A lack of panic

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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

There’s plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the future of the Buffalo Sabres.

Think about the big questions about the roster:

  • Who will ever fill the void left by Ryan O’Reilly?
  • Will they ever figure it out on the back end?
  • Is there any long-term answer in goal coming?
  • Will Jack Eichel get frustrated to the point of asking for… gulp… a trade?

That’s not the full list, but it’s a start.

But my biggest question regarding the Sabres has to do with their current structure.

It seems the team is back into that intangible world of valuing culture and trust above all. It’s important that the players “buy in” and that “growth” is mentioned at every single turn. It’s vital that “communication” and “synergy” are cornerstones of how they go forward. The buzz words are used endlessly. We will, no doubt, hear again and again how important it is they’re all on the same page. When does anyone talk about a standard to win games?

The Sabres have made a living out of acting like everything is going just fine.

Think of the last five years of failure... The beat Sabres team post-tank was the first one out of the tank. They put together a good stretch of play in the second half of the season, finishing with 81 points, a mark they’ve yet to pass since.

Bylsma’s second season, Housley’s two seasons, and Kreuger’s first season all had a common theme to them: “This is no time to panic".

Panic, can be fruitful. Panic is a natural response to a bad situation. Sure, it can sometimes force bad decisions, but the Sabres in the post-tank world haven’t panicked nearly enough. Tim Murray watched a team's season die and lost his job. Jason Botterill watched three seasons go down the drain and wasn’t moved to bold action during the season during any one of them. His run here is defined by inaction. The O’Reilly trade stands out as an action, of course, and a self-inflicted wound brought about by previous inaction. That was a whiff that they thought about until the 11th hour.

What’s this all getting to?  

Mid-season change. The Sabres have been the worst team in the NHL since 2013, and at no point in that seven-year stretch of ineptitude, did anyone decide that a mid-season change could help. They didn’t panic. They pointed to growth, or a win streak, or a solid game against the Colorado Avalanche or something.

There have been 27 mid-season NHL coaching changes since the last time the Sabres played that card. There were eight just this year. Of those 27, 23 finished the season ahead of Buffalo, which is not to illustrate that it is guaranteed to fix your problems, but that teams better than the Sabres routinely play a card that this team simply seems too measured to play.

Can’t panic, right?

The recent comment from ownership about knowing a little more than the fans, rings pretty hollow when over-and-over-and-over the fans can see a crash coming, and the team does nothing about it.

That brings me to their new plan, and their future.

I’m not here to tell you that Kevyn Adams' lack of experience has to be a problem, because I don’t think it has to be an issue at all.  

But the big million dollar question is: “Who fires the coach?”

If the Sabres get out to another bad season, whenever it is, who fires the coach? Does the organization have the mettle to say, mid-stream, “This is not working.” They have not shown a willingness to do that for seven years. It was November of 2013 when Ron Rolston was fired. He had won four of 19 games.

Seven years later, I need to know that this organization is willing to panic. They are not proactive, they are woefully late in being reactive. Didn’t fire Bylsma in time. Reluctant to fire Housley. Reluctant, even, to fire Botterill when it all played out. The Sabres have been slow and reactive, rather than bold and proactive.

The next time this team hits the ice, if they’re rolling along with terrible special teams again, the wins aren’t coming, and the head coach is talking about how much everyone is getting along, who steps in to say “this isn’t working”?
Yesterday, John Shannon suggested something that I’ve been thinking about a year: Krueger will in a President of Hockey Operations type role. Is the most likely scenario that Krueger steps out of coaching voluntarily, and moves up? He certainly seems like a positive influence and someone worth having around the organization, but his resume on this job he has right now isn’t all that robust in terms of results.

Compared to the last few failed seasons and non-reactions, there were plenty of reports out there that players didn’t like Bylsma, and that they didn’t like Housley. Now, the Sabres' head coach is a very popular figure. A natural leader that seems to have a way of getting everyone to like him. I don’t write that to suggest that it’s a bad thing, but it’s a distraction. Only winning matters.  

I don’t think the Sabres should fire their coach today. I’m excited to see what Adams has planned for the roster. But to be taken seriously, we need to know that they’re willing to panic, when panic is necessary. It’s a small test to pass, and now it lies with Adams. Hard calls, tough decisions, and big changes await.  

Win, or change. 

Playing it cool for so long is a part of what got them here today.

So yes, I’m back to constantly thinking about the Sabres.