Buffalo Sabres, Jason Botterill, Kim Pegula, Terry Pegula

Sabres’ Problems Run from Top to Bottom

It’s happened twice this season. On two
separate occasions, teams have lost to the Buffalo Sabres and heads have rolled
the next day.

On Dec. 2, the New Jersey Devils lost 7-1 to the Sabres in Prudential Center and head coach John Hynes was dismissed. Then, on Jan. 14, the Vegas Golden Knights lost 4-2 in KeyBank Center and head coach Gerard Gallant was let go.

Vegas Golden Knights Gerard Gallant
Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant was sent packing. (AP Photo/David Becker)

That’s two coaches fired immediately after losing to the Sabres. While obviously not the sole reason for the firings, it’s certainly a scathing indictment about the perception of this franchise amongst NHL teams. It further put things into context and speaks volumes about the Sabres’ benchmark for futility.

Losing to the Sabres was the last straw for these men and it cost them their jobs. Failing to beat the Sabres was a tipping point for their general managers and owners trusting them to lead their respective teams. Dropping a possible two points to the Sabres became the ‘enough is enough’ moment for people in charge.

It sure says a lot.

Losing to the Lowly Sabres

When teams see the Sabres on their schedules, they often play their backup goaltender. It’s a chance to rest their starter. And if they do play their top netminder, they’re simply using it as a game to get them back on track.

The Sabres’ victory over the Knights was the fourth consecutive loss for Vegas. Gallant, had been the only coach Vegas ever knew, having led the expansion franchise on its memorable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final against Washington. It earned him the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.

“In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary,” said Vegas General Manager Kelly McCrimmon in a prepared statement. “Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season.”

Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone
Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Eight-season veteran winger Mark Stone put it more bluntly. “It’s tougher, especially when you’re losing to teams you know that you’re better than,” he said, referring to his team’s loss to the Sabres. “And we’re a better hockey team. Just have to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we’ve kind of gotten stale the last bunch of games.”

In a word, yikes. The Sabres have become the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. There’s no respect.

Sabres Low Point

Statistically, this is not the lowest point since Terry Pegula bought the team. The team will beat its 54-point total back in the 2014-15 season and its 62-point total in 2017-18. They’re on pace for roughly a point-per-game, a mediocre 82-point mark in a three-point era, and their ninth straight season outside of the playoffs. It’s the longest active drought in the NHL.

Morale wise, this indeed may be the lowest point for the franchise and its devoted fanbase. Between Duane, the venting fan who phoned into Buffalo’s local sports radio show, and Melody, a guitar strumming songwriter who writes riffs about the team’s failures, the fans are arguably more entertaining than the team on the ice these days. The Sabres Twitter-verse is on fire with raging sarcastic comments about the organization.

Another Lost Season

Jack Eichel’s frustration is palpable. He’s doing everything he can, having an MVP-like season with 31 goals already. Even if he hits 50 more, it’s just not enough for this talent-starved roster.

Scary good? More like scary bad. It’s disturbing to think where this team would be without Eichel.

There’s just not enough pieces around Jack to win. There’s little-to-no supplemental scoring. The defensive breakdowns and missed coverages all are all too common. It feels like an anomaly when they actually win a game. And it adds up to yet another lost season.

This team is up against the cap with contracts that are overpaying underachieving players. It’s not working. Even the ever-positive head coach Ralph Krueger is finding the losses unacceptable.

Mistakes Trickling Down

This franchise has made a lot of mistakes this season, let alone the past decade. In this, the team’s 50-year anniversary, they’ve whiffed multiple times. There have been misspelled alumni sweaters, knockoff “goathead” jerseys worn, even a youngster who was left empty handed and crying when unsuccessfully playing a game.

The list of fired management, GMs and coaches include Lindy Ruff, Darcy Regier, Ron Rolston, Pat LaFontaine, Tim Murray, Dan Bylsma, Ted Black, Russ Brandin, Phil Housely, and Mike Gilbert. Meanwhile Kim Pegula sits comfortably in her ivory chair as President of the Sabres. It’s not like Terry Pegula is going to fire his wife.

A little mea culpa would go a very long way. A simple acknowledge
of fan frustration would help.

Make a Trade, Botterill!

As much as fans are clamoring for first time GM Jason Botterill to make a trade to jolt this team, it takes two to tango. How many GMs are lining up to take Zach Bogosian, Kyle Okposo or Zemgus Girgensons?

There are no teams lining up to take the Sabres’ abundance of overpaid third and fourth liners. Botterill can’t just offer up random unproductive and overpaid pieces and expect to have a second line forward land in his lap.

Zach Bogosian Sabres
Zach Bogosian’s days in a Sabres’ sweater are numbered. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Botterill has likely been active for months trying to improve his roster. Other teams simply aren’t interested in our players or are unwilling to move pieces that he’s interested in. They know Botterill is desperate. And yet Botterill can’t possibly whiff on another Ryan O’Reilly-type trade–one he’ll never live down.

Bottoming Out

There are a few signs of improvement, but there’s so much work to be done. From the on-ice product, to the in-game presentation, to the sorry state of the out-dated arena with poorly maintained restrooms, the list goes on and on.

Terry Pegula’s mission to win the Stanley Cup feels like light years away. (C. Miller)

If this franchise wants to turn things around, it has to start at the top with accountability and a dialogue with its fans. KeyBank Center is looking more empty with every passing game. Secondary ticketing prices are plummeting once again to less than $10 a ticket. Signs of the team suffering are everywhere. Diehard fans just don’t care anymore. They’ve had enough.

The Sabres are at the bottom. And it’s time to hear from the top.

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