Regardless of whether or not you support the Buffalo Sabres’ decision to fire Jason Botterill and replace him with Kevyn Adams, one thing for certain – The first year GM has a whole lot of work to do this offseason.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, fans have discussed the long list of expiring contracts on the Sabres’ docket this summer. Not only will Adams have to get up to speed on the player personnel decisions on ahead of him, but following a mass exodus of scouts, front office assistants, and coaches, he has virtually an entire organization to build in that same time frame.
There’s certainly a lot of different things to look at here. With an adjusted offseason all but imminent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the list of potential complications grows even longer. Let’s take a look at all of the items on Adams’ plate, and examine how he could go about addressing the responsibilities at hand, and fill the empty spaces around him.
Assembling the Front Office
Given the timing of this move, this part could be tricky, especially if Adams had any plans of bolstering his scouting staff prior to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. When the dust settled on Wednesday, it was reported that 22 members of the Sabres’ front office were relieved of their duties. 13 of them were part of the Buffalo scouting staff.
The issue here is two-fold. For starters, there are only eight scouts (that we are aware of) remaining. Many, if not all of those who were let go were likely involved in the draft preparation process. Releasing them prior to said draft seems ill-timed for that reason alone. Add that to the fact that they will be hard-pressed to make additions to the scouting department over the next few months (given that other NHL team’s entire staffs remain employed), and it could result in some hiccups in terms of how they approach their draft strategy.
Short of hiring jobless scouts to get a few extra sets of hands in the building, this is a problem with no immediate solution. To go a step further, teams are less likely to make sweeping front office changes this offseason given the aforementioned uncertainty caused by COVID-19. So, even after the draft, the pickings might still be slim.
In his press conference on Tuesday, Terry Pegula did mention that he planned to get “leaner” organizationally. Maybe this is part of that. Perhaps they feel they can get by with a much smaller scouting staff than average. That remains to be seen, but Adams’ claims about re-focusing and improving the team’s analytics department could help in that regard. There are plenty of unemployed (or perhaps under-employed) analytics professionals that could be added to the staff right away.
As for Adams’ assistant general managers, this too will be a cumbersome process for the same reason. While out-of-work former-executives like Mike Gillis and Mike Futa are technically available, the chances of them settling for assistant GM roles seems pretty slim. Tom Fitzgerald could eventually be an option if the New Jersey Devils decide to replace him as their interim GM, but again, the chances aren’t necessarily high there either.
What we’ll likely see is more inexperience. Adams is a first-time GM, and while a veteran counterpart could certainly prove useful, it might not be in the cards for this summer. Perhaps PSE plans to once again promote internally, but there is hardly anyone left to promote at this point. The sheer lack of a “logical progression” candidate for these roles is why this might end up being the most interesting aspect of the entire process to come.
PSE employees in Buffalo weren’t the only people affected by the abrupt purge that took place this week. The entire Rochester Amerks’ coaching staff was also fired, along with the team’s general manager, Randy Sexton. With Chris Taylor, Gord Dineen, and Toby Peterson all on their way out, Adams will have to find new entities behind the bench. New player development coaches will also need to be pursued, as Krys Barch and Mike Komisarek were shown the door as well.
That itself will be quite the task. Rochester was essentially ripped down to the studs, and Adams will have to rebuild their infrastructure from scratch. Citing concerns about Taylor’s use of veteran players over developing prospects in certain situations (something that was revealed in a Q&A piece from Tim Graham at The Athletic), Adams has expressed his desire for a complete philosophical change on the farm.
That analysis of Taylor’s approach does seem rather unfair considering the progress we saw from players like Tage Thompson and Casey Mittelstadt following their respective “demotions”, but that’s a topic for another time. He’s gone, and now the Sabres need to find someone who can fulfill Adams’ long-term vision for the Sabres’ AHL affiliate.
In his interview with WGR 550 on The Instigators show this morning, Elliotte Friedman mentioned former-Sabres like Adam Mair and Matt Ellis as potential coaching replacements in Rochester. They’re both still in the organization as player development coaches in the Academy of Hockey at Harborcenter. While neither of them has an extensive professional coaching resume, they did play in the same era as Adams and it’s conceivable that their perspectives would align with what he’d like to implement.
ICYMI: Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman joined @TheInstigators this morning on WGR with some thoughts on the #Sabres and their changes in the organization earlier in the week. Here is some of what he had to say:— WGR 550 (@WGR550) June 18, 2020
Another former-Sabre who could be part of the discussion, as either a coach, or perhaps a member of the Amerks’ front office, is Brian Gionta. While he isn’t currently listed on the Sabres’ staff directory, he was on the Rochester player development staff at one point, though his exact role is unclear.
As is the case with the front office, the overarching concern here is inexperience. At some level, it would seem logical for organization to add at least a couple people with extensive resumes to the mix. Exclusively hiring first-timers to fill all their “big” vacancies seems like it would come with a high propensity for disaster.
But they do see things the average fan doesn’t…
Contracts and Roster Assembly
This is the cherry on top. After Adams completely re-architects the front office, he has to successfully navigate one of the most critical offseasons in recent memory. Obviously, the organization wants to build a winner in short order, and there is some semblance of flexibility to do that this summer. In saying that however, Adams must be very careful.
The headliners on the RFA list include Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, and Victor Olofsson. All three of them are expected to command significant raises. With a very inexperienced GM at the helm, agents may try to take advantage of the situation. Hopefully Adams knows the framework Botterill had discussed with said agents prior to his ousting. According to Friedman’s most recent 31 Thoughts article, one of those negotiations was being discussed by Botterill and an unnamed agent mere minutes before he received his pink slip.
As it stands, the Sabres have 10 roster players under contract for 2020-21 (not including potential rookies like Dylan Cozens, and Arttu Ruotsalainen). Though the RFA negotiations will have the largest impact, it remains to be seen what Adams’ plan is for the pending UFA assets, particularly at forward. Will he use this opportunity to clear roster space and bring his own depth players in, or will he re-sign some of them to short-term deals in a “devil we know” type of approach?
Circling back to the analytics point, their role in all of this will be a key component. Hopefully, Adams is aware that the “mountain of cap space” is a bit of an illusion, especially with Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju up for extensions next summer, and the fact that we’re almost certainly looking at a flat cap.
Due to the fact that he’ll be trying to complete all of the above items, Adams will probably need as much help as he can get in analyzing the free agent and trade markets. This is where the “data guys” can be of service. Identifying “bang for your buck” additions will be key, especially if the new GM allows all of the Sabres’ pending UFA’s to hit the open market.
Again, this is all very speculative. It’s a unique situation where the exact order of events, and subsequent path is up in the air.
For as much as we might approach this situation with pessimism, there is a possibility Adams has a really good grasp of the direction he’ll take here. Still, all of the tasks on his plate would be a lot for the most seasoned veteran. For an executive who has never served in this role in any capacity, it almost seems insurmountable.
From the outside looking in, the organizational firestorm that took place this week comes off as very abrupt, and without direction. That said, Adams is saying all the right things. He’s mentioned his desire to bolster the analytics department, and his strong existing relationship with head coach, Ralph Krueger (who is said to be heavily involved with the above list of duties). It’s all talk for now, but at least it’s something to keep an eye on.
Sit back, grab some popcorn, and wait for what promises to be a very eventful six months to unfold. Hey, at the very least it’ll be great theater.