How would you describe the events of last week to someone who doesn’t follow the Buffalo Sabres?
Business as usual? A shake up that was long overdue? High treason against all that is righteous and true in Sabreland? Here are my top takeaways from two of the more fascinating days in recent Sabres history;
Why Was Murray Fired?
Tim Murray’s termination came as a surprise to many and there has been a good deal of speculation related to how and why he lost his job.
The narrative that makes the most sense to me is that Murray joined the Sabres with the belief that he could be a relatively anonymous rink rat who roamed North America with a coffee in one hand and a beer in the other. On the day he was hired, the top three items in his job description were evaluating talent, evaluating talent, and evaluating talent. After Pat LaFontaine’s office was cleared out, Murray took on a significant amount of additional responsibilities and many of those responsibilities forced him to be in his office far more than he wanted to be.
I’m not sure if Murray grew to resent those new responsibilities and it affected his job performance, or perhaps he just wasn’t nearly as skilled at supervising staff as he was evaluating hockey players. In the end, Murray’s flaws are largely beside the point now. The Pegulas were unhappy with the way their team was being managed and felt it was necessary to drop the hammer on the GM.
None of this means the blame for the current state of the Sabres should be placed squarely on the shoulders of Murray or the Pegulas. Like most conflicts that occur in life, both parties share some responsibility for how things turned out.
I’m Still Worried About Terry Pegula
My view of Terry Pegula remain largely the same as when I wrote this a few weeks ago. I think Pegula is a genuinely good man who has done tremendous things for our city. It’s my belief that my children and grandchildren will walk by a statue of Terry Pegula when they enter a Buffalo Sabres game someday far off in the future.
Yet for all of my borderline hero worship of Pegula, I’m concerned that he has become disconnected from his hockey team and its fanbase. It’s hard for me to reconcile the guy who wept at the sight of the French Connection with the substandard product I saw on and off the ice in KeyBank Center last year. Maybe he has become infatuated with the rarified air of the NFL or perhaps owning an NHL hockey team isn’t nearly as fun as he thought it would be, but it seems clear that the Sabres aren’t nearly as high up on his list of priorities as they used to be.
The events of the past week seem to support that concern— my recollection is that Pegula mistakenly referred to his hockey team as “the Bills” on Friday. As a guy who has almost always been a Sabres fan first and a Bills fan second, that leaves me worried about the future of the team.
Now We Know Why Pegula Holds a Press Conference Every 3.5 Years
It was not a good day for the media assembled at Pegula’s press conference.
With a cloud of hair spray swirling overhead, Adam Benigni channeled his inner Ted Baxter and asked Pegula a question about Doug Whaley, a guy I’m almost certain has never been asked to weigh in on a single Sabres personnel move.
Radio listeners were treated to Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet playing clips of Pegula’s comments and honking in agreement with every single thing that was said by “Mr. Pegula”.
I have an elaborate theory on The Buffalo News’s compulsive need to trace every real and imagined Sabres misstep back to the Tank, but I’m not particularly objective on matters related to that publication, and subjective views often make for uninteresting and/or irresponsible commentary. So I’ll spare DBTB readers the chore of reading my intricate theory and simply note that they really seem to be struggling to move on from 2015. To borrow a page from the Harrington Stylistic Handbook: Just stop, Mike. Please. Exclamation point. Sigh. Period.
And though I’d never classify myself as a member of the media, it’s only fair to note that I spent most of Black Thursday curled up in the fetal position clutching a photo of Doug Rombough and thinking about Sabres days of yore. Give it up to any writer or broadcaster who can process breaking news and quickly say semi-interesting things about it.
Who Will Be the Next GM?
Pegula’s comments on Friday seemed to indicate that he is interested in hiring a guy with previous experience as a General Manager, but John Shannon reported Saturday that the Sabres will be looking for “new blood”.
He doesn’t represent a young fresh mind and he isn’t my first choice, but I have a weird feeling that Brad Treliving will be the next GM of the Sabres. I think Pegula looks at a young and fast Calgary Flames roster and sees a model for what he’d like to watch on the ice at KeyBank Center next season. Treliving’s team friendly deal with Johnny Gaudreau last year (6.75 million per over 6 years) won’t be ignored by an owner that sees new deals for Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart on the horizon, and his borderline larcenous acquisition of Dougie Hamilton will speak volumes to a team desperate to find solutions on defense.
No clue who might be the next coach, but it’s with noting that Treliving just conducted an interview process for hiring a new coach for the Flames last summer, so he’s certainly familiar with many of the candidates out there.
Where Did All the Eichel Criticism Come From?
I’m mystified by the scorn I’ve seen directed at Jack Eichel in recent weeks.
Put yourself in Eichel’s skates for a second. You bust your ass training over the summer to prepare for your second season in the NHL; halfway through your final practice before the season opener, you suffer a serious injury that puts you in the press box for 6-8 weeks; while your contemporaries in Edmonton and Toronto tear up the league, you’re stumbling around town on one of those mini-grocery carts normally reserved for 48 year old guys who tear their Achilles playing pick-up basketball; you return to the ice earlier than expected with the understanding you’ll likely be playing in pain for the rest of the year; for most of the season, you play at a point-per-game pace surrounded by teammates that struggle to keep up with your speed and creativity.
What’s your reward for all of your hard work and dedication? You’re admonished for your tone and facial expressions at your end of the season press conference, you’re accused of making your coach’s termination a precondition to conducting contract negotiations, and you’re characterized as a spoiled punk who has no qualms about stabbing anyone who doesn’t please you in the back.
I’d be concerned if Eichel wasn’t pissed off— hell, if I were placed in similar circumstances, I’d be standing on top of the podium at my end-of-the-season media availability swigging beer and flipping the double birds like Stone Cold Steve Austin. The guy desperately wants to win games and play meaningful hockey in May. Instead of wagging our fingers at Eichel, we should be embracing him.
Follow Tim Hirschbeck on Twitter at @TimHirschbeck.