When a text landed this morning with the subject line “Wow...what a mess”, there was no need to wonder what it was about. Sometimes simple analysis is the best analysis.
That’s the case with the Buffalo Sabres who today fired general manager Jason Botterill, plus his assistants Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley. The Rochester coaches are also gone, along with Sabres' scouts. The Sabres kept coach Ralph Krueger.
New general manager Kevyn Adams inherits an NHL franchise that has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was seven years old the last time they won a playoff round in 2007.
Adams inherits a frustrated superstar in Jack Eichel and a fan base that has exhausted its patience. He inherits a team with deficiencies, including the need for a long-term solution in net. He also gets Jeff Skinner who is in the second year of an eight-year contract paying him $9 million per season. He scored 14 goals in 59 games this season.
Most importantly, he inherits an ownership team, Terry and Kim Pegula, who haven’t demonstrated expertise in operating an NHL team.
Since buying the Sabres in 2011, they have had three different GMs, six different coaches and no playoff series wins. When the Pegulas bought the team in February of 2011, they were in the midst of a 43-win season.
With the Pegulas in charge, they haven’t won that many games since.
As the Pegulas begin another clean-up in Buffalo, they have to face the reality that they have to bear much of the responsibility for the team's failings in the last decade.
The Pegulas were willing to spend millions upon millions of dollars to upgrade the arena, including the building of a practice arena, hotel and restaurant across the street.
But they have made poor decisions regarding how they managed the hockey team, earning heavy criticism within the community of devoted Buffalo fans. Two months ago, the Pegulas invited more criticism by cutting 21 employees, including some high-profile executives.
The concern is that the Sabres have gotten lost in the magnitude of the Pegula Sports and Entertainment company, which owns the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The Bills have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. Kim Pegula is president of both teams.
In fairness, Botterill looked like a good hire for the Pegula. He is smart, analytical and experienced. He was aggressive in his efforts to improve the team, but the success rate of Botterill's moves wasn’t high enough to help the Sabres.
But the fans seem to be blaming the Pegulas as much as Botterill these days. It feels as if there is a disconnect between the Pegulas and the Buffalo fan base. It’s fair to wonder why the Botterill firing didn’t come sooner. It’s fair to wonder what the plan is in Buffalo.
The Pegulas may need to hire someone with Buffalo ties to help them reconnect with the fan base. It might also make sense to hire a veteran hockey executive to advise Adams, preferably someone with Stanley Cup championship experience, similar to the way Scotty Bowman advises in Chicago.
The good news is that Adams has talent. Despite this season’s disappointment, the Sabres might not be far from being a playoff team. The Sabres’ one-two combination of superstar center Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. It’s not hard to have hope in Buffalo. What if Casey Mittelstadt takes another step in his development? Dylan Cozens could be ready to be a top six center. Sam Reinhart. Victor Olofsson. It’s not hard to embrace hope in Buffalo.
That’s why it’s critical that the Pegulas make sure they have the right people in place.
The saddest aspect of the mess in Buffalo is that this city’s fan base is among the best in the NHL. If you look at hockey’s television ratings, Buffalo’s numbers are always at the top. Those fans deserve a better team. Ownership has failed them. The Pegulas need to remedy that.