A day after putting the kibosh on the alleged conflict between Jack Eichel and head coach Dan Byslma, the Buffalo Sabres have terminated the contracts of Byslma and general manager Tim Murray.
Whether or not the Eichel/Bylsma rift was a real thing, have the Sabres made the right decision by enforcing these changes?
Any head coach that takes a role with a struggling team knows that they’ll be on borrowed time unless they can produce a monumental turn-around. When Byslma was hired by the Sabres in 2015, the team had just finished last in the league. Buffalo very publicly tanked that season but were beaten in the Connor McDavid lottery by the Edmonton Oilers.
Byslma joined the team having made the playoffs in every one of his seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including having won a Stanley Cup in 2009.
It’s a harsh and unfair truth that if a team underperforms, the head coach is going to be the one put at risk. This has never sat well, but it’s also easier to fire one guy than 20. In his first season Byslma increased the Sabres record from 23/51/8 to 35/36/11, helped in part by the addition of 2015’s second overall draft pick Jack Eichel. The Massachusetts native contributed 24 of the team’s 201 goals. The Sabres finished 7th in the Atlantic and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
For Bylsma to keep some semblance of job security, he needed to increase his team’s production and points total in 2016/17 Unfortunately the Sabres were unable to take advantage of weak competition in the Atlantic division. Bottom place was regularly traded between Buffalo and Detroit but a late surge by the Red Wings saw the Sabres finish dead last with two fewer points than the season before.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula released a copy-and-paste statement that paid lip service to Byslma and Murray while saying nothing of substance. So what happens next? Well the Sabres organisation is already looking for replacements but the pool of available NHL head coaches has shrunk dramatically. Top prospect Gerard Gallant has been snapped up by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Former LA Kings coach Darryl Sutter is also available. Sutter won the Cup twice with LA but also missed the playoffs twice.
Michel Therrien is an option, as is Willie DesJardins. Recently deposed Florida Panthers GM/sometimes head coach Tom Rowe is an option I guess but his record isn’t exactly exemplary. He’s also still employed as an advisor with the Panthers.
The Sabres aren’t top of the list of dream teams to coach either. The Eichel situation hasn’t made the team any more attractive either. Rifts between players and coaches are hard to overcome and once you’ve lost the dressing room, you may as well call it day. This is a situation the GM will need to manage.
Don’t be surprised if the organisation chooses to promote from within, assistant coaches Terry Murray and Bob Woods may be ideal candidates as they know the team. Same goes for Tom Ward. We’ll find out soon enough.