There are numerous sayings around making changes for change’s sake. For some, stability is the name of the game and any changes that need to be made can be done without upsetting the apple cart. For others, change is a mandatory requirement which can breed complacency if not done often and effectively.
For a franchise that has sat for the best part of a decade in the basement of a league that allows more than half the teams to progress to playoffs, change is necessary. The Buffalo Sabres yesterday let go nearly thirty members of staff at various levels throughout the organization, starting with General Manager Jason Botterill and his two assistants Randy Sexton and Steve Greely, along with the coaching staff at the Rochester Americans starting with Chris Taylor and his assistants Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen. Director of Amateur Scouting Ryan Jankowski and 12 of 21 scouts are also gone along with many others.
The new General Manager is now Kevyn Adams, a former NHL player promoted from within the organization where he’s been Sabres assistant coach, director of the Pegulas’ Academy of Hockey and GM of Harborcenter. Head coach Ralph Krueger, who just joined the club last summer also stays.
As fans, we’re all looking around at each other trying to make sense of all these changes. Here’s some thoughts from the editorial staff at Die By The Blade in response to the cuts and where the Sabres go from here.
I’m not really sure what happened yesterday but I’m growing more and more confident that the Pegulas are in over their heads and make things up as they go and are reacting impulsive. To be honest, I have no idea where The Sabres go from here. They preached the importance of drafting good, but fired almost all of the scouting department. That does not make any sense at all. I’m still baffled about yesterday and will probably be for a while.
That’s a great question. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like ownership continued their perpetually backward approach to building a front office. Kevyn Adams might end up being fine as a GM, but ousting Jason Botterill two weeks after publicly doubling-down on him as your guy is a bad look. As for the rest of the staff that was fired, it seems like a clear cost-cutting measure. Terry Pegula said they were going to get “leaner” as an organization during his recent presser and he apparently meant it.
The overall approach to an organizational overhaul isn’t really the issue here, but the timing is suspect. Cutting your entire draft team before the draft is going to be very interesting. Adams has a lot of work to do. We’ll see if he’s up to the task, but this looks like three offseasons worth of work for a guy who has never done any of this.
It is difficult not to feel as though this is a reaction from Team Pegula to an overarching issue throughout their empire, and not just to the Sabres organization. They appear to be closing the circle throughout their entities, and that won’t be good for a hockey team. They need to put hockey people in hockey places, and that means reaching beyond their inner circle. I think things will get worse before they get better, and it may even be the start of the end as an ownership group.
Based on merit alone, a purge of the hockey operations department was certainly warranted, however sad to see. So many people losing their jobs in a time like this is tough. It’s clear that this is the beginning of a cost cutting procedure, and a leaner department will results in less heads put together and leave a greater margin of error around new GM Kevyn Adams. Adams is detail-oriented, and will have to really hit on the hires they do make in order to best set himself up for success.
It seems that since Terry Pegula began his tenure, he has driven this franchise into the ground with the help of his wife Kim, who seemingly refuses to pass the presidential torch to someone more capable. Do I think Botterill deserved to be fired? 100% yes, but are we honestly back at square one supporting another rebuild? Is tank #3 on the horizon? Isn’t Adams the same assistant coach that was fired under Pegula back in 2013 after obtaining Ron Rolston as head coach (which lasted all of five minutes)?
I find it hard to believe there isn’t someone more appropriate for this role somewhere out there in hockey land. I really don’t care if our incompetent owners have “groomed” him to succeed in this role. Is that supposed to ease fans’ concerns? The Pegulas keep pulling the wrong strings in the background and very soon they will not have the unwavering support of Buffalo’s die-hard fans. Every year I think it can’t get worse...and then it does. If the only direction is up, then how come we keep going down?
The Reckoning | reck-on-ing (noun): the action or process of calculating or estimating something
When the sun finally set, the events of June 16, 2020 were so stunning, sweeping, and dramatic that the day itself will be remembered as one of the most important in the history of the franchise. Adams by proxy and direct order of owners Terry and Kim Pegula executed an elimination plan that would have made Michael Corleone proud. When the dust settled, only Ralph Krueger and his coaching staff were left unscathed.
Even in Rochester - literally the only place the organization has seen any recent success - a “player’s coach” and his two highly-respected assistants were inexplicably fired. Chris Taylor was not a perfect coach, but he helped guide the Amerks back to the playoffs in 3/4 of his seasons behind the bench. While it is sad to see him go, no one should be surprised. He was a “Botterill guy.” Perhaps worse than that, he watched his team get swept out of the first round of the playoffs in two consecutive seasons while making questionable roster decisions both times. Also fired was Amerks GM Randy Sexton, another highly respected and vastly experienced hockey operations guy. The work he did in bringing in some talented AHL free agents was instrumental in helping the team find success. Perhaps wet-behind-the ears-GM Kevyn Adams will be able to find upgraded skill and talent behind the bench and in the offices. Perhaps not. The grass, as they say, isn’t always greener, and especially when that grass is made of money.
So the Pegulas have cleaned house and now Rochester is left rudderless. Their reckoning may or may not have been financially motivated, but one thing they seemingly forgot to include in their calculations, or willfully ignored - or ignorantly ignored - is the cost that comes with further damaging the organization’s already fragile fan relationship. They may have saved some money today, but the long term cost may prove to be much higher.
What just happened?! Letting Botterill go made sense. The timing of it is odd, with the (dreaded) vote of confidence recently, and the NHL Entry Draft coming up. The Pegulas even let Doug Whaley and most of his Buffalo Bills staff stay on until after the NFL Draft, but not this time. Kevyn Adams is certainly an interesting pick for the General Manager position but I’ll give the Pegulas the benefit of the doubt on that one.
And all of this was what I was thinking before I heard the news of the rest of the bloodletting throughout the organization. Very little of that made any sense. Cleaning house in Rochester, which has actually looked like a proficient organization, is bizarre. Cutting 12 of 21 scouts as well as letting go of the Director of Amateur Scouting is straight-up surreal.
Buffalo does have a looong offseason to right the ship and fill multiple critical vacancies, but these moves smack of thinning out the organization from a cost-cutting perspective especially in the current COVID climate.