As time ticked down towards an announcement, most fans had already packed Dan Bylsma’s bags but the collateral damage in the aftermath was quite unsettling.
General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma have been relieved of their duties.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) April 20, 2017
This tweet sent shockwaves around the National Hockey League and felt like a Muhammed Ali right hook to the temple for Buffalo sports fans. For the fourth time since February 2013, the Sabres will be looking for a head coach. More importantly, they will be looking for a new general manager – only their eighth in franchise history.
Where to Go from Here?
Since purchasing the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, Terry and Kim Pegula have shown that running a professional sports franchise can be quite difficult. There is no surprise there, and it seems clear that the Pegulas should hire a President of Hockey Operations.
Why does that sound so familiar?
The owners already had a President of Hockey Operations back in November 2013 but that only lasted until March 2014 due to unknown reasons. Rumors still continue to run rampant through Western New York but we may never know the true story behind Pat LaFontaine’s resignation due to a non-disclosure agreement that was signed by LaFontaine.
As for the immediate outlook, it is the end of April. The NHL Draft and Free Agency are looming and, oh yeah, there will be an Expansion Draft too. There is a lot of work for a tenured general manager to do this offseason, let alone a new guy walking into a new situation with a new franchise.
Either way, the hiring of a President of Hockey Operations won’t change the aforementioned fact that the Sabres need a new general manager and fast.
With the large amount of work to do in a short amount of time and the reported dislike for Tim Murray’s straight-to-the-point attitutude, per USA Today’s Kevin Allen, the best assumption is that Terry and Kim Pegula will hire a general manager with experience. With that being said, we shouldn’t jump to eliminating anyone yet (except Pierre McGuire).
Potential GM Candidates
First Time GM Options
Jason Botterill – Right off the bat, Botterill checks a major box. He played for the Sabres during his playing days. Don’t be fooled though, this is no “hire old players because they’re old players” scenario. Botterill has worked his way up the management ladder with arguably one of the best-run franchises in the National Hockey League, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Botterill has spent 10 seasons in the Penguins’ front office and for the last three he has been working as the Associate general manager of the Penguins and the general manager of the Wilkes-Barre Penguins.
The last time around, when the Pegulas hired Murray, Botterill was a strong candidate to grab the job. There is no reason to think Botterill doesn’t get another strong look this time around.
If I'm Pegula, among the GM candidates I would look at: Julien BriseBois, Jason Botterill, Dean Lombardi and Brad Treliving (if he's free)
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 20, 2017
Chris Drury – Oh hey, another ex-Buffalo Sabres forward!
Chris Drury is assistant general manager of the New York Rangers, a pretty lofty title for a budding young hockey executive.
He has held this title since September 2016, when then-assistant general manager Jeff Gorton was named as the Rangers’ general manager. Before being named to the assistant role, Drury spent a year as the director of player development for the Rangers. If Drury feels the time is now, he has spent time under Gorton learning and assisting on player transactions and contract negotiations.
Want to know Drury’s golden goose? You remember the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes? Drury played a strong role in recruiting the young forward to the Rangers’ organization.
Rick Dudley – We can hear the collective groans, “ANOTHER ex-Buffalo Sabres forward?” Yes, more ex-players who are potential candidates for the job. But hey, we can’t help that ex-Sabres are ambitious and work well in the front office.
Rick Dudley is a name that has always popped up whenever a Sabres opening comes up. He is senior vice president of hockey operations for the Montreal Canadiens. His photo is right next to Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin on the team website. He is said to be very comfortable in his role with the Habs, which could mean his name gets pulled out quickly.
There wouldn’t be too much of a culture change for Dudley though since he is often seen inside the KeyBank Center press box scouting for the Habs.
Dean Lombardi – This is the hottest name for the job and why not?
Lombardi has a golden resume from his almost 40-year NHL front office career. From 1996 to 2003, he built up the San Jose Sharks from nothing. After moving on from San Jose, with a stop separating jobs, Lombardi led the Los Angeles Kings.
From irrelevancy to yearly Stanley Cup contenders, Lombardi successfully built the Kings through solid drafting and free agent signings. He was responsible for drafting players like Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Bernier, Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds and Tanner Pearson.
Lombardi took over the general manager role in Los Angeles in 2006. He saw the franchise hoist their first Stanley Cup in 2011-12 and their second in 2013-14.
While Lombardi arguably has the pedigree to take a young Sabres team from the outhouse to the penthouse, there are some red flags, and most of them relate to the Kings’ current salary cap situation.
– Anze Kopitar through 2023-24 at $10 million dollar per season
– Dustin Brown through 2021-22 at $5.875 million per season
– Jeff Carter through $5,272,727 through 2021-22
– Marian Gaborik through 2020-21 at $4.875 million per season
– Jonathan Quick through 2022-23 at $5.8 million per season
And to answer the question which Terry Pegula has already answered:
No, the #Sabres have not yet reached out to Dean Lombardi.
— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) April 21, 2017
Yeah, those players undoubtedly played a huge role in the Kings’ Stanley Cup runs but having someone like Gaborik until he is 38 years old at that much money? Jonathan Quick is signed until he is 36. The next GM in Los Angeles will have some work to do while Lombardi finds a job maybe in Buffalo.
Ryan is a sportswriter and podcaster, with his focus centered on the Buffalo Sabres. He is a resident of the Rochester, New York area. Ryan looks to build his pieces with a fact-based backbone to educate the reader, while allowing them to mold their own opinions.