By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
There’s one absolute rule that can be applied to almost any business, organization, or institution.
Stability is good. Constant change is bad.
For the most part, the plan that works best is to find good people, let them do their work, and get out of their way. Yes, no business can stand still, but the movement should be evolutionary and not revolutionary. When things goes wrong, new people must be brought in. They bring in a different set of standards and ideas. A transition period takes place. If it doesn’t work, then it’s time to start over. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Sabres paired up Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff as general manager and coach in 1997. The combination lasted for around16 years. There were ups and downs during that time, in part because of the team’s ownership status, but for the most part it worked quite well. Buffalo could have won two Stanley Cups during those years with a different twist of events. That sounds pretty good about now. The Sabres still haven’t made the playoffs since that combination was broken up.
Since then, let’s look at what’s gone on since then. Regier and Ron Rolston worked together in 2013. The GM job was vacant (Pat LaFontaine essentially did the work) while Ted Nolan was coach in 2013-14. Tim Murray moved up to GM and worked with Nolan in 2014-15. Murray moved on to have Dan Bylsma as coach in 2015-17. Both men departed, replaced by Jason Botterill and Phil Housley for 2017-19. Then we took Housley out of the lineup and replaced him with Ralph Krueger in 2019-20. Now Botterill is gone, and Kevyn Adams (and an entirely new set of assistant) will work with Krueger in 2020 or 2021 or whenever we start playing hockey again.
Do I detect a pattern here? The latest change came this morning, when the Sabres released Botterill and company in favor of Adams. I don’t have a good idea about how much money that Terry and Kim Pegula have paid people not to do their jobs in the last nine years, but it’s obviously in eight figures. That is not a good look.
It was always difficult to get a read on Botterill. Sports franchises like their executives to be on the bland side in public, and he certainly proved to be a good soldier in that sense. His public appearances weren’t too frequent, and it was rare that he showed much personality on such occasions. Having the fans on your side is no guarantee of continued employment when the team itself is losing, of course, but it can buy a little time along the way and make the ride a little more fun.
Still, it’s easy to come away from the Botterill Years wondering if he had much of a chance. The franchise has shown an inability to move past the Tank Era and make progress at rebuilding the hockey department. (I’m still willing to argue that having some sort of team president would be a good idea, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen soon.) The record shows that Botterill didn’t change the arc of the franchise in his three years. Therefore, you’d have to say that his departure can be easily justified even if it wasn’t necessarily mandatory under the circumstances.
That leads us to Adams, the new person in the position. The Pegulas obviously have liked Adams for some time, as he’s been given an increasing role in the franchise during his time here. Is he a good fit as a GM? You never know about someone who has never had the job. But hockey has been Adams’ life for a long time. He’s smart, and has an outgoing and friendly personality. He’s going to get the benefit of the doubt from the fans, at least for a while, and that’s a good sign under these set of circumstances.
It’s also not a bad time to make a switch in general managers. Yes, the optics for the Pegulas are poor and clumsy, in that Pominville received something of a vote of confidence from them three weeks ago. It’s a little tough to believe that “philosophical differences” between Botterill and the Pegulas just came to the surface. Luckily, such words usually are forgotten rather quickly. In the meantime, the Sabres may not be playing again until Christmas or so. That gives Adams six months to get a staff up and running, prepare for the draft and free agent season (whenever they are), and figure out what’s going on.
Let’s summarize the situation in a paragraph. After today’s events, the Sabres have a couple of good, smart people in the positions of general manager and coach. They are the type of people you’d want on your side – probably for the long term. This was not always true in the past several years. Now it’s a matter of answering a bigger question: Are the problems that have rampaged through the Sabres in recent years bigger than even they can cure? If they are, there will be more days like this in the years to come.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)