House Cleaning Leaves Sabres With More Questions Than Answers

Structure, discipline and communication were the themes of Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s message when he spoke with the media about the firings of Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray. The house cleaning orchestrated by Pegula has put the organization in a race against the clock, with a lot of questions surrounding personnel decisions. Right now the Sabres are left without structure and good communication as the search for the team’s next leader of the hockey department begins.

Our organization needed more discipline, structure and communication to be successful.

– Terry Pegula

Faith in the Pegulas

Since taking over in February of 2011, the Pegulas have gone through Darcy Regier, Lindy Ruff, Ted Nolan, Pat LaFontaine, Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray. That’s three head coaches, two general managers and one director of hockey operations in the span of six years. Now, as they search for their fourth head coach, third general manager and perhaps the second director of hockey operations, how much faith should the fan base put in the ownership to get it right?

Buffalo Sabres
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

As an NHL owner, I’m sure they’ve made connections around the league, but they have nobody within the organization that appears qualified to assist them with their search. Russ Brandon, the new team president, has spent his entire life in football before coming over to the Sabres less than two years ago. Brandon is also a name that you mention in Buffalo and fans’ blood pressures begin to rise.

The Pegulas insist that he runs the business side only of the Sabres organization, but you have to wonder how much influence he’ll have on this decision. His qualifications on the hockey side don’t come close to those on the football side when it pertains to knowledge in finding the correct candidate to run the hockey department.

The lack of guidance would lead one to think that the best course of action for the Pegulas is to first hire a director to assist them in the search for a general manager and then head coach. The vision at this point is unclear though. Mr. Pegula didn’t disclose his approach when he spoke with the media on Friday, so we’ll have to wait on exactly how he structures his organization.

The most important thing working against the Pegulas in all of this is time. They waited nearly two weeks after the season ended to make this decision and now have very little time to waste. The expansion draft, NHL draft and free agency are all roughly nine weeks away. This leaves whoever they hire very little time to evaluate the roster, have discussions with players on contracts, establish new trade discussions with other teams and prepare a plan for the offseason. The current situation is less than ideal and leaves a lot of room for potential error.

Unanswered Roster Questions

This offseason was very important for the club prior to these changes being made. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs in six years and the fan base is getting restless. Now, with a new person in charge, you have to wonder what the direction of the team will be. Will the club continue to try to be a playoff team fresh out of a rebuild or take a step back again to bring in new pieces?

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The new general manager will have to deal with a few players whose status on the roster is cloudy. The first player that comes to mind is Robin Lehner. Murray gave up a first-round pick to acquire the goaltender from the Ottawa Senators and was his goalie moving forward. Lehner is a restricted free agent coming off of a good first full season between the pipes for the Sabres. Will the new person in charge see Lehner as the goaltender moving forward?

Evander Kane is another player whose spot on the roster was already in question. He’s heading into the final year of his contract and could be used as a piece to acquire help on the blue line. His situation will need to be evaluated even further now. Does the new hockey department see him as part of the future or a piece that needs to be moved? Murray didn’t seem that open to an extension with Kane after this season, but perhaps a new view changes things now.

The roster questions continue beyond those two players. Brian Gionta, Dmitry Kulikov, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson are a few more players who will need to have questions on their future with the team answered. Also, it can’t be forgotten that work needs to be done to improve perhaps the worst defense group in the league.

A lot of questions and not a lot of time to answer them is what lies ahead for the new hockey department. The Pegulas need to speak with as many people as they can and make sure they make the right decision this time around to lead their team back to being competitive.