An all-time bad day

By WGR 550 SportsRadio

Tuesday, June 16, 2020 was one of the craziest and ugliest days I’ve experienced in Buffalo sports.

It began positively enough. Well, unless you’re Jason Botterill, that is. Fans were eager for a change at the top of the Buffalo Sabres organization, so hearing that Botterill was being replaced, I’d think, was good news.

Except for the thing about how just three weeks ago, ownership had announced that Botterill would be continuing on as general manager. That was no in-season vote of confidence.

By that point, the Sabres hadn’t played a game in more than two months. Yes, it coincided with the Sabres officially not being invited to the NHL’s 24-team Return To Play tournament, but you’d think there had already been plenty of time for decisions to be made about the fate of the hockey department, and there we had it. Status quo, which wouldn’t be popular, but so be it.

Ownership even took a swipe at the fans who didn’t like the team retaining Botterill, telling them the organization has access to information that the fans do not.

Yeah, no kidding. Thanks for the reminder.

So back to Tuesday morning.

Botterill is out, Kevyn Adams is in. All the way in. Not the interim general manager, but just general manager full stop. A familiar name for sure, on that has been around the organization for a long time. Player development coach, assistant coach, Jr. Sabres/Harborcenter and then finally the Senior Vice President of Business Administration. Anything pertaining to being an NHL general manager? Not so much, but ok.

I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with Adams and I’ll be rooting for him to figure this out.

Then came the Zoom conference call with the media. Terry Pegula couldn’t mention efficiency, economics and streamlining the operation enough times. When asked what changed over the three weeks between announcing that Botterill would be retained and Tuesday, Pegula said things like “we felt we weren’t being heard.”

Not being heard about what? Line combinations when you aren’t likely to be playing any games for the next nine months? Trading for a goaltender? Of course not.

To me, signs point to ownership wanting to eliminate positions, who knows, maybe all the way up to Botterill’s assistants, and the general manager being slow to act. Admittedly, I’m connecting dots here, but that’s how it usually goes when pro sports teams speak.

Ownership has been streamlining the operation for more than a year now. The way they handled their game night part-time employees, as well as people who worked full-time in the organization for 20 or 30 years, in the face of a global pandemic the likes of which we’ve never experienced, was an embarrassment.

And now, three weeks after telling us he’d be back, you’re firing your general manager and gutting the hockey department. You’ll have to forgive me for reaching the rather obvious conclusion that what changed over these three weeks is that Botterill didn’t agree with gutting his hockey department.

Waiting until you’d completed your Zoom conference call to start firing your hockey staff was a nice touch.

In case I’m not making it clear, let me plainly say it so there is no confusion. Botterill deserved to be fired based on the team’s performance. Instead, he was going to be retained until he refused to play ball on streamlining the operation.

At least that’s how I see it. So all the losing? No problem. Don’t want to help us cut off some heads? Buh-bye.

You know how you make this work for fans? Because again, your fans mostly want to be happy about this change.

You get on that Zoom call and you tell us how sick you are of the losing and that, like Jack Eichel, you can’t take it anymore. We’re making changes because we’re not satisfied with “improving” to 25th place. Want to make it about money, fine. You’ve spent a crap-ton of money and expect better results than a few weeks within seasons where the team gets hot, only to fade to the back of the pack.

But they couldn’t do that. The time to do that was three weeks ago and they blew it. The actions of ownership indicate that the losing wasn’t the real problem. The real problem is the budget.

Yes, of course, their hockey business has been severely impacted by the pandemic and there is great uncertainty about the future. We should all be watching out to see how other teams in the NHL handle things moving forward. If other teams act similarly, maybe the hockey world won’t be looking at the Sabres as the circus they’re currently viewed as.

Good luck, Kevyn Adams. We’re all counting on you. No pressure.