The Buffalo Sabres organization right now appears to be quite a mess - and that’s putting it lightly. Just over the last week or so, there have been hints about communication issues across varying levels of management, a superstar player scratched, a slew of losses and a goaltending injury that has decimated any hope of a playoff appearance for the team this season.
For many, the easiest solution is perhaps the simplest on a shallow level: a coaching change. For this team, however, it may not be enough to turn things around, on the short-term or long-term. While head coach Ralph Krueger has undoubtedly contributed to the team’s issues, replacing him would be only the tip of the iceberg that’s bringing down the sinking Sabres.
Could we expect to see a coaching change? It’s certainly a possibility and wouldn’t be unprecedented. Over the weekend, Krueger was asked about his job security, which is often the final nail in the coffin in a position like this. Let’s face it: if you’re being asked about how secure your job is, if that’s even a topic of conversation... it probably isn’t very secure.
I’ve gone over this in years past, but a quick glance at the Sabres history in this regards:
On February 20, 2019, Jason Botterill was asked about a coaching change, which he denied. It took about a month and a half, but the Sabres eventually canned Phil Housley - just one day after Housley said he expected to be back with Buffalo the next season.
On April 20, 2017, it was reported that Dan Bylsma’s job was safe. Ten days later, and he and GM Tim Murray were fired. And back on November 2, 2013, GM Darcy Regier said that head coach Ron Rolston’s job was secure. Eleven days later, both were gone.
Even if there was a coaching change coming up for the Sabres, it’s hard to say just what the impact of that could be at this point. Part of that would depend on who the replacement would be. Would Kevyn Adams simply promote an internal hire, or perhaps shuffle a coach from the AHL’s Rochester Americans? Or would the organization really bring in fresh blood and the very much-needed spark? There are plenty of good coaches available right now (among them, Gerard Gallant comes to mind) but if the team fires Krueger just to promote someone else internally, I’m not sure that would be much of an upgrade. The entire system is broken, the ship is sinking and and promoting one of the onboard staff won’t plug the holes at this point.
At any rate, right now, Ralph Krueger is still the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres - a head coach who scratched $9 million man Jeff Skinner for multiple games, and who seemingly lied about his knowledge (or lack thereof) of Jack Eichel’s recent injury. There’s also the question of Skinner’s agent calling the general manager to discuss his client being a scratch - a call of which Krueger reportedly had no idea.
Last April, Eichel said the “line of communication is just so open” with Krueger. Last week, Krueger said that he is in “constant communication” with Kevyn Adams. But things just don’t seem to be adding up, on or off the ice.
Of course, the Sabres’ problems run far deeper than a single head coach, an individual player or even a general manager. There are core issues here regarding communication and accountability and how players are being utilized, or more appropriately, how they aren’t. Honesty and transparency are issues that need to be addressed. These aren’t things that can be fixed in a day, but even if they were, the Sabres are running out of days - and their fans are running out of patience.
For a team that’s supposed to be opening up KeyBank Center to some fans for select home games beginning March 20, they’ve got to find a way to make people want to watch again, and give them a reason to watch. Being shutout in consecutive 3-0 losses to the Flyers is definitely not the solution, and being tied with the Ottawa Senators as the worst team in the NHL isn’t either.
They’re 30th out of 31 teams only because they played fewer games (19) than Ottawa (23) thanks to their forced pause from COVID-19. All across the board, Buffalo is at or near the bottom of the league, from goals-for (44) to wins (6). I’m not going to continue listing off statistics where the team is failing, or recounting how few goals some players have. We all know how bad things are right now. The question is - what is the path to making things better?
I don’t have an easy answer. (If I did, well, I’d be making the big bucks, right?) But maybe a couple good places to start would be: get a new head coach, secure better goaltending (especially with Linus Ullmark out at least a month) and for goodness’ sake, play Jeff Skinner more than 12 minutes a night and with the high-caliber players he deserves.
Do you want fans to want to watch the games, whether in-person or on TV? Give them something worth watching. Do you want Taylor Hall to be interested in re-signing this summer? Give him a reason to. Jeff Skinner said he loves the city of Buffalo & pointed out that he chose to stay here; don’t make him regret that decision. Take action. Do something now and invest in the future of this team.