Ivey: Front-office overhaul in Buffalo raises questions
Michael Ivey | Wednesday, April 26, 2017
On Thursday morning, the Buffalo Sabres announced the firing of the team’s head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray.
The Sabres finished last season with only 78 points and the worst record in their division. The firings should make sense in that the team wasn’t living up to expectations, so ownership decided to go in a different direction.
However, news reports that surfaced in the days prior to these firings have complicated this issue immensely.
These news reports claim that Sabres forward Jack Eichel, the team’s star player and one of the best young players in the NHL, said he wouldn’t sign a long-term contract extension if Bylsma remained the team’s coach. Eichel’s current contract ends after next season.
Later that same day, however, Eichel’s agents, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, released a statement claiming these reports were absolutely false and that Eichel has no ill-will toward Bylsma.
“(A coaching change) is not even on his radar screen,” the statement from Fish and Donatelli said. It goes on to say the reports are “1,000-percent false” and “couldn’t be further from the truth.”
However, the very next day, not only was Bylsma fired, but the team’s general manager Tim Murray was also fired. Hmmmm. Insert thinking-face emoji.
If Eichel didn’t have any problems with his coach, then why did the team fire him after reports surfaced the previous day that Eichel wanted him fired? Also, why did Eichel’s agents release a statement refuting the reports if in fact they were true?
The statement from Eichel’s agents didn’t directly address the issue the reports are based on and didn’t definitively say that Eichel would sign a contract if Bylsma was still the coach. This makes it seem more like a “protect-the-brand” statement than anything, and now people are labeling Eichel as a “coach-killer.”
Why else would an organization fire a former Stanley Cup winning head coach in Bylsma only two years into his tenure with the team, when he didn’t have much to work with? Why else would they fire a general manager like Murray who led the organization through a rebuilding phase and not give him a chance to finish what he started?
This could be a major problem for the Buffalo Sabres and their future. They’re still a struggling team with roster problems, and the idea that one of their younger players has a major say in the overall structure of the organization will make it hard for the team to sign top free agent players in the future. Also, finding a new coach and general manager will be difficult because no coach wants to feel like they need to cater to their players or else get fired. There are a number of coaching and front-office job openings in the NHL currently, including in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Florida and the new Las Vegas franchise. All of those openings currently look better than the Buffalo job.
Giving a young star player the idea that he has a say in the firing of team officials would also be a dangerous gamble. This could lead that player to become a control freak and get angry if he doesn’t get his way. We’ve seen this happen before in professional sport, with guys like Demarcus Cousins when he was with the Sacramento Kings, and can damage a team’s reputation.
This will be an interesting situation to watch play out. Who will be the Sabres new coach and GM, and how much will their star player have a say in the process?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.