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.