Published by bockeybuzz.com, 4-19-2017
The old adage in Hollywood is "there's no such thing as bad press." Well, the Buffalo Sabres are certainly going to test that. It wasn't bad enough that they were chasited relentlessly for "the tank," and that this year their season went caput while two contemporary teams made the playoffs, now the team needs to deal with internal issues between a marquis player and the coach. Oh, and the backdrop has the Sabres missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season while the NHL's Buffalo Bills just finished a 17th season outside the playoffs.
This may be a job for Sean Spicer.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray scheduled to meet with ownership today, there's a question as to what kind of remarks he'll be packing in his briefcase when he opens it up for Terry and Kim Pegula. Murray finished his end-of-season interviews with the players and hit the podium for the presser with question marks all over the place. He began by taking full responsibility for what he called "a very disappointing season" but distributed some of the blame to coaches and players. It was the second season Buffalo missed the playoffs with this core group of players and the second with coach Dan Bylsma on the bench.
Bylsma had the team Murray built at his disposal and finished with a worse record than the previous season. A shored up forward ranks and a full season of health from goaltender Robin Lehner wasn't enough to offset a weak defense, undermanned bottom-six and a number of long-term injuries to key players. Among the injured was franchise center Jack Eichel who missed the first 21 games of the 2016-17 season. However, the biggest problem may have had less to do with the above and more to do with rumors that Bylsma lost control of the room somewhere along the way.
There had been reports of a disconnect between players and coach in Buffalo for a number of months culminating with a report from WGR550 radio today that Eichel won't sign a contract extension if Bylsma is retained as head coach. From WGR's Paul Hamilton, "Inside sources have told me that Eichel has no desire to sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remains the coach."
Eichel was drafted second-overall in 2015 after the Sabres and is the future of the franchise. He was the last player Murray talked with during last week's exit interviews and when the GM talked to the press a few hours later, he never gave an endorsement of Bylsma as the head coach moving forward. "He's my coach today," said Murray at the time before qualifying it later saying that things could change.
That change could be as early as today after Murray is finished meeting with the Pegula's.
Peter Fish, Eichel's agent, called the report "ridiculous" via John Vogl of the Buffalo News. “I don’t know where anyone is getting these reports, but they are ridiculous in a word,” Fish told Vogl. “Jack, he left Buffalo, he thought he had a real good meeting with coach Bylsma and a real good meeting with Murray. When he got home to Boston, he was genuinely excited with the thoughts that maybe they’re just a few players away from getting into the playoffs."
Not being in the playoffs might be a particular thorn in Eichel's side this season as he watches his contemporaries--Connor McDavid (2015, first-overall, EDM) and Auston Matthews (2016, first-overall, TOR)--battling it out in the post-season for the first time in their careers. The 20 yr. old Eichel has a competitive spirit and hatred to lose not seen in Buffalo since "The Dominator," Dominik Hasek ruled the crease, the last time the Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999.
"He's an extremely, extremely, competitive kid who hates to lose, he just hates it," Fish said. "He's just sitting there at the podium after a long season, World Cup, ankle injury, he missed the playoffs and he's got microphones in his face. Yes, his frustration level is there, but it's his frustration. He didn't get the team to the playoffs and he's frustrated and he wants to do better."
For some reason known only to those inside of the locker room, supposedly Eichel and a band of younger players tuned Bylsma out at some point. Veteran players were more apt to publicly say that they're professionals and they showed it on the ice by strictly adhering to Bylsma's system, but the big knock against Bylsma being rumored was that his system was too rigid and that his devotion to X's and O's created a disconnect that didn't resonate with the younger players, especially a talent like Eichel.
It's the second time that this has happened in Bylsma's two coaching stints.
Bylsma took over the Pittsburgh Penguins mid-season in 2009 and coached the team to the Stanley Cup that season. From thence came a decline and a gradual disconnect between Bylsma and his star players.
Here's what Chris Peters of cbssport.com wrote and thanks to our very own I'm That Guy, who posted the link and the following quote in the last thread:
"There are a lot of reports and rumors swirling that Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s days with the club are numbered and will get his walking papers any day now. One of the reasons, as reported by Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was that there was a disconnect between the team and its head coach, most notably between captain Sidney Crosby and Bylsma.
More from Rossi:
Crosby and Malkin felt they needed one another this season when they grew frustrated with Bylsma, the sources said.
Crosby and Malkin grew disenchanted with perceived harsh criticism they received from Bylsma during meetings, the sources said. They and other veteran players were unhappy with Bylsma's numerous meetings and long practices and the decreasing sense of fun within the Penguins' environment, the sources said.
Ownership believed Bylsma lost the dressing room this season, specifically the support of Crosby and Malkin, the sources said."
About the only thing missing from recent reports of disconnect in Buffalo was the "sense of fun" part. But anyone who watched this team through the last few months of the season could tell that this group of players lumbered through games often times with minimal passion.
Right now the Sabres have themselves a soap opera on their hands and it's sure to get noticed throughout the hockey world. Is it bad press? We shall see as there's a number of ways one could look at the situation.
Simply put, if the Sabres have any doubts about where this team will end up with Bylsma in charge, they need to pull the plug now. Murray is probably of the same thought as a disenchanted face of the franchise and/or a slow start to next season putting them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs again will probably mean a pink slip heading his way.
These are the days of our lives in Sabreland.