Kim Pegula

Can Kevyn Adams overcome inexperience to succeed as Sabres GM?

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Fair or not, it’s difficult to avoid the “inexperience” question regarding the Sabres handing the GM keys to Kevyn Adams.

Keith Jones, Patrick Sharp, and Liam McHugh discussed that subject, along with other Sabres issues, in the latest edition of “Our Line Starts.” While Sharp provided some glowing words for Adams, and Jones expressed optimism about holdover head coach Ralph Krueger, the larger Sabres picture is unsettling.

You can watch and listen to the full “Our Line Starts” podcast in the video above. The episode is also included at the bottom of this post. Here’s the specific clip discussing Adams and the inexperience issue:

Sabres present a colossal challenge for GM Adams, even ignoring inexperience

It’s amusing that Kim and Terry Pegula leaning on “E” buzzwords, especially efficiency, in making this change, being that they’re going with a third inexperienced GM in a row.

Let’s be honest, if there’s an “E” you’d use to describe this Sabres era, it would be “erratic.”

Adams represents the fourth GM the Sabres hired since the Pegulas came into the picture in 2013. Ralph Krueger ranks as their sixth head coach. Both Tim Murray and now Jason Botterill only received three years to make their marks as Sabres GMs.

To be frank, it’s difficult to guess what kind of vision Adams has as GM. In a lengthy discussion with The Athletic’s Tim Graham (sub required), Adams emphasized communication. And, yes, the word “efficient” went around a lot.

But there weren’t a lot of specifics. Just about every team claims that they want to emphasize speed and character, two things Adams did key on.

Adams did indicate that he’ll be working closely with Krueger. There can be some drawbacks to coaches having a lot of say in personnel matters, but considering how disjointed the Sabres are right now, having two top front office members on the same page is a plus.

(Yes, the Sabres are absolutely dealing in small victories right now. That’s what happens when you’re rudderless amid a nine-year playoff drought.)

Can Adams rebuild — not just the roster, but also the front office?

Botterill getting fired and replaced with Adams grabs the headlines. Yet, the Sabres absolutely dismantled their staff, almost top to bottom.

The Athletic’s John Vogl captures how scorched-earth the Sabres “barren” system currently looks (sub required), illustrated quickest in his tweet:

Yikes.

It’s not particularly promising that Adams doesn’t just qualify as inexperienced as a GM. He hasn’t served as an assistant GM, either. He was just promoted to vice president of business administration in September.

To be fair, many of us roll our eyes at NHL teams constantly hiring “retreads.”

Still, this situation makes you wonder if it’s really ideal for a novice. Sabres fans aren’t exactly overflowing with patience right now. Neither is superstar Jack Eichel.

Adams isn’t merely being asked to unearth prospects, or clean up the salary cap. While the Sabres’ messaging hinges on “doing more with less,” they’ll need to restock their front office — at least eventually.

Frankly, I view going short-staffed as short-sighted, at least in the longer term. It’s easy to look at a large staff as bloated. However, a savvy team can save millions merely by investing in an analytics staff that would tell people “No.”

Could a larger analytics emphasis have averted disastrous free agent signings over the years? Possibly. Maybe they could have salvaged more from trading Ryan O'Reilly, if that was unavoidable? It’s pretty easy to see how relatively cheap staff members could save teams millions.

The Sabres do still employ an analytics director (Jason Nightingale), but that doesn’t mean it’s an area of emphasis. I personally believe that is where a team can be more “efficient” than old-school, bigger spending teams.

Sabres at least have time to search for answers

Overall, there are a lot of troubling signs for the Sabres, with the inexperience of Kevyn Adams merely being one of them.

That said, it’s crucial to remember that the Sabres will probably look quite different whenever the 2020-21 season kicks into gear. (Or, gulp, 2021-22? Just 2021, then 2022? We live in uncertain times.)

The key is for important people, particularly the Pegulas, to learn from mistakes. Not even going through a GM search ranks as yet another troubling sign, but maybe inexperience won’t matter as much as some think regarding Adams?

It will be fascinating, and maybe a little frightening, to watch it all play out. Speaking of playing out, enjoy the latest episode of “Our Line Starts” below.

Start-12:45 Breaking down the front office overhaul in Buffalo
12:45-16:35 What will life in the “bubble” be like?
19:10-22:50 Discussion on potential hub cities as the official announcement nears
22:50-34:30 Handicapping some of the major awards

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE ON ADAMS, SABRES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM

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The Sabres stunned many on Tuesday by firing Jason Botterill, and naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

The move accomplished the interesting task of making the inevitable feel shocking. Yes, Botterill seemed like he was on borrowed time as GM. But considering Kim Pegula’s vote of confidence from late May, the Sabres signaled that now was not the time. And then they changed course.

As messy as all of this is, the truth is that it might work out for the best. Why head into this long, unusual offseason with a GM you don’t believe in? Every prime year from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is precious, so why waste them if Botterill really isn’t the best choice?

Of course, what happens next hinges on Kevyn Adams. Can he finally get the Sabres on track as the franchise is mired in a nine-year playoff drought? Let’s look at the monumental task(s) Adams has in front of him.

Adams faces key decisions (big and small, short and long-term) as Sabres GM

As cathartic as it might be to move on from a GM or coach that didn’t work out, there’s also a risk that the new people in charge will make the wrong changes, sometimes merely to show that they’re not just sitting idly.

For better (Jack Eichel) and worse (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo), the Sabres have a lot of big contracts they really can’t move. Rasmus Ristolainen stands as the biggest piece — even literally — that they actually could conceivably remove.

It feels like Ristolainen has been subject to trade rumors for ages, even though he’s merely 25. Either way, it makes you wonder if Botterill wanted too much for Ristolainen, or if the market really is just that cold on him.

Frankly, the Sabres might be better off cutting their losses, even at a discount rate. By most measures, including this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, Ristolainen seems like an overall drag on his team:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should trade Rasmus Ristolainen
via Evolving Hockey

If the Sabres traded Ristolainen, it might help solve their Rasmus Riddle.

On one hand, Ralph Krueger really helped improve the Sabres on defense. Consider his isolated impact via Hockey Viz:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should keep Ralph Krueger
via Hockey Viz

Yet, while Krueger bumped down Ristolainen’s ice time, the tall defenseman still topped the Sabres in ice time. Meanwhile, Rasmus Dahlin actually saw a dramatic drop in ice time from his rookie campaign (21:09) to his sophomore season (19:18).

That’s puzzling. I can’t help but point out that the “free agent” market for coaches is unusually robust, featuring choices ranging from Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant to Peter Laviolette and even Mike Babcock.

Overall, though? It seems like Krueger is a good coach, maybe a very good one. Adams should probably trade away that one bad habit in Ristolainen, though.

RFAs need addressing

Take a look at the Sabres’ long-term outlook for a longer list, but Buffalo is brimming with RFA decisions to make.

Some of the most important names include breakout rookie sniper Victor Olofsson, goalie Linus Ullmark, baffling trade acquisition Wayne Simmonds, Brandon Montour, Michael Frolik, and Jimmy Vesey.

While the Sabres have $25M devoted to Eichel, Skinner, and Okposo alone, the slate is reasonably clean for Kevyn Adams to make his own mark as GM.

He’ll need to make the right calls not just with who to bring back, but also who to add.

Ullmark played pretty well this season, but not necessarily to the point that he silenced all questions about Sabres goaltending. Should Adams stick with Ullmark and Carter Hutton, who’s worked on vision problems and has one year remaining? Should the Sabres instead plunge into a pretty promising goalie market, and either try to trade away Hutton or even eat the cost of sending Hutton to the AHL?

Go big in free agency or aim more modestly?

If the Sabres make the call to spend on a UFA goalie, they’d need to determine the right target. Braden Holtby boasts a big name, but he’s struggled in recent years, and would be expensive if he leaves the Capitals. It’s difficult to imagine Robin Lehner returning to Buffalo, but maybe Adams and the Sabres can identify the next Lehner?

Skaters represent interesting questions, too.

If Alex Pietrangelo becomes available, is it worth the risk of going top-heavy to improve in an area of need? Dahlin will need a contract after 2020-21, so the Sabres could see their breathing room collapse quickly if they signed Pietrangelo, only to receive diminishing returns.

Taylor Hall could give Eichel the sort of support he’s rarely seen, yet Hall’s shown serious signs of decline recently.

The Sabres have also gotten burned by more mid-range free agent signings, so there are risks if they swing for contact rather than for the fences.

Maybe the best path would be to call up, say, the Lightning or another cap-challenged team to shake loose some talent?

Even if Adams keeps his early moves modest, he still faces a lot of questions in taking over as Sabres GM. This team needs to add talent, and rebuild trust from fans. As we’ve seen from Botterill and others, it’s a job that can go wrong in many ways.

What would you do if you were in Adams’ shoes?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres fire Jason Botterill, name Kevyn Adams as new GM

Jason Botterill Kevyn Adams Sabres GM
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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.

[RELATED: Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM]

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.

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:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pegula focused on efficiency; staying on as Sabres President

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Kim Pegula is staying on as Buffalo Sabres president with a continued focus on making the small-market franchise economically sustainable, while in the face of criticism the team has been mismanaged under her leadership.

The team’s co-owner told The Associated Press in a recent interview she believes she remains the best-suited for the job to streamline the operation, while acknowledging the process has taken longer than expected.

”Sometimes I kick myself in saying, ‘How come I didn’t see this sooner? That’s on me,” Pegula said, referring to a restructuring that began last year.

”But that’s what I’m trying to do now, trying to really remold and reshape the organization into what Terry and I envision,” she added, referring to her husband. ”One thing I’ve been preaching is sustainability, about how to ensure that we are here in this Buffalo area for a long time.”

Pegula cited financial challenges the coronavirus pandemic presents because of the economic effect it has had on Erie County, where the unemployment rate hit nearly 20% in April.

The Sabres are already among the NHL’s smallest market teams, and the region lacks a large corporate base to drive suite sales and sponsorships.

The economic conditions, coupled with the team’s nine-year playoff drought, leave open questions how difficult it will be to draw fans once the next season begins.

The Sabres, who once had to place a cap on season-ticket sales, have more recently had difficulty selling out games. According to Forbes, Buffalo ranked 24th among NHL teams with $1.9 million in operating revenue in 2018-19.

Pegula said her emphasis on long-term financial stability is to have an efficiently run franchise.

”There’s tough decisions that are going to have to be made, but anyone at the top has to make them,” she said. ”I think we’re in a better place, just not done yet.”

The timing of the pandemic also puts into question how much the Pegulas can count on public tax dollars to upgrade a county-owned arena that hasn’t undergone major renovations since it was built in 1996.

The Pegulas have spent hundreds of millions of their own dollars on arena upgrades, as well as building a hotel, restaurant and practice facility adjacent to the arena.

Critics contend many of the Sabres’ problems are the result of the Pegulas’ doing.

Aside from still paying salaries of former employees, the Pegulas have been blamed for creating a top-heavy parent company, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which oversees their numerous holdings, including the NFL Buffalo Bills.

The Pegulas were most recently criticized for a series of cost-cutting measures in April, when they laid off 21 employees, including several high-profile executives such as long-time ticket sales vice president John Sinclair.

Former Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn took issue with Sinclair’s dismissal.

”When you’re trying to preserve your fanbase, the face of your franchise with every fan is John Sinclair, so it just makes no sense to do that,” Quinn told The Associated Press. ”I would’ve eliminated PSE. There’s tremendous money over there. I would’ve cut the whole place, just shut it down.”

The cuts at PSE began in February 2019, when three executives were let go, including chief operating officer Bruce Popko. The company has since cut more staff, including members of its marketing-film unit Pic6ix.

The Sabres, meantime, have featured a revolving door of coaches and executives since being purchased by the Pegulas in February 2011.

The team is on its sixth coach, third general manager, with Pegula serving as its fourth president, including Pat LaFontaine, who abruptly quit in February 2014, nearly four months after being hired.

While Pegula is criticized for her role overseeing the Sabres, she has earned little credit for holding the same title with the Bills. The NFL team has been a model of efficiency and reached the playoffs in two of the three past seasons under coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

”Do I want to do it forever? No,” Pegula said of holding the president’s title. ”Who knows, I’ve kind of been enjoying this role. Yeah, I’m fixed in.”

Sabres fans are fed up with losing, and so is Jack Eichel

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While 24 NHL teams aim to return to play, the Buffalo Sabres will not. Despite seeing a league-leading playoff drought extend to nine consecutive seasons, the Sabres confirmed that GM Jason Botterill will be back. This all translates to deeply frustrating times for Sabres fans — not to mention star Jack Eichel.

And both Eichel and those Sabres fans made some waves with the way they aired their grievances.

Eichel and other Sabres are “fed up with losing”

Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and other Sabres vented during recent days. In Eichel’s case, he admitted that he’s “fed up with losing.” When you listen to Eichel, you can hear that mixture of fatigue and anger.

Eichel carries a lot of the burden as the Sabres’ biggest star. Yet, as much as Eichel’s suffered through five years of failures, Rasmus Ristolainen absorbed even more over seven. Rumors circulated that Ristolainen wanted out last summer, and he only (kind of) calmed things down later on.

Maybe that sets the stage for some eyebrow-raising comments? Ristolainen told reporters that he realizes that if someone gets traded, he might be the first to go. The defenseman also acknowledged how comments about building toward the future must make everyone sound like a broken record.

No doubt, missing the postseason in such an embarrassing way has to sting Sabres players like Eichel and Ristolainen. The angst also makes it more awkward for Botterill to try to say all the right things.

With cap space opening up and huge needs still lingering, this is a huge offseason for the Sabres. It also could be a long one in a more literal way, if the 2020-21 season starts in, say, December. Clearly, plenty of Sabres players won’t be feeling very patient if the team suffers through another stretch of setbacks.

Fans share discontent — sometimes creatively

It’s clear — and it’s been clear for a while — that Sabres fans are out of patience, too. (Remember Duane?)

Sabres fan Jill Thompson put the team “up for sale” on Craigslist. While the listing was not very surprisingly removed, Thompson shared a screenshot of it on Twitter:

Thompson wrote this in the listing:

For Sale: NHL Hockey Franchise
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Available: ASAP

*Lost team with diehard fanbase looking for wealthy owner who actually understands hockey*

Organization on the cheap. Could be flipped. Major structural damage but few core pieces still in tact.

Non-Negotiable Terms:
-Franchise must stay in current city and is ineligible for relocation.
-Immediate family (i.e. wife) is not eligible for internal position within the organization
-Must provide “team puppy”

Not crazy about the “immediate family” barb personally, but otherwise? Pretty good. Really, all 31 NHL teams should have at least one puppy.

Thompson explained the listing to the Buffalo News, and capturing the mood of many Sabres fans in the process:

“When I post about the Sabres on Twitter, it’s sadly in a negative light and that is because I am upset for the level of disrespect/lack of accountability/neglect of everything down to the smallest details that we are shown from the owners,” Thompson wrote to the Buffalo News. “As one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports, we deserve better.”

With serious questions lingering regarding goaltending, defense, and forward depth, the Sabres have a long way to go to turn things around. And they might not have a ton of time to win back fans like Thompson.

More on the Sabres

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.