Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Shuffling The Deck Again

The irony in this picture is that the background does not associate in any way with the man in the picture. That's former Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill who was shown the door today by the Sabres after he was given a vote of confidence by the team just three weeks ago. Yes, he had his legs swept out from under him by his superstar when Jack Eichel went public with his unhappiness over missing the playoffs yet again, so you knew something might be changing after hearing his comments. Today, Kim and Terry Pegula made the decision to remove Botterill and a handful of other staff in an effort to correct the problems.

The Pegulas have never been shy about taking unconventional routes to success, but the move today to remove Botterill from his position comes as a bit of a shock considering the comments made three weeks ago regarding their confidence in him. The reason for today's firing was cited as "a lack of communication and philosophical differences over the direction of a franchise in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought" as reported by CBC's John Wawrow.

"I'm not going to sit here and dish on Jason Botterill, but we have a vision and we want to see our vision succeed," Terry Pegula stated during the Zoom call to announce this change. "We were in detailed discussions with Jason, and how we felt we needed to move forward effectively, efficiently and economically running this franchise, we felt there were too many differences of opinion going into the future."

I'm not sure what the vision is other than "win the Stanley Cup", but having ownership dictate to the hockey operations how they want to see the Stanley Cup win is usually never a good thing. Adding in the "move forward effectively, efficiently, and economically" part seems to indicate that they weren't fond of how Botterill was spending their money despite having a very limited asset pool.

Here are the hard numbers on Botterill along with assistant GMs Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley who were also axed from the team. In three seasons under Botterill's watch, the Sabres went 88-115-30 and were destined to miss the playoffs again this season had it finished normally. Even with the expanded 24-team format which the NHL will use to conclude this season, the Sabres just missed the cut due to points percentage.

Normally, a three-year gap of missing the playoffs while rebuilding isn't a huge cause for concern, it spelled real trouble for Botterill who continued to tinker with the lineup through trades and free agency without any meaningful improvements. The nine years that the Sabres have missed the playoffs is the longest in the NHL currently.

There were positives in his reign over the club as he hired Ralph Krueger who seems to have the respect of the players, he signed Jack Eichel to a maximum deal as the superstar will remain in Buffalo for a while, and he used the draft and trades to acquire good, young talent like Rasmus Dahlin, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittlestadt, Ryan Johnson, Dylan Cozens, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Of course, there were missteps in his time in the big chair as well. Ryan O'Reilly's trade is looked at as a missed opportunity. The Jeff Skinner trade, which started well, looked awful through the lens of last season after he also signed a maximum contract. Dealing away a "heart and soul" guy like Marcus Foligno never made much sense to me, and he's continued to be a good player for the Wild. And while the Sabres desperately needed good defenders, drafting Dahlin over guys like Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, and Quinn Hughes now seems like an error as well.

As of today, former NHL grinder Kevyn Adams moves into the general manager role as the Sabres prepare for the NHL Draft Lottery and the NHL Entry Draft after their latest miss on a potential playoff spot. If everything were to go down as planned, the Sabres would be drafting somewhere around the seventh pick, but I'm sure they're hoping to move up in the sequence.

Adams, who held the role of vice-president of business operations among the many hats he wore for the Pegulas, sounds like he's far closer to the owners than Botterill was, and we'll have to see how that plays out when it comes to who is pulling the strings. While I feel that Adams likely will be making the decisions, it will leave us to wonder how much influence the Pegulas will have when it comes to personnel decisions.

In a more surprising move, the Rochester Americans - also owned by the Pegulas as the AHL affiliate of the Sabres - fired head coach Chris Taylor and assistants coaches Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen. Rochester finished the abbreviated season as the second-place team in the AHL's North Division with a 33-20-9 record for 75 points, six points back of first-place Belleville but still firmly entrenched in a potential playoff spot. Rochester has always been considered one of the better AHL franchises for development, so this change comes with furrowed brow of being puzzled since Taylor and his staff have been successful in getting players ready for the NHL level.

Clearly, the moves by the Pegulas today clean the slate and shuffle the deck quite thoroughly from top to bottom within the Sabres franchise. Whether or not this improves the team overall will remain to be seen, but it's pretty clear that this organization is moving in another direction entirely with the dismissals made today at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Spring cleaning happened in June 2020 for the Buffalo Sabres.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: