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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’

Sabres clean house, fire Murray and Bylsma

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Capping off a tumultuous week filled with reports of internal dysfunction and animosity, the Sabres have made sweeping changes.

GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma have been fired, the team announced on Thursday. The news comes just one day after a report from WGR radio in Buffalo claimed star sophomore Jack Eichel, who’s eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1, wouldn’t ink if Bylsma was still the club’s head coach.

“After reviewing the past season and looking at the future of our organization, Kim and I have decided to relieve General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma of their duties,” owner Terry Pegula said in a release. “We want to thank Tim and Dan for their hard work and efforts that they have put in during their tenures with the club.

“We wish them luck. We have begun the process to fill these positions immediately.”

Murray was brought aboard as GM in 2014, taking over from longtime executive Darcy Regier. After nearly one year on the job, Murray fired head coach Ted Nolan and replaced him with Bylsma, who’d previously led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Bylsma went 68-73-23 over his two years in charge of the Sabres, but was roundly criticized this year for regressing. Buffalo went from 35 wins and 81 points in his first season to 33 and 78 in his second, and there were reports of discord within the dressing room.

At his end-of-year media availability, Murray dropped his now-infamous ‘coffee’ line about Bylsma.

“The video that they do and the preparation is exhausting,” Murray explained. “I do have an opinion, and think that sometimes maybe they’re stuck in that room preparing and working hard, but maybe they can put a coffee in their hand once in a while and do two hours of video instead of three, and get out and get to know our players and talk to our players.

“It’s about coaching individuals a little more and coaching system a little less. That’s my opinion and I believe that’s the right way.”

Murray’s tenure as GM was marked by some of the worst seasons in franchise history, all designed for a massive rebuild. While the plan worked on some fronts — Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Alex Nylander were all acquired in the draft — Murray’s roster was incomplete, especially on the back end. That resulted in Buffalo lagging behind Toronto in the rebuild race, which was visibly frustrating for all involved.

Murray also pulled off some massive trades during his time as GM. Ryan O'Reilly was acquired in a blockbuster move with Colorado, and Evander Kane was pried out of Winnipeg. Both have put forth some good campaigns for the Sabres, yet haven’t been able to pull the team far enough out of the Eastern Conference basement.

‘I want to be here for a long time’: Eichel says he isn’t interested in leaving Buffalo

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On Wednesday, a report surfaced suggesting that Jack Eichel wasn’t going to sign a contract extension with Buffalo if Dan Bylsma was still the head coach.

Later on in the day, Eichel’s agent, Peter Fish, told the Buffalo News that the report was completely false. Now, it’s Eichel’s turn to give his version of the story.

In a Q&A with the Buffalo News, Eichel denied that he felt the way the original report suggested.

“I think a lot of things have been written today about me and about things that are not true, to be honest with you,” said Eichel. “Reading some of these things, I was a little bit bombarded this morning with a lot of articles that I think are pretty inaccurate. I’m just reading things in the last few days that are a little bit out of whack and not true.”

He admitted that he could have handled his post-season press conference a little better, but he’s still a 20-year-old figuring out life as an NHLer. When your first two seasons end without you making the playoffs, the frustration can definitely get to you.

As frustrating as 2016-17 may have been for him, Eichel wanted to make sure everyone in the hockey world knew that he remains committed to the organization and the city of Buffalo long-term.

“I want to be here for a long time. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t want anybody to think that I want to be somewhere else. I want to be here, and I want to help this team win in any way that I can do that. I just want all the people there to know that.”