“He’s my coach today. I’m the general manager today. There’s going to be a review, top to bottom. I’m going to meet with ownership in Florida next week. I’m sure I’m going to be reviewed. I’m sure I’m being reviewed right now. As I should be,” he said.
Bylsma was reviewed. Murray was reviewed.
On Thursday, the Sabres announced that both have been fired.
“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. 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,” said Pegula, in a statement.
It’s an amazing, unexpected housecleaning. Bylsma wasn’t on solid footing, but had three years left on his contract at $3 million per season. Murray also signed a contract extension with the Sabres in October 2016.
But as Pegula, who also owns the Buffalo Bills, showed in firing Rex Ryan after the NFL season: Contract term doesn’t prevent him from turfing guys that aren’t getting results.
Bylsma was hired in 2015 after the Sabres were spurned by coach Mike Babcock, who took a big money deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs and now has them in the playoffs. In two years with Buffalo, Bylsma was 68-73-23 without a playoff appearance. He made the playoffs in all six years he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
His firing comes one day after a report claimed superstar forward Jack Eichel wouldn’t sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma was still the coach. Both Eichel and his agent pushed back on that report as being inaccurate.
Murray was hired in Jan. 2014 by former team president Pat LaFontaine. Nephew of former Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray, he served as Ottawa’s assistant GM for seven years and was seen as an executive with an eye for young talent.
In his time with Buffalo, he oversaw a tank job that resulted in them drafting Eichel (but missing out in Connor McDavid who, it should be said, is in the playoffs). He also made a few bold moves, including the trade that brought Evander Kane to Buffalo in a package for Tyler Myers and a multi-player deal that netted them Ryan O’Reilly. But the team’s porous blue line wasn’t sufficiently addressed, and he leaves Buffalo without having produced a playoff team.
What now for Pegula and the Sabres?
The first name that comes to mind as a general manager is Dean Lombardi, who was fired by the Los Angeles Kings last week. He built a two-time Stanley Cup champion and did so by knowing how to flip young assets into players that could help a contender. That’s pretty much where the Sabres are going to be in the next two years.
As for a coach, Pegula is a long-time Lindy Ruff supporter, as Ruff was recently fired by the Dallas Stars. But one wonders if it’s Lombardi, if former Flyers coach and Kings assistant John Stevens doesn’t get a look. Or if the whole band gets back together, and Lombardi and Darryl Sutter both move east.
Other familiar names include Phil Housley, who is an assistant coach with Nashville, and Chris Drury, who is the assistant GM with the New York Rangers and part of the USA Hockey world championship management team. Rick Dudley is the assistant GM with Montreal.
Then there’s the speculation over NCAA Boston University coach David Quinn, who was Eichel’s bench boss in college.
(And hey, given recent events, maybe Eichel just becomes player/coach.)
In theory, Pegula looks north to the braintrusts that have been built in places like Toronto. Get a number of managers, both young and experienced, and create one in Buffalo. Start there, and then figure out the coach.
But it should be said that the clock is ticking, both towards the NHL Draft and the NHL expansion draft.
One thing’s for sure: Pegula will spare no expense. Even if it means eating salary when he eventually fires them.
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