Four key takeaways from the Terry Pegula presser

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One day after a stunning housecleaning that included the firing of head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray, Buffalo owner Terry Pegula spoke to the media on Friday to discuss the future of his franchise.

Some of the key takeaways:

• “Discipline, structure, communication and character.” Those were the four words Pegula constantly re-iterated as the keys, or pillars if you will, of what the Sabres need moving forward. The view seemed to be that, organizationally, all of those areas were lacking under Murray and Bylsma — which can’t come as a huge surprise.

Though candid, Murray had a reputation of being blunt. One wonders if his, ahem, unique communicative style rubbed some people the wrong way. There also seemed to be a major divide between Murray’s preferred approach and the one Bylsma employed. Murray’s ‘cup of coffee‘ remarks largely hinted at that, and perhaps spoke to a bigger chasm between the front office and coaching staff.

• Pegula said he regretted not being more hands-on with the initial Murray/Bylsma hires, which was interesting. Murray, you’ll recall, was brought aboard by Pat LaFontaine, as part of a more structured front office staff (LaFontaine was president of hockey ops, Craig Patrick was special adviser and Murray was GM.)

LaFontaine spent all of four months on the job before resigning.

By contrast, Pegula has been incredibly hands-on with the Buffalo Bills, specifically with regards to coaching. Pegula was very outspoken following Rex Ryan’s dismissal earlier this year, and some suggested that approach led to internal dysfunction. Specifically, that Pegula was the one calling the majority of the shots, as opposed to GM Doug Whaley. That will be another dynamic to watch as the Sabres’ front office is rebuilt.

• Pegula said Jack Eichel had nothing to do with Bylsma’s dismissal, despite what was reported two days ago.

“Let me borrow what Jack’s agent, Peter Fish, said. Peter said ‘I don’t know where those stories come from, that’s ridiculous.’ Jack’s involvement, as it was reported, is a complete fabrication. I defend Jack, just as Peter did. It’s not a true story.”

It was a strong statement, though Pegula said the decision to fire Bylsma and Murray came after their exit interviews, along with interviews from Sabres personnel — and players. Regardless of what was said today, Eichel will remain an important figure in the coming months. Remember, he’s eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and the incoming GM will probably have that atop his priority list.

It would also stand to reason there will be some Eichel-led vetting of the next head coach, if only to avoid a similar situation to the one the Sabres currently find themselves in.

• Pegula emphatically shot down a Sportsnet report that he’d already interviewed ex-LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi to replace Murray.

“We haven’t talked to anybody. Put that in the Jack-demanded-his-coach-be-fired category. It’s a pure fabrication. I’m going to re-iterate what Peter Fish said. Where does this stuff come from?”

That same Sportsnet report claimed future interviews were set for this weekend. There’s been a bevy of names floated on the potential candidate list, though perhaps the most intriguing ones are ex-Sabres players currently in executive positions, like Chris Drury (currently the assistant GM for the Rangers) and Jason Botterill (currently the associate GM in Pittsburgh).

Finally, Pegula said the search for a new GM and coach would begin immediately. That’s not surprising, given what lies ahead — protected and available lists for the expansion draft are due in 58 days, and free agency opens in less than 11 weeks.

U.S. women’s hockey team to play NWHL team in Olympic tune-up

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s national team will play two exhibitions against some familiar faces from the National Women’s Hockey League next month in a final tune-up for the Olympics.

The games are set for Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Florida, where the national team has been training.

Eleven players currently on the U.S. roster competed in the NWHL during the 2016-17 season, USA Hockey said Thursday. The pro league enters its third season with teams in New York, Boston, Buffalo and Stamford, Connecticut.

”(The NWHL) continues to play at an elite level and does a great job of exposing the game in different markets,” USA Hockey women’s director Reagan Carey said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Megan Bozek and Emily Pfalzer helped the Buffalo Beauts win the NWHL championship last March.

”The NWHL is honored to be welcomed by USA Hockey and to participate in this pair of important exhibition games,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. ”Our players, coaches and staff are excited to have this opportunity.”

U.S. national team captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Alex Carpenter and Amanda Pelkey played for the Boston Pride.

Amanda Kessel (New York Riveters) and Haley Skarupa (Connecticut Whale) also played in the pro league.

Many of the players on both rosters are either ex-teammates or completed against each other in college and the pros.

”The NWHL will do its best to give the players some strong competition so they’re ready to bring home the gold in February,” Rylan said.

The U.S. team won gold at the first women’s hockey event, at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Since then, the team has earned three silvers and a bronze in losses to Canada.

”We want to make sure the ’98 team has some company with the gold medal,” Carey said.

The Americans and Canadians will finish their six-game exhibition series with two games this weekend. The U.S. has a 1-3 record so far, but beat its rivals twice at The Four Nations Cup and won the title.

The teams have drawn good crowds in Canada and U.S. stops in Boston and St. Paul, Minnesota. They drew 9,000 flag-waving fans on Dec. 3 in a 2-1 overtime loss at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

”It’s been great to see so many young girls and hockey teams,” Carey said. ”You can really see the growing landscape for young girls.”

The U.S. plays Canada on Friday night in San Jose, California. The Americans wrap up the series on Sunday night at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, in a game televised on NHL Network.

Oilers need healthy Talbot to give them a spark during upcoming crucial stretch

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At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the favorites to win or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But through 32 games, their season has looked more like a train-wreck than a victory parade in-waiting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes are below the Oilers in the Western Conference standings right now, which is still kind of surprising.

One of the biggest reasons they’ve struggled in the first third of the season is because of goalie Cam Talbot. First, he wasn’t very good at the start of the season. Talbot wasn’t providing his team with the solid goaltending he had given them last year.

Second, just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a upper-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since the end of November.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had won three games in a row while allowing two goals in each of those outings. During his absence, Laurent Brossoit went 3-4-0. The Oilers backup netminder gave up three goals or more in four of those seven games.

On Friday, the Oilers (finally) got some positive news, as they activated their starting netminder from the injured list. According to head coach Todd McLellan, he’ll be between the pipes for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Now, they just have to hope that he can pick up where he left off before landing on IR.

Earlier this season, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was in a similar situation to Talbot’s. Price was awful out of the gate and the Canadiens were struggling. Nothing was going right for them. But after missing roughly three weeks with an injury, Price returned in tip-top shape. Even though Montreal is still outside of a playoff spot right now, they play of their goaltender has allowed them to get back into the race.

McLellan has to hope that Talbot’s “break” allowed him to get better and re-focus on the task at hand. Connor McDavid is still the face of the franchise, but he clearly can’t get the job done by himself.

Edmonton is about to jump into a crucial stretch of their season. After tomorrow’s game in Minnesota, they’ll play seven of their next eight games on home ice, where they have an ugly 5-10-0 record. If they want to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to start racking up the wins at Rogers Place.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Maple Leafs help SickKids Foundation make giant cookie for Santa (Video)

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It’s always special to see NHL teams give back to their communities in original ways. The Toronto Maple Leafs found a pretty unique way to help out the SickKids Foundation. It even involved putting on a hairnet.

The Leafs made their annual visit to the SickKids Foundation earlier this month and some of them took part in a special tradition that involves making a giant cookie for Santa “no-trade” Claus (sorry).

Mike Babock, Wendel Clark and a few of the current members of the team worked hard to make sure that the finished product was all quality.

Babcock barking out orders in the kitchen is hilarious. Him emphasizing “cream your sugar” is pretty good, too.

“I come here on a regular basis and the people here are stars,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Star. “If you think of your children getting diagnosed with something, let’s say cancer, it’s an awful thing and you want to go to the best place, with the best doctors, so you can feel the best. To me that’s what this place is all about.

“Sometimes when things are going really good in your life you need to take a step back, take a deep breath to understand how lucky you are.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold during tomorrow’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa

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We’re just over 24 hours away from the “NHL 100 Classic” outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators at TD Place in Ottawa. Don’t forget, you can watch that game online tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. ET via the NBC Sports app.

If you’re considering watching the game at home, that’s probably a wise move considering it’s going to be freezing in Ottawa on Saturday night.

According to the Weather Network, it’s supposed to be mainly clear. It’s also going to be 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’ll feel more like minus-4 because of the wind-chill factor.

“There are going to be moments we wish we were inside,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

And Bobby Ryan is a little confused:

“I can’t even pronounce the thing that goes over your head,” Ryan told TSN Radio’s Ian Mendes. “It’s sounds like a dessert — a balaclava or whatever.”

As fun as this might be, it’s still a huge game between two Atlantic Division rivals. The Canadiens are two points behind Boston for third in the Atlantic and the Sens are five points behind Montreal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.