Right now, Kevyn Adams has a precious commodity as he begins his unlikely tenure as Buffalo Sabres general manager: time.
Being a rookie GM is difficult enough for front office veterans. Adams, 45, was hired to replace Jason Botterill last week having never worked in an NHL hockey department.
Adams, of course, knows the hockey world and his bosses, Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, well. The Clarence native played 10 seasons in the NHL and also coached with the Sabres.
He most recently served as the team’s senior vice president of business administration. Prior to that, he ran the Academy of Hockey at LECOM Harborcenter and the Jr. Sabres.
Now, Adams has accepted a massive undertaking, trying to transform the NHL’s laughingstock – the Sabres have missed the playoffs a whopping nine consecutive seasons – into a winner.
“It’s not an easy situation, because they have got to get this thing turned around,” said former Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean, who selected Adams in the 2000 expansion draft.
Luckily for Adams, he doesn’t have to make his first major personnel decision for months because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to dramatically alter its calendar.
The league plans to start its playoff-qualifying rounds – the Sabres missed by one win – later this summer. If the postseason can be completed, the offseason would probably begin in October.
So the Sabres likely won’t play their next game until December or January.
“Because there’s no hockey to play and because you don’t even have to worry about making those decisions, he’s got the benefit of time,” said TSN analyst Craig Button, who spent three years as the Calgary Flames’ GM in the early 2000s. “He has a massive benefit of time, and I think that that is another thing that probably influenced the Pegulas to put him in there.”
Button said the coming weeks offer Adams an opportunity “to be able to look, listen to different things.”
“Try to consider, ‘OK, how would I like this to work?’” he said. “Now you go test it, you say, ‘OK, I’d like to talk to these people.’ I mean, he’s got people that he can turn to, he’s going to have resources that he can turn to.”
But Adams doesn’t have very many resources, at least in house. He’s only working with a skeleton staff. The Sabres fired 22 members of the hockey department, including assistant GMs Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton, when they axed Botterill.
The Pegulas said last week they’re open to adding an assistant for Adams. Other people will likely be hired for the hockey department.
Still, given Terry Pegula’s recent words – “We needed to move forward effectively, efficiently and economically,” he said – it almost certainly won’t be restored to its previous size.
“There’s lots of good people out there in offseasons,” MacLean said. “So I think it’s important that the Pegulas give him the resources to put a good staff in place.”
MacLean said assembling a staff is critical for Adams. The demands of the job often keep the GM glued to the big club.
“The No. 1 thing, he has to be a leader, and for him to lead, No. 1, he’s got to have really good people under him, top-notch people underneath him that he trusts their opinion,” said MacLean, who also coached the Florida Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup final.
Adams can also utilize this time to establish credibility among the NHL’s other GMs. While he’s well-liked and respected in the hockey community, he’s also a neophyte in his new role.
“You can only impact the views and how people perceive you based on the work you’re going to do,” Button said.
Adams earned respect throughout his playing career, carving out a 540-game NHL career as a third- or fourth-line forward and winning the Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
“You know what a good functioning team looks like, you know what a good functioning team feels like, you know what it smells like,” Button said.
In his post-playing career, he has challenged himself, taking different jobs under the Pegulas. In the process, Adams developed their trust.
Adams’ inexperience doesn’t bother Button, who noted the Sabres struggled under Botterill and his predecessor, Tim Murray. Both were first-time GMs who worked their way up in front offices.
“I’m a big believer smart people know what they don’t know,” Button said. “So I think Kevyn Adams is smart. Does that mean that he’s going to snap his fingers and be able to get everything up to speed right away? No. But do I think he can go about it in an intelligent, methodical way? Yeah, I do.”
MacLean, however, has reservations about flipping the keys to another rookie GM.
“He was a sharp hockey guy,” he said of Adams. “He was a smart player, he was a solid player, he knew what it took to be a player. The only question I would have is they’ve gone through two inexperienced GMs. …
“To go with a third guy in a row with even less experience without that assistant GM experience and without that scouting experience … it caught me a little off guard.”
He added: “I hope Kevyn does a hell of a job, I really do, but I hope for the Pegulas’ sake that it works out.”