What a hectic week it’s been in Buffalo, New York.
The situation in the Queen City started to get tumultuous this past Tuesday, when it was rumored that Sabres’ superstar center Jack Eichel was unwilling “to sign a contract extension this summer if (Dan) Bylsma remained the coach.” Dan Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray were relieved of their duties the next morning.
It may appear as though there was some correlation between the two situations, but there wasn’t. There is no truth to the rumors about Eichel’s comments, as he denied ever making such a statement almost immediately. Team owner, Terry Pegula, also denied that Eichel, or any other player on the roster, had any influence in the firing of the coach or general manager.
Working sources on Sabres house cleaning today. Told decision was purely ownerships and neither Eichel nor the players in general influenced
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) April 20, 2017
Even though it’s confirmed that the Boston, MA-native had zero say in the firing of the team’s management, this hasn’t stopped fans from talking. Jokes have been circulating around social media for the past number of days, jokes that suggest that Eichel is the one in charge of the team behind the scenes.
While the jokes themselves may be humorous, they help spread an idea that simply isn’t true. The former Hobey Baker Award winner isn’t the one in charge of the team — Terry Pegula is, and he’s finally doing something with his failing hockey club.
Lack of Success
Success is the only thing that guarantees jobs in the NHL. The reason why both Bylsma and Murray were fired was due to the fact that the Sabres weren’t achieving any success under their leadership.
Tim Murray was hired in January of 2014, with his first full season in charge being the 2014-15 campaign. Although the former Senators’ assistant GM made some solid moves as the general manager of the Sabres (such as the acquisitions of Ryan O’Reilly and Robin Lehner), the team didn’t succeed during his reign. Throughout Murray’s three full seasons as general manager of the team, the Sabres never achieved a winning record.
The same can be said for Bylsma. The former Stanley Cup winning-coach was brought in during the 2015 offseason, and was expected to be the guy to turn this team around. During his first season as coach, the Sabres finished with a record of 35-36-11 — an improvement over the previous season, but when that previous season was 23-51-8 you can’t do much worse. Fans expected the team to continue to improve during the 46-year-old’s second year in charge. Some fans even expected a playoff push.
They didn’t get a playoff push. Instead, what they got was a worse hockey team. The Sabres finished with a record of 33-37-12 in the 2016-17 season, well out of a wild card playoff spot.
This is why Bylsma and Murray were fired. Not because of rumors surrounding the team’s top player, but because the Sabres were failing with the two in charge. Pegula will now look to fill the team’s leadership positions with people who are capable of achieving success with the Sabres — a trait Bylsma and Murray seemingly lacked.
One of the Best
Believing the false rumors, some fans have called for Eichel to be traded, thinking that he will only be trouble for the organization moving forward. This would quite possibly be the worst decision in franchise history, as Eichel is one of the best players in the league today.
Since entering the league in 2015, the former second overall pick has proven that he possesses elite-level talent. In his rookie season, Eichel finished second in the league in scoring amongst rookies, putting up 56 points. In an injury shortened sophomore campaign, the forward finished with 57 points, improving on his point total from the previous season in 20 fewer games.
Eichel was not only the best player on the Sabres last season — he was one of the most prolific scorers in the NHL. In the 2016-17 campaign, the former Boston University Terrier averaged 0.93 points per game, good for 14th in the league. While 14th in the league may not scream “elite,” it certainly puts him in elite company. Eichel averaged more points per game last season than Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin, and John Tavares.
Sabres fans have been yearning for a franchise player seemingly since the departure of Gilbert Perreault in the late 1980s. They now finally have that with Eichel. Fans shouldn’t turn on him just because of some rumors that ended up being fake.
Better Days Are Coming
Yes, things aren’t great in Buffalo right now. The team lacks a head coach and general manager. They haven’t been to the playoffs in six years. We have nobody managing the team with both an expansion and entry draft rapidly approaching.
These are all causes for concerns. However, it’s not as bad as it seems. There’s an entire offseason ahead, an offseason in which a new general manager and coach could potentially turn this team from a dysfunctional mess into a playoff contender.
Eichel isn’t in charge of this team. The team owner is, and the firings of Bylsma and Murray prove that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to make this team successful.