Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-23-2017
When Sabres ownership and management look back on a season of stagnation (at best) in Buffalo, the most predominant themes running through will be injuries and an inadequate defense-corps that also dealt with a slew of injuries as well.
A quick recap on the injuries starts in the top-six with Jack Eichel missing the first 21 games, Evander Kane going down in the opener and missing 11 games plus Ryan O'Reilly suffering from, and trying to play through, back spasms early on while going under the knife for an emergency appendectomy at Christmas. Bottom-six checking center Johan Larsson was lost for the season on New Years Eve.
On the back end there's newcomer Dmitry Kulikov, who missed most of camp because of the World Cup of Hockey then proceeded to smack his tailbone into a open bench door during a preseason game. He was never the same and confessed to the press mid-season, “For old people, you get out of bed, you’re kind of stiff. It’s just a little stiffer for me, I would say." Zach Bogosian had his annual stint on the injured list with 26 games and Josh Gorges missed 16 which is around his average over the last six years.
Injuries like those will cripple almost any team, especially on that's in the second year of their build which coincides with how many years Bylsma's been at the helm in Buffalo.
Those are tangibles and then there are comparables as well.
On the rebuilding side there's the Toronto Maple Leafs who moved into third in the Atlantic Division with an impressive win over Columbus last night. The Leafs are in their first building season, are scoring over three goals per game (as opposed to Buffalo's 2.45) and have seemingly found instant success with an almost injury-free season.
On the injury front team-wise there's the Florida Panthers who were also beset by injuries to star players early on but also went through a coaching change. The Cats have gone from 103 points last season (third in the conference) to one point ahead of Buffalo, or 13th in the conference.
At season's end GM Tim Murray, who was just handed a contract extension this season, and ownership will take everything into consideration, including a dreadful Rochester Americans season, and decide the future of Bylsma.
But one of the troublesome things that keeps cropping up in the conversation over Bylsma's future, is the three years remaining on his contract and the parallel between him and the recently fired coach of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, Rex Ryan. The Pegula family own both the Sabres and the Bills.
Both Ryan and Bylsma came to Buffalo with experience and reputations, most notably Bylsma who had won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh. Both were signed to five-year contracts with the thought that they'd lay a foundation the franchises could move forward with. Ryan failed and was fired with one game left in his second season. Bylsma is nearing the end of his second season in Buffalo and may end up with a worse record than last season which itself was in the lower portion of the league.
Would the Pegula's fire both of their head coaches with three years remaining on their respective contracts?
Chris Nichols of Fanrag, delved into quotes from TSN/NBCSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie who chimed in on the situation. “I don’t think the Pegula family is keen on paying both Ryan and Bylsma not to coach the Bills and the Sabres," Nichols quotes McKenzie as saying, "and they obviously made that decision with Ryan and the Bills."
I get the gist of the Pegula's not wanting do dish out tens of millions of dollars for fired coaches, but that shouldn't come into consideration. Those involved in the signings of the coaches need to take responsibility. For Ryan and the Bills that would include the Pegulas themselves and President Russ Brandon, all of whom were said to be at the forefront of the hire. For Bylsma and the Sabres, departed team President Ted Black may have been involved in Bylsma's hire and we're pretty sure the Pegula's were involved as well, especially when you consider they lost out on Mike Babcock, the high-profile coach now leading an extremely young Leafs team to the brink of the playoffs.
Regardless of what happened with Ryan, if Bylsma was a bad hire, or more than likely a good coach who's just a bad fit for what Murray envisioned, then by all means pull the plug. But don't let the firing of Ryan into the equation. It something that might only prolong the inevitable and move the team further backward instead of forward.