When all the Sabres do is fire personnel, the result is an endless dumpster fire

Chris Taylor led the Amerks to 46 wins a year ago. They were on their way to another 40-win season when COVID-19 cancelled the 2019-20 season. (Photo By Micheline V/ Rochester Americans)

By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA

Their hockey team may not win, ever, but give Buffalo Sabres owners Kim and Terry Pegula credit for one thing:

They can terminate employees — some whose time had come, others who held the key to success — like no other management duo in the NHL.

Unfortunately for hockey fans in Western New York, when all you do is fire C-Suite personnel, you end up with nothing more than a perpetual dumpster fire.

On Tuesday morning, the Pegulas fired general manager Jason Botterill and his two assistants, Randy Sexton (who also served as GM of the Rochester Americans) and Steve Greeley.

Then late in the afternoon, the Sabres organization announced the firing of the Amerks coaching staff: head coach Chris Taylor along with assistants Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen.

All Taylor and crew did was win and ensure prospect development (think Victor Olofsson, Lawrence Pilut, Brendan Guhle, Jacob Bryson, Tage Thompson). The Amerks won 46 games a year ago. They were on their way to another 40-win season when COVID-19 put a kibosh on the 2019-20 season.

Not since 1999-2000 and 2000-01 has the franchise enjoyed back-to-back 40-win seasons. Taylor did fail to lead the Amerks to a playoff win, and that could be viewed as a demerit, but AHL coaches aren’t fired because they didn’t win in the postseason.

That’s actually an idea that might resonate with Amerks fans, but playoff losses weren’t why this coaching staff was ushered to the curb.

No, Taylor and Co. were hired by Botterill so they had to be fired right along with him, even if they provided draft picks whatever they needed to reach their potential and amassed a points-earned percentage of .619 over three seasons.

Then again, they were hired. Under this ownership duo, that means they also would need to be fired, and usually sooner than later.

Between February of 2013 and today, the Pegulas have ash-canned three Sabres general managers, five Sabres head coaches, four Amerks head coaches, one Amerks general manager, two NHL team presidents, one AHL director of operations (Rob Kopacz), one highly respected director of ticket sales and services (John Sinclair) and one revered-by-all vice president of media relations (Chris Bandura).

Toss in the March 2014 “resignation” of Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations and that’s 19 top executives shown the door in just seven years.

George Steinbrenner fired his top baseball personnel all the time when he owned the New York Yankees. But his Yankees won. All the time.

And the Sabres under the Pegulas? They just lose. And lose. And lose. The franchise has gone nine straight seasons without a playoff appearance. The Pegulas have had start-to-finish ownership control of the team for — you guessed it — just those nine seasons.

In firing Botterill on Tuesday morning, they cited “philosophical differences regarding how best we put ourselves in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup.”

It’s impossible to decipher just what that philosophy may be, however. Every three years someone else is drafting players. Every other year, a different coach is implementing his systems.

And the firing of the Amerks coaching is a colossal blunder, proof that the organization has no direction, no real leadership and no clue.

When former general manager Darcy Regier — the development cupboard barren — declared at his April 2013 season wrap-up news conference that there would be suffering, he failed to define suffering.

Neither Merriam-Webster nor New Oxford define it as nine years of torment and pain for hockey fans.

But maybe there’s hint the madness will finally end. Kevyn Adams, a Buffalo native, was hired as the Sabres new general manager.

He has been employed by the Sabres or Pegula Sports and Entertainment in a variety of roles since 2009 — from development coach to assistant coach to general manager of the HarborCenter to senior VP of business administration.

That’s not why this may work, however. Adams has something going for him that none of the others had: he’s already been fired once during the Pegulas’ ownership tenure (as Rolston’s assistant coach following the 2012-13 season).

For an organization that has made firing high-level employees its trademark, maybe that’s now the prerequisite for hiring, because it’s clear nothing else has worked.

7 Responses to "When all the Sabres do is fire personnel, the result is an endless dumpster fire"

  1. ted   June 17, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Kevin—This is a tough one. For the ‘core’ (ever shrinking) of Amerk season ticket holders and die-hards (I include myself) the firing of Taylor as coach isn’t as tragic as it looks to casual fans and anyone who remembers Taylor the player. Fact was, Amerks as a team actually performed better when Dineen was behind the bench this past season. As the season wore on, most the talent expected to carry this team was heading in the wrong direction.
    For season ticket holders, the playoffs in the AHL are EVERYTHING. Its what you play for, and Amerks had a rich history of getting the Cup, or getting near it for many seasons. However the Amerks have not even won ONE series in 15 years. Their last Cup was 1996. That just has to change. Frankly given our recent history, it was hard to be excited about a team that earned 99 points but got flushed 3 straight…with home ice advantage no less.

    Was Taylor a ‘bad’ coach? I’ll say no. But something just didn’t feel right. Was he muzzled by the Sabres continued ineptitude? If he could have coached like Torts, or Boxie or Keenan, or Crozier…could he have been ‘better’? Guess we won’t know. What we do know is other organizations have won Calder Cups during our drought and it hasn’t all been by luck.

    Will the Sabres go outside the organization now for us? Will Adams allow Rochester to reclaim their ‘Crest’ and recognize how important it is to have a winner here? A playoff winner. A team that is built for the realities of the post season grind? You ask any STH whether they felt this years team was built for post season. The answer would be absolutely not.

    Chris Taylor is, and has been, a class act here in Rochester. No question. but was it a ‘disaster’ to let him go? Probably not. Will the Sabres under the Pegula’s finally get it right? Again, most probably think not. I’m not a Sabres fan, but I bleed Amerk red white and blue. And what I do know is the echos from June 13, 1996 still ring in my ears. And that brand of hockey is sorely missed here. I sure hope somebody can bring it back.
    My thoughts.

  2. Kevin Oklobzija   June 17, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ted. Very much appreciated. Your views on where this particular Amerks team was headed and the chance for playoff success are shared by many long-time fans. I don’t, however, necessarily buy into the “they played better for Dineen” mantra. Yes, numbers may point that out, but Gord was still on the bench and in the room and in practice. It’s not like he disappeared. It’s not like Taylz had the only voice. And conversely, the Sabres played much better when Taylz was on their bench. Much better.

    As far as the direction of Amerks franchise, I do believe Taylz was the perfect person to instill pride in the crest. He played here when the Amerks were talk of the town and talk in the media. He understands. He also has lived here for 20 years, and has no plans to leave.

    He did everything he could to drive home to players the importance of caring about the crest. It’s a different era, however. Guys are focused on the NHL, and getting them to feel pride in playing for an AHL team isn’t easy. You need organizational stability. You need holdover veterans. You need a coach who not only preaches the importance of pride in the crest but also explains why it matters and what it can mean to a career. Taylz did that.

    But there is no stability, and there won’t be very many (any?) veteran leaders next season.

    For the diehard fan, and number that dwindles every year, Taylz’s departure will be acceptable for the reasons you mention. For the casual fan who had begun to notice the Amerks might actually be relevant again and regain some prominence, they’re bewildered and will find something else to do on the six Fridays that used to be reserved for Amerks hockey.

    As for a return to the glory days: winning will no longer matter. It will be a gladly accepted (though unlikely) byproduct of a program that will focus on development and only development. Jason Botterill, Randy Sexton and Chris Taylor believed winning and player development went hand-in-hand, and they spent money to sign veterans and demanded accountability within the room. Could they have hit on a few more free agents? Definitely. But they did want to win here. That all changed yesterday. The Pegulas are now in economy mode. They’re not spending on AHL free agents, and Adams and his hockey department will call all the shots in Rochester.

  3. Jeff   June 17, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Great read Kevin. I agree 100%. This is just sad.

    Jeff Flack-

  4. ted   June 18, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks for you response Kevin. since I posted this, we have learned a lot more about how irrelevant Rochester, as a team will be. Based on that, its hard to argue that Taylor wasn’t the right man for the job currently…for all the reasons you stated. We are headed back to the ugly days of the Sabres/ Florida years. Taylor didn’t always get the results we wanted, and he often looked very uncomfortable in post game interviews…but that all pales in view of what Pegula/Adams wants here. Adams selection clearly was an ‘inside job’…someone who already danced to Pegula’s fiddle. And that tune is Rochester will become a glorified practice squad. I am so jealous of the way Washington and Hershey go about their business. thats the way its supposed to be. You and I both know that in any given year, an NHL team MIGHT have 3 or 4 legitimate ‘prospects’. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been watching. And to develop them…you need a solid surrounding cast, which includes some veterans. that Pegula doesn’t see that shows how little he knows about hockey. The guy has enough money to buy the AHL…why the penny pinching now? Keep in mind too that last year he drove out several very popular events from the BCA, because of money. Does he care at all about this city. Doubtful.

    What has been told us over the past 2 days puts everything in a totally different light. Gone are guys who at least tried to win here. Now we know why. There are still several NHL/AHL marriages that combine development with winning and that number seemed to be growing. This is all very sad, especially for those of us who have weathered so many storms. I’m waiting for Pegulas to drop the next bomb…Amerks will play this coming season in Buffalo…to keep everyone ‘safe and sound’ and close. Its not as preposterous as one might think…at least not anymore.Pegula has the kool-aid crew on board though. Rob Ray says today the money saved on vets for Rochester can go to FA’s for Buffalo. They already have it all figured out. Tails got the shaft for sure. Its sinking in more and more as this ugly dust settles.

  5. Mike   June 23, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    I have to agree with you Kevin and you Ted, this was not a good move at all. The Amerks are now dead in the water and it will only get worse once the season starts and we go deeper into that season. Playing on a team with mostly draft picks and budget journeymen the team will take a beating nightly. The draft picks that come in here from Juniors or Europe dripping in confidence will quickly be drained of that confidence. They will want to try and force a win by playing outside of their skill set and not hone the skills that got them drafted in the first place. It will be helter skelter on the ice and the fans will notice. Players will not be ready to be promoted to the NHL team known as the Sabres. As attendance dwindle to Florida and Vancouver days the players will notice that they have no fans they will have no incentive. In the Florida era the players had no incentive to give 110% because the crowds were small and they knew Rochester fans only wanted to cheer on Sabre prospects, not Panther prospects. Careful what you wish for. I also believe that the Pegula’s do not care if the Amerks do not succeed here on the ice or at the box office. If attendance is not there he (or she) will just threaten to move the franchise to Cincinnati who has a larger market even if they do not have a larger hockey history. If that ever happens Pegula will protect his AHL rights to the Rochester market. I would love to have that bite them right in their ass. Someone with hockey sense could bring a East Coast Team into Rochester and name them the Americans (Will have to change the logo just a touch) The ECHL does play an exciting brand of hockey because the players are hungry to play. We could have most games at RIT and sell it out and play at the Blue Cross Arena on occasions. Remmember, Pegula runs the BCA, so we will not want to fill his building that often.
    Terry and Kim did say they have to maintain their life style…………….will it be worth it for them??

  6. ted   June 25, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    Kevin–heard your interview with Patrick Williams. Nice job. While as you know, I am one of those fans who feels playoff success is very important, I have come around a lot in my feelings about Taylor. He didn’t deliver even one playoff game win, but he WAS ROCHESTER and it is turning out that was pretty important. I can’t imagine that any coach Pegula hires on the cheap for the Amerks will be telling us how important it is to win. he will be telling us that its Buffalo’s mission to ‘develop players for the NHL’ and we will have to swallow it. Broken record…but ALL NHL teams use their AHL teams to develop talent. However some also understand the importance of winning to do it..and the fact that there are paying fans who want to see good hockey along the way. I will continue to be highly critical of the Sabres until they deliver us a team that can at least win ONE playoff series for heaven’s sake. That experience is invaluable to a young player’s development.
    Anyway…really enjoyed your chat with Patrick.

  7. Todd Etshman   June 28, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    It’s easier to defend Taylor and his staff then criticize him. He won, sent players to Buffalo and guys were glad to play for him. I will say that when I had this gig before you, Benoit Groulx in Syracuse and Sheldon O’Keefe in Toronto always found a way around the Amerks. And this year Troy Mann in Belleville and Mark Dennehy in Bingo had their teams more playoff ready. Not all of those teams had better players. But, I agree, it seems wrong. Who fires a guy who works hard and wins 62 percent of his games?

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