Jack Eichel

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No names, but Sabres have ‘put a lot of work’ into GM and coach searches

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There have been plenty of candidates floated for the vacant head coach and general manager gigs in Buffalo. Ownership won’t say who they are, but it definitely sounds like some have already been contacted.

“We’re keeping it under wraps,” Kim Pegula said on Wednesday, per WGR 550 radio. “But we definitely have put a lot of work in this week.”

It’s been six days since the Sabres made sweeping changes by firing head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray, capping off a tumultuous period which began with reports of Jack Eichel not wanting to sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remained the bench boss.

Since then, a number of replacement names have surfaced. We’ll focus here on the GM position given. By all logic the Sabres will first hire a GM, who will then have a say in hiring the head coach.

By all logic, of course.

Dean Lombardi, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles before being dismissed in an equally massive housecleaning, has been rumored as a candidate. But Lombardi’s replacement in L.A., Rob Blake, said he’s yet to be contacted by any clubs requesting an interview.

Some have suggested Buffalo could dive into its history, and bring back a former player in an executive role. This is why former Sabres captain Chris Drury has come up so often. Drury, 40, has risen up the management ranks quickly in recent years, and currently serves as Rangers GM Jeff Gorton’s assistant (Drury is also putting together the Team USA entry for the upcoming World Hockey Championships).

In that vein, former Buffalo coach and GM Rick Dudley has also been floated, as has Jason Botterill. Botterill, who played three years with the Sabres organization, is the associate GM in Pittsburgh and widely regarded as one of the brightest up-and-coming execs in the league.

If the Sabres opt to take a different tact, and look for “new blood,” Sportsnet’s John Shannon ran down a list of candidates:

Other names worth adding? Bill Zito, the assistant GM in Columbus, and Norm Maciver, the assistant GM in Chicago.

Given the number of candidates listed here, it’s not surprising that the Pegulas have put in a ton of work looking for their new GM.

There’s a ton of work to be done.

No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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Tough day for USA Hockey.

After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

(Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

Gaudreau joins Eichel as latest additions to USA’s Worlds roster

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Another big score for USA Hockey on Friday.

Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau — whose season ended earlier Wednesday with a playoff sweep at the hands of Anaheim — told reporters today he’d be joining Team USA for the upcoming World Championships in Germany and France.

Gaudreau’s announcement comes just days after another big name — Buffalo’s Jack Eichelalso agreed to join the squad.

All this makes for a pretty intriguing roster.

USA Hockey has adopted a youth movement, selecting collegiate players like Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen (a Buffalo draftee), Boston University forward Jordan Greenway (a Minnesota draftee), Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork (a Boston draftee) and Daniel Brickley, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State-Mankato.

In addition to those, some quality NHL youngsters are also in the mix: Noah Hanifin, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp and a pair of prized Arizona prospects — Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller. Detroit sophomore Dylan Larkin will also suit up for the Americans.

The 2017 Worlds get underway on May 5.

 

 

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.

Sabres owner to address media tomorrow

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Sabres owner Terry Pegula will address the media tomorrow morning — and, boy, will Buffalo reporters have some questions for him.

Pegula cleaned house today, firing general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma.

The moves came after Pegula met with Murray, who’d just held his own press conference last week.

Murray had hinted that ownership may demand changes.

“There’s going to be a review, top to bottom,” he said. “I have to meet with ownership next week in Florida. I’m sure I’m going to be reviewed. I’m sure I’m being reviewed right now, as I should be.”

Still, today’s announcement came as a surprise. Most observers felt that perhaps Bylsma would be relieved of his duties. But Murray as well?

To be sure, Murray has made his share of mistakes. He was the one who hired Bylsma, and clearly there was a disconnect between the coaching staff and players.

“I think the players have legitimate gripes about the coach,” Murray conceded. “I think players have legitimate gripes about the way our team is built, and I think the players have gripes that aren’t legitimate and are excuses.”

Speaking of the way the Sabres are built, Murray’s biggest roster failure was the defense, and that’s no easy thing to fix overnight. Whoever succeeds him, the blue line will be arguably the biggest challenge.

But the new GM will also have to return a sense of calm and cohesion to the organization. The way Murray described things last week, the GM was not on the same page with the coach, the coach was not on the same page with the players, and the players were one frustrated bunch, including young star Jack Eichel.

Expect Pegula to get asked about Eichel — especially in the wake of yesterday’s report that the 20-year-old wanted Bylsma gone.

Because, today, Bylsma is gone.

So, how much did Eichel have to do with with that?

If Pegula’s smart, he’ll shield his young star and say it was 100 percent ownership’s decision, that there were other reasons for the firings, nothing to do with Eichel. No need for the face of the franchise to be painted as a guy who gets people fired.

Anyway, it should be an interesting morning in Buffalo.

Pegula must be getting pretty used to these things by now.

Related: Eichel denies report, says he wants to be a Sabre ‘for a long time’