If the NHL could’ve held its draft as scheduled next week, Jason Botterill would likely still be employed as the Buffalo Sabres’ general manager. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to postpone the annual event until the fall.
The extra time gave Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula an opportunity to discuss and plan the team’s future – “Really start digging in,” Kim Pegula said on a Zoom call Tuesday to discuss Botterill’s firing – with their now former GM.
Three weeks ago, Kim Pegula told the Associated Press that despite missing the playoffs again, Botterill would return for his fourth season in 2020-21. But their recent conversations with Botterill alarmed the Pegulas, who learned they shared different visions of the future.
So on Tuesday, the Sabres axed Botterill – one of a slew of firings – and named Clarence native Kevyn Adams, who had been serving as the team’s senior vice president of business administration, his replacement.
“When we were in detailed discussions with Jason and how we felt we needed to move forward effectively, efficiently and economically running this franchise, we felt that there were too many differences of opinion going into the future that we just thought – since we had more time – it would be best for us to make this change,” Terry Pegula said.
Botterill’s dismissal, however, was just the beginning of one of the ugliest days in franchise history. The Sabres cleaned house Tuesday, also firing assistant general managers Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton.
Later in the day, they let go Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor and his assistants, Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen. They also fired Ryan Jankowski, the team’s director of amateur scouting, and much of the amateur scouting staff, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, and development coaches Krys Barch and Mike Komisarek, according to The Buffalo News.
Ralph Krueger, who was hired by Botterill last year, will remain as coach. Krueger participated in Tuesday’s Zoom call.
Since the Pegulas, who are billionaires, purchased the Sabres in February 2011, they’ve employed one of the NHL’s largest hockey staffs. But with the pandemic battering the economy, those days are over.
Going forward, the Pegulas want the Sabres to become a “leaner” operation.
“It’s just the way the world’s heading,” Terry Pegula said. “Any business today, you look at the things you do, they’re more efficient, they do things quick, they use this new technology that we all have at our fingertips.”
Clearly, Botterill, 44, did not agree with the changes the Pegulas want to implement.
“The last six months in the world have not been easy times for sports teams (and) businesses,” Terry Pegula said. “We believe in acting and not reacting to certain situations. We as owners had a vision to where we need to go in these uncertain times. We don’t know if we’re going to have fans next year and what not as far as competitive sports go.
“Looking ahead, we need to make some adjustments in the business side of our operations that we provide that foresight to the organization. We felt like we weren’t being heard. I’m not going to sit here and dish on Jason Botterill, but we have a vision and we want to see our vision succeed.”
Without getting into specifics, Terry Pegula acknowledged “communication as one of the biggest issues with the Sabres.”
“We believe in open communication between all the powers that be in the organization, and sometimes that breaks down,” he said. “Sometimes it could be anybody’s fault, but this happens.”
If you’re counting, Adams is the fourth GM to have worked under the Pegulas. Constant regime change, of course, doesn’t breed success. No wonder the Sabres have missed the playoffs nine straight seasons, the NHL’s longest drought.
The Sabres have a well-earned reputation for dysfunction.
After they fired GM Darcy Regier in November 2013, his replacement, Tim Murray, lasted three and a half seasons.
The Pegulas did not hold a search for Botterill’s replacement. Instead, they turned the reigns over to Adams, the third first-time GM they’ve hired.
Adams, 45, played 540 NHL games over 10 seasons, winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. He also served as a development coach with the Sabres in 2010-11 and an assistant coach for two years under Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston.
After the Sabres fired Adams as an assistant in 2013, the Pegulas tabbed him to run the new Academy of Hockey at Harborcenter and the Jr. Sabres. They promoted Adams to his executive vice president role last year.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Adams said. “Many of you know that I grew up in Western New York. I wore No. 11 when I started playing hockey because of watching Gilbert Perreault. This is a very special day for me and my family. I am so excited to start this job.”
“We have known Kevyn for nine years and keep jamming him with responsibilities,” Terry Pegula said. “And he kept rising up the ladder. He’s a very knowledgeable and passionate person. He’s a great communicator. And this isn’t some scattershot decision that we made.”
He added: “He has handled very admirably any job we have given him. Loyal. Communicative. And we just feel that it’s a better place for us to be with Kevyn as our GM.”
Thoughts on the firing of GM Jason Botterill and much of the front office, the new, leaner org, the odd decision to let go Chris Taylor and more. pic.twitter.com/BNgHKKoz28
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) June 17, 2020