.
Terry keeps close ties to his alma mater, Penn State. In 2010, he started the Nittany Lions’ hockey programs with a $102-million gift, hoping to grow the Penn State program and the game of hockey in the broader community.
Since then, the number of new youth hockey players in the region has shot up, as has optimism for the future of the NHL club. – BILL HOPPE