Kevyn Adams: The Year One Report Card
Kevyn Adams has been on the job for exactly one year.
On June 15, 2020, most assumed that despite missing the playoffs for three years straight under General Manager Jason Botterill, he would continue to lead the front office of the Sabres. This seemed to be almost a given after Kim Pegula gave Botterill a vote of confidence following the end of season press conferences three weeks prior during which she explained to fans that the organization had “a little bit more information than maybe a fan does; some inner workings that we see some positives in.”
The Sabres had missed the 24-team “Return to Play” initiative by one point but Botterill and President Kim Pegula had both recently spoke of the strides head coach Ralph Krueger had made with the players over the past year as well as the upside from the young prospects and players.
One year ago today, however, the Pegulas changed their mind and Botterill was shown the door. The Sabres announced there would not be an intensive search for a new general manager. The Sabres would promote from within and nominate Western New York native and long-time Pegula employee Kevyn Adams to be the next GM.
Adams had no front office experience to speak of although he had been serving as Senior Vice President of Business Administration for the Buffalo Sabres organization at the time of his promotion to general manager. He had served in various capacities in the organization over the past decade starting as an assistant coach for Lindy Ruff in 2011 and he subsequently held the titles of Vice President and director of the Academy of Hockey and general manager of the LECOM Harborcenter.
Most on the outside were incredibly surprised as not only was there no indication that Botterill would be fired, but there was also absolutely no indication that his successor would be Kevyn Adams.
Kevyn Adams now officially has a year of experience under his belt and that means it’s time for a report card. The fact that Kevyn Adams inherited Ralph Krueger as his coach certainly makes the assessment more difficult because Krueger’s system effectively annihilated much of the talent that Adams and Jason Botterill had given the former soccer executive. But like the sign on Harry Truman’s desk said: "The buck stops here." It is probably more accurate to say that the buck stops with the Pegulas, but Adams – as the general manager – has to own any and all of the hockey decisions made. “Credit and blame” is the name of the game as an NHL general manager. Conversely, Adams will receive credit for signing Taylor Hall for the same reason.
The report card will be broken down into several categories and each category will be given an A, B, C, D or F rating. His performance will be broken down into four categories: “Unrestricted Free Agent Signings,” “Restricted Free Agent Signings,” “Trades,” and “Moves Not Made.” We’ll tally the results and announce Adam’s GPA at the end of the article. Let’s get to the breakdown:
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) Acquisitions:
Taylor Hall: 1 year, $8m
Cody Eakin: 2 years, $2.25m per season
(Sabres UFA) Zemgus Girgensons: 3 years, $2.2m per season
Dustin Tokarski: 2 years, $725k per season
Riley Sheahan: 1 year, $700k
Matt Irwin: 1 year, $700K
Tobias Rieder: 1 year, $700k
The Hall signing was an absolute coup for the Sabres. It did not work, but the advanced analytics all pointed to a guy suffering from extreme unluckiness. There is no doubt that signing former league MVP Taylor Hall was a great idea even if the execution and outcome was sub-par. Eakin on the other hand was a confounding decision from the time it was made due to his poor analytics. It just never made sense to give that guy multiple years. Zemgus Girgensons has been a good soldier for the Sabres dating back to the Ted Nolan tank years but there really was no reason to give him 3 years at north of $2m during a pandemic when the cap was crunched. The rest of those guys are all veteran minimum contracts so there’s not a whole lot to quibble with there. Hall elevates the confusing decisions elsewhere and raises the grade.
Restricted Free Agents:
Sam Reinhart: 1 year, 5.2m
Brandon Montour: 1 year, 3.85m
Victor Olofsson: 2 years, $3.05m per season
Linus Ullmark: 1 year, $2.6m
Tage Thompson: 3 years, $1.4m per season
Casey Mittelstadt: 1 year, $874,125.00 (oddly specific number)
Curtis Lazar: 2 years, $800k per season
Brett Murray: 2 years, $775K per season
This easily would have been an “F” if not for the emergence of Tage Thompson under interim coach Don Granato. The Sabres are banking on Thompson to become a useful middle-6 contributor over the next two seasons and he’s currently pointed in the right direction. I am also a sucker for the excellent size of Brett Murray. What can I say?
The Sabres have a long and storied tradition of kicking the can down the road when it comes to restricted free agent (RFA) contracts and Adams continued in that vein. Adams chose to give Reinhart, Montour, Ullmark and Mittelstadt one-year deals which resulted in very bad outcomes overall. The Reinhart decision especially figures to haunt the the Sabres as he is one arbitration hearing away from hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. The Sabres walked Ullmark to unrestricted free agency and now their only goalie with any modicum of NHL experience who is under contract next year is Dustin Tokarski. It is absolutely unacceptable that the Sabres keep making poor short-term decisions with their RFAs rather than locking them into potentially team-friendly, long-term deals. It has haunted them for years.
Eric Staal: Acquired via trade for Marcus Johansson
JJ Peterka (2020 draft choice #34): Draft choice acquired via trade for draft picks #38 (2nd round) and #100 (fourth round)
Jonas Johansson: traded for COL 6th round pick
Eric Staal: Traded to MTL for 3rd and 5th round selections.
Brandon Montour: Traded to Florida for a 3rd round selection
Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar: traded to Boston for a 2nd round selection and Anders Bjork.
The highest grade that Adams will receive here. Taking a chance on Eric Staal as an old, grizzled vet at the expense of Marcus Johansson was a gamble worth taking although it didn’t work out. The second line center position had been a sore spot for years under the previous GM and Adams attempted to fill the hole with a proven cup-winner in Staal while only giving up the pending-UFA Johansson. Likewise, the return for the former Hurricane captain was solid after Staal failed to live up to expectations.
JJ Peterka, whom Adams recently signed to his entry level deal, looks like a great choice for the Sabres following a stellar season in the DEL as well as his performance in the U20 competition. Montour had been misused for years so a third-round pick was a decent outcome for a pending UFA. Although Adams failed to get a conditional 1st round draft pick for Taylor Hall, Anders Bjork and the 2nd round pick acquired in return for Hall essentially equates to found money due to Hall coming to the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent. Failing to get any sort of conditional 1st round pick lowers the grade a bit. Overall though, Adams has added to his war chest of draft picks to the tune of 10 total selections for the Sabres in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Moves Not Made:
Adams does not get an “A” for firing Ralph Krueger. The amount of time it took Adams to pull the trigger on Krueger was ridiculous when considering just how bad the coach had been over the course of the 2021 season. Subjecting Sabres fans to a 12-game losing streak under Krueger was completely unacceptable when the entire hockey world at large knew what needed to be done. Additionally, Adams seemed to completely disappear to the public during the waning stages of Krueger’s tenure which only added to the exasperation of the Sabres faithful at the lowest point of the franchise since the ownership uncertainty of the early 2000s.
Adams likewise needed to do more to solidify the goaltending following the collapse of Carter Hutton in the 2019-2020 season and Linus Ullmark’s ongoing battle with injuries meant they desperately needed an upgrade somewhere in that tandem. Depending on those two to carry the load was a recipe for failure. It could also be argued that the Sabres should have supplemented the roster with another center option beyond Cody Eakin. Anyone watching the analytics could have seen that train wreck coming.
Final Report Card:
Adams is definitely on academic probation. Regardless of the situation Adams inherited, his report card here reflects the fact that he finished in last place in the NHL. His one saving grace is that overall, he has collected draft picks rather than squandering them. The work only becomes harder from here, though, as Adams has to finalize the coaching search and also navigate potential returns for Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, and most importantly: Jack Eichel. Adams got off to a shaky start as a rookie GM and it’s not going to get any easier. Sabres fans need to hope that Adams is a quick learner and can rectify both the past mistakes made by previous leadership and also the moves by his own hand. Year 2 needs to far exceed year 1 if the Sabres are to make significant headway out of the basement of the NHL.
All contracts via capfriendly.com
GPA calculation by gpacalculator.net