Really interesting story in the Buffalo News about Rene Robert and his point-blank shots at the Sabres organization. You see, Montreal’s not the only team with problems.
Robert unafraid of criticizing Sabres
One-third of the French Connection calls out Golisano, Quinn
By Bucky Gleason
NEWS NHL COLUMNIST
You think you’re frustrated with the Buffalo Sabres? Rene Robert feels your pain and then some. The only difference between you and him these days is, well, the former right winger played on one of the famed lines in NHL history and his No. 14 hangs from the rafters at HSBC Arena.
Well, it’s up there for now, anyway.
To say he’s frustrated is an understatement. Robert has grown increasingly angry and disgusted from watching his former team, your favorite team, miss the playoffs in two straight seasons after building a contender. He also wanted fans to know they weren’t alone.
“If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say a word,” he said. “I’ve been frustrated for I don’t know how many years. I want nothing other than to see this team to succeed and do well.”
He certainly cares.
Passion during a telephone conversation last week poured from Robert, one-third of the high-flying, hair-flowing French Connection in the 1970s. Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Robert had one of the best lines in NHL history and helped the Sabres reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1975.
Robert, 60, whose number was retired in 1995 during a ceremony in Memorial Auditorium, said he was ostracized two years ago for criticizing the Sabres on the radio. Sabres minority owner Dan DiPofi, their chief operating officer, said alumni privileges that include free tickets and access to a private suite were revoked for Robert’s behavior, not his opinions.
“He had been treating people in our box office rudely and being a bit of a jerk,” DiPofi said. “We do things for the alumni that’s a basic way to thank them for things they do for us in the community. He had been rude to people in our office and expecting things when he wants them. [Sabres Alumni President] Larry Playfair was consulted on it every step of the way, and he was completely on board with it.”
Regardless, the spat is not what infuriates Robert. It’s the hockey.
“I’m not looking for a handout,” he said. “I live very well. I’m sure I’m going to take another slap for this, but I really don’t give a [darn]. Sometimes, people have blinders on when it’s time to listen to the truth. But how many years can you go on before finally saying, “[The criticism] is right’? I just want them to know the truth.”
Robert’s beef is with majority owner Tom Golisano and his second-in-command, minority owner Larry Quinn, whose decisions contributed to the Sabres becoming the first team in history to win the Presidents’ Trophy for having the NHL’s best record one year and missing the playoffs in the two years that followed.
“For years, they’ve been looking at me like I’m [ticked] off and I’m grumpy, but that’s not it at all,” Robert said. “They always have excuses for why they don’t win. If Golisano has no interest in hockey and wants to nickel and dime everything, sell the team to someone that’s interested in winning.
“The fans of Buffalo deserve better than what they’ve been getting. I’m frustrated. I speak my mind when nobody else does. [Former teammates] are afraid that the Sabres will get mad at them. I don’t care because I don’t work for them. I’ll tell people the truth.”
Blunt, opinionated, brash, outspoken and, many believe, accurate.
That was Robert’s reputation as a player, and not much has changed. Several former Sabres players who were reached last week agreed with Robert’s assessment but did not want their names used. They didn’t want to get caught up in controversy or involved in a feud with management.
Publicly, Robert stands alone. Privately, he has plenty of company. Several ex-teammates supported him and called for changes at the top. Golisano, the billionaire once praised for rescuing the Sabres from bankruptcy, is now being criticized in hockey circles for not making a strong enough commitment to winning.
“Rene is going to tell you what’s on his mind, and he has a [funny] way of putting things,” one ex-Sabre said with a laugh. “He always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder but usually, when it comes to hockey, he’s right. And he is right. I agree with him. I know a lot of guys out there feel the same way he does.”
Quinn did not return a telephone call Friday. Several former Sabres believe Quinn should be removed from daily operations related to personnel and replaced by someone with more hockey knowledge and experience. Robert recalled a conversation with Quinn a few years ago like this:
Robert: “What’s your background, Larry?”
Quinn: “I’m a land developer.”
Robert: “Do you think I could do your job?”
Quinn: “No, I don’t think you could.”
Robert: “Then what makes you believe you’re a hockey man?”
Quinn said immediately after the season that the entire organization would be evaluated from top to bottom.
The Sabres announced Friday that General Manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff would be retained. The Sabres still have not had their season-ending news conference announcing possible changes.
Ruff is coaching Canada in the world championships in Switzerland. He has not spoken publicly since the season-ending win over Boston. Robert believes Ruff and Regier were placed in difficult situations.
“If Golisano wants to retain the team and continue as an owner, he needs a president that knows the game of hockey,” Robert said. “Get a guy that runs the business aspect, get a general manager that’s given a budget to play with, carte blanche to trade whoever the hell he wants, and go from there.
“If you look at the organizations that have been successful, you don’t see owners getting involved in hockey decisions. You hire people to do a job you’re not capable of doing. Until proven wrong, you let them do their jobs. If they can’t, you get rid of them.”