So much for that vote of confidence from late May. The Buffalo Sabres announced that they fired Jason Botterill on Tuesday, while also naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.
Kim and Terry Pegula noted that, after “candid discussions” with Botterill, they determined that the sides had “philosophical differences” about how to run the Sabres.
“This morning, we informed Jason Botterill he will no longer be the General Manager of the Sabres,” Kim and Terry Pegula said in that statement. “This decision was made after many candid discussions with Jason during a full review of our hockey operation. We recognized we have philosophical differences regarding how best to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup. So, we decided to make this change.”
Interestingly, the Sabres did not seem to attach an “interim” title to Adams as GM.
“New General Manager Kevyn Adams and Head Coach Ralph Krueger already have a close working relationship and we are excited to see what they can do together as we re-configure our hockey operations,” The Pegulas said. “We have the benefit of this long 2020 pause to take time to reorganize and re-energize our hockey department. We recognize the importance of this offseason with so many player decisions to be made.”
Botterill gives way to Adams after about three years
The Sabres hired Botterill as their eighth GM in May 2017. That gave Botterill enough time to scramble and conduct Buffalo’s 2017 draft, including choosing Casey Mittelstadt eighth overall. (Mittelstadt represents the second debatable eighth overall pick in a row for Buffalo, as the Sabres chose Alex Nylander in that spot the year before.)
Much like Botterill, Phil Housley carried a pretty high league-wide perception into his job as Sabres head coach. To put things mildly, both Botterill and Housley saw such reputations plummet. Botterill stayed on long enough to see Ralph Krueger coach the Sabres for one season, but that’s it.
Generally speaking, Botterill avoided huge free agent moves during his tenure, which seemed wise considering some of Buffalo’s biggest blunders.
Many of his biggest splashes came via trades. While acquiring Jeff Skinner was a big win, Skinner’s pricey extension negated most of that goodwill.
Will the revolving door stop for Buffalo?
The Sabres only managed marginal improvements in defense, goaltending, and depth scoring under Botterill. Despite changing GMs and coaches, the tune seems the same: the Sabres failed to surround Jack Eichel (and now Rasmus Dahlin, too) with much support.
Sabres fans get the change that some desired, at least at GM. You can’t “fire the owners,” so to speak, so plenty of people will grumble at decisions. We’ve seen plenty of examples of “re-arranging the deckchairs” on this sinking Sabres ship, too.
Probably worth mentioning that the contract of former Sabres GM Tim Murray expires in two weeks. He has still been on the Sabres books until June 30.
Will Adams find any more luck and success as GM than Botterill did? It won’t be easy. And Sabres fans might not be inclined to give Adams too much leeway.
UPDATE: The organizational changes continued Tuesday afternoon:
The @BuffaloSabres announced today that General Manager Randy Sexton, Head Coach Chris Taylor and Assistant Coaches Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen have all been relieved of their duties. pic.twitter.com/G0hUY5gdzZ
As interesting as it is to hear about the highs and lows of Kerfoot’s season, this also gives us a chance to revisit the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason as a whole. Some teams made enough momentous trades to earn their own categories, such as Kerfoot’s Maple Leafs.
Misadventures for Maple Leafs in 2019 offseason NHL trades
When judging a trade, it’s crucial to consider context. Even when you grade on a curve, the trades didn’t always pan out for Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
Moving back to Kerfoot, context matters a bit here, too.
Following another ugly postseason suspension, many believed the Maple Leafs needed to trade Nazem Kadri. They also were feeling the cap crunch, so getting a discounted Tyson Barrie provided a nice replacement for outgoing Jake Gardiner.
While the gap between Kadri and Kerfoot might be a bit exaggerated …
… the bottom line is that the trade didn’t meet expectations for the Maple Leafs.
The oddest part, really, revolved around how adamant Dubas was about Cody Ceci being better than people believed. Instead, Ceci was kind of a disaster.
If the Maple Leafs divest themselves of Ceci after 2019-20, then it was still worth it. Zaitsev’s contract was bad, and much longer. But it was a funky situation that rounded out an all-over-the-place offseason. Maybe there were shades of appeasing an eventually outgoing Mike Babcock?
To some extent, Toronto’s flexibility was limited. They didn’t fare as well as some of the other savvy teams, though.
OK, that’s not totally fair. If we’re being sober, the wheels came off of the wagon thanks to some mix of atrocious goaltending and questionable coaching.
Even so, the Devils made aggressive moves to improve, and splashy trades set the stage for disappointments and dysfunction. The headliner that went horribly, horribly wrong was, of course, the P.K. Subban trade.
While it still feels like the Predators could have gotten more for Subban, they did clean up space to sign Matt Duchene, and in a more abstract sense keep Roman Josi. Even those with tempered expectations didn’t expect this season from Subban. Consider that Subban ranked dead last on the Devils according to Evolving Hockey’s GAR metric:
While there’s hope that Subban may rebound, the extended collapse of his game played a big role in the front office upheaval in New Jersey.
Nikita Gusev‘s situation wasn’t nearly as dramatic, and while Gusev performed reasonably well, he didn’t light the hockey world on fire. The Golden Knights probably aren’t losing much sleep over his departure … at least yet.
The Devils recouped some of their draft capital by trading the likes ofTaylor Hall during the deadline, but coughing up four significant draft picks for Subban + Gusev didn’t work out so well.
Pondering other teams making one or more noteworthy trades
Vegas Golden Knights
No, the Golden Knights didn’t parallel the Maple Leafs in every way. They didn’t have the same enormous RFA headaches, and the uncertainty that surrounded those situations.
But they still needed to shed some salaries. While I can’t say I loved every move and thought process, things worked out reasonably well for Vegas in the grand scheme of things.
So this was a rare deal where you could make a strong argument for both sides. I think the Lightning were more shrewd, especially considering limited options (Dubas grumbles again), but the Canucks received big returns from their risky investment (now Shero’s grumbling).
That ended up being the best move during a summer where they unloaded some problems. That included the staggering Phil Kessel trade, and also convincing someone to take on Erik Gudbranson‘s contract. With Kessel mainly offering “meh” in Arizona, and Alex Galchenyuk being part of the Jason Zucker trade, the Penguins have to feel pretty good about their latest series of dramatic decisions.
The Oilers likely received a decent confidence boost from seeing James Neal start so much hotter than Milan Lucic that it became a punchline. With Lucic being a better possession player, that gap narrowed when Neal cooled off.
Really, the true winner might not be crowned until we see if the Oilers can wiggle free from the Neal contract and/or the Flames get rid of Lucic’s deal. Really, that might be the key takeaway even after all these assessments: we may not yet know the final “winners” of the biggest trades of the 2019 NHL offseason for some time.
My issue isn’t and wasn’t with the Blues trading forJustin Faulk. Instead, handing him a pricey extension looked risky, and he hasn’t really soothed those concerns with middling play. Hmm.
Would it be fair to lean toward “TBD” on the Andre Burakovsky trade, at least when realizing things were going sour between Burakovsky and the Caps? That’s the way I lean.
Both at age 31 with matching $10.5 million cap hits through 2022-23, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remain the headliners of the Blackhawks’ core.
While Toews in particular isn’t what he once was, the biggest problem is shaky support.
Duncan Keith is far removed from his prime at age 36, yet his contract ($5.54 through 2022-23) lingers. Quite a bit of this structure has broken down, to the point that it would be preferable for both Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw to stay planted on LTIR.
Credit Stan Bowman with trying to improve a shabby defense. Unfortunately, Bowman whiffed with Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy, and Calvin de Haan to varying degrees. Those three contracts stay on the books through 2021-22.
One key question remains: can the Blackhawks find the cash to re-sign Corey Crawford? Actually, that folds into other questions. Being that Crawford is 35, should they?
Also, will Dominik Kubalik and/or Dylan Strome become core members, or stay in limbo with “bridge” deals. Can Alex Nylander cement himself? The supporting cast continues to go through auditions as if they’re in Chicago’s Broadway.
Long-Term Needs for Blackhawks
The Blackhawks face plenty of long-term needs.
Still, sometimes the biggest needs go deeper than “scoring depth” and “some actual, above-average NHL defensemen.” The Blackhawks organization needs to let go of the past, even if it means some extra suffering in the present. Otherwise, the future could be plagued by half-measures.
It would be understandable if the Blackhawks struck a short-term deal with Corey Crawford. He quietly put together a surprisingly strong 2019-20, particularly down the stretch.
This team needs more difference-makers. Adam Boqvist and other prospects figure to boost the competence of Chicago’s crummy defense, but how much?
Ultimately, the Blackhawks need to add “blue chip” talent, and hope that Boqvist, Kirby Dach, and others fall in that category. By trying to enjoy the best of both worlds of competing while getting some young talent, Chicago risks falling short of both marks. They’ve seemingly accrued good-but-not-great talent, and were moderately competitive but not legitimate contenders.
Pull off the Band-Aid already.
Long-Term Strengths for Blackhawks
As mentioned with Panarin and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have shown some ability to unearth talent even when they didn’t have no-brainer picks like they did with Kane and Toews. (Panarin was a Euro free agent, DeBrincat went 39th overall in 2016). Dominik Kubalik looks like he could be the latest hidden gem.
Such successes have been a bit of a double-edged sword, as referenced in the long-term needs section. By finding ways to be semi-competitive, the Blackhawks have sometimes added good where a “tank” season may have provided great.
Still, there’s decent talent to work with. DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik, and maybe Nylander can help on offense. Dach’s development is crucial.
Lately, “almost” has been in painful supply for Chicago. An optimist might squint and see how things could break the Blackhawks’ way, but improving this long-term outlook will require more long-term thinking.
Before the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause the Chicago Blackhawks were headed toward their third consecutive non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive season without a playoff series win (with only three playoff game wins during that stretch).
It has been a pretty sudden fall from the top for an organization that was once the gold standard for winning in the salary cap NHL.
They are not only no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they are not even all that close to being a playoff team in what has been a mostly watered down Western Conference the past two years.
Despite the sudden descent into mediocrity, there does not appear to be any significant changes coming to the coaching staff or front office after this season.
In an interview with the Athletic’s Scott Powers, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said the trio of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton will all be back next season.
Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”
Does he envision all three returning next season?
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”
Wirtz reiterated that when he was asked about a rumored Bowman contract extension.
“I’ll let John (McDonough) get into all the details,” Wirtz said of Bowman’s contract. “But there’s not going to be any changes, so let’s put that away.”
The level of confidence there is a little surprising given the current state of the Blackhawks’ organization, especially as it relates to the key people in the front office responsible with building the team.
It was just a little over a year ago that the team parted ways with a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach (Joel Quenneville) after a slow start to the season 2018-19 season. It wasn’t a stretch to think that move would have started the timer on Bowman given that the attention would eventually drift toward the team’s roster management. Especially after the Blackhawks seemed to go all in this offseason on trying to fix their flaws with the hope of squeezing another run out of this remaining core. Obviously, that gamble has not paid off.
While the Blackhawks have to deal with salary cap restrictions that come from paying a pair of superstars big money at the top, that alone isn’t enough of a justification for the drop in success, especially while teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have maintained consistent success with a similar cap structure. The issue still comes back to roster management and some questionable decisions over the years. The Blackhawks tried to get ahead of their salary cap issues over the years but simply made things worse in the short-and long-term.
They needed to dump Bryan Bickell’s contract and did so by attaching Teuvo Teravainen to it and trading him to Carolina for next to nothing. Today, Teravainen is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and would easily be a top player in Chicago.
They feared how much Artemi Panarin would cost on his next contract and dealt him to Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad and some cost certainty. Talent-for-talent, the trade was laughably one-sided and saw them deal a superstar for a good player. Maybe they couldn’t have re-signed him for his current contract and lost him anyway, but how much more competitive would they have been the previous two years with him at forward with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat?
That is not to say there have not been some successes.
Acquiring Dominik Kubalik has been one of the Blackhawks’ best steals in recent years. DeBrincat has turned out to be an outstanding second-round pick, while recent top picks Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach look like they can be young building blocks going forward. But even with those successes and the promise they bring there are still more questions than solutions throughout the roster. Without dramatic change somewhere, the mediocrity might only continue to build.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues saw their eight-game win streak snap in Friday’s 4-2 loss at New Jersey, meanwhile, the Blackhawks also saw their four-game win streak come to an end in a 2-1 loss at Detroit on the same night.
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko is back on the ice and has skated in separate sessions with assistant coaches and scratched players but hasn’t been cleared to practice at full speed. The 28-year-old underwent shoulder surgery in late October and has been sidelined for the last 58 games.
After losing to the Blues on Feb. 25, the Hawks went on to win four straight games and remained in the Wild Card mix. But a 2-1 loss Friday night to the worst team in the NHL, Detroit, halted the Hawks’ momentum in the crowded West wild card race.
Patrick Kane scored Chicago’s lone goal in the loss at Detroit on Friday, tallying his 31st goal of the season. It was the third consecutive game in which the American-born forward has scored. Kane has also recorded points in nine of his last 11 contests, giving him 13 pts (6G-7A) in that span.
Chicago netminder Corey Crawford started his 8th consecutive game on Friday night, a streak that began on Feb. 21 vs. Nashville. The two-time Cup champ stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced against the Red Wings, but fell to 15-19-3 this season.
Kate Scott will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield and AJ Mleczko from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.
The first-of-its-kind broadcast will be in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, which dates back over 100 years. The broadcast will highlight women who have made their mark on hockey, and sports in general, with the hopes to inspire future generations of women to excel on the ice and behind the scenes.
Sunday night’s coverage will also be surrounded by On Her Turf, NBC Sports’ female empowerment brand. The broadcast will include a number of features highlighting women in hockey during pre-game and intermissions, with custom in-game graphic integration and social coverage.