Chris Taylor played and coached with Rochester. ©2020, Micheline Veluvolu, Rochester Americans

Sabres’ decision to fire Amerks coach Chris Taylor looks foolish

In 2017, former general manager Jason Botterill and his assistant, Randy Sexton, took an unusual first step in rebuilding the Buffalo Sabres’ struggling AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.

Barely a year after the Sabres’ previous regime had let Chris Taylor go as an assistant coach from the Amerks, Botterill and Sexton, who also served as Rochester’s GM, rehired him as head coach.

The move made sense. Taylor, who was fired again Tuesday, spent his year away as an assistant with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the affiliate Botterill ran as Pittsburgh’s associate GM.

Taylor’s time working for Botterill, his friend and former teammate, opened his eyes. He learned how a championship organization communicated and operated. He and Botterill shared the same vision, and he returned ready to handle his first head coaching job.

After years of futility, Taylor and Sexton, who was also fired Tuesday, remade the Amerks into a consistent winner, overhauling the culture. The program they established became one of the AHL’s best. Meanwhile, prospects like winger Victor Olofsson and goalie Linus Ullmark developed and made impacts in Buffalo.

Players often spoke about how much they enjoyed playing for Taylor. They appreciated the blunt manner in which he communicated and how he encouraged them to be themselves.

The Amerks had positioned themselves for their third straight playoff appearance when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the AHL to cancel the rest of the season.

Their success generated speculation Taylor would draw interest from NHL teams. The Sabres even promoted him earlier this season, having him sub for assistant coach Don Granato in October and November.

Still, Taylor and his two assistant coaches, Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen, couldn’t survive Tuesday’s stunning purge by Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula.

So Taylor, a winning coach widely regarded as having an NHL future, has been fired twice by the Sabres, who haven’t made the playoffs in nine seasons.

Rochester has become the only bright spot in an organization that has become the NHL’s laughingstock. If the Sabres kept one thing intact, it should’ve been the Amerks.

On Wednesday, new Sabres GM Kevyn Adams told WGR he has “a lot of respect” for Taylor, someone he has known for years.

“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Adams said.

Then why fire him? Teams usually don’t dismiss coaches they call “phenomenal.”

“We want to philosophically look at it a different way in Rochester,” Adams said. “We want to make sure the priority is purely from a development standpoint. It’s a model that we want to create down there, where they’re given every chance to become the best players to become Buffalo Sabres, and I’m not saying that that wasn’t happening before with Chris and his staff, but it’s just more on the roster and how it’s put together.”

Given the Pegulas’ drastic cost-cutting measures – they axed 22 people in the hockey department, according The Buffalo News – it sounds like that new philosophy includes spending less money on Rochester. The Sabres usually sign a slew of high-priced veterans to complement their prospects on the Amerks.

The benefit is twofold: it helps them win and gives prospects the opportunity to learn from established players. But that means awarding one-way contracts to players who will likely spend most of their time in the minors or AHL deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Winning in the AHL often breeds NHL success. In the early 2000s, Taylor’s presence helped buoy the development of future Sabres stars Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek on some powerhouse Amerks squads.

In 2019-20, six players who spent significant time or the entire season in Rochester – Jean-Sebastien Dea, John Gilmour, Andrew Hammond, Curtis Lazar, Casey Nelson and Scott Wilson – had one-way contracts. Two respected veterans – captain Kevin Porter and Zach Redmond – had AHL deals.

Sexton, a former NHL GM, crafted that roster. Right away, Botterill made sure Rochester had a dedicated GM. Botterill’s predecessor, Tim Murray, always had the dual GM title, and it showed. The Amerks missed the postseason in each of his three full seasons.

Will the Sabres even hire someone to fill Sexton’s role? They have to replace Taylor, who will almost certainly land another gig. Look for him in the NHL someday.

6 thoughts on “Sabres’ decision to fire Amerks coach Chris Taylor looks foolish”

  1. Not knowing all the behind the scenes details, it’s difficult to comment on why Taylor was let go ! That said most hockey buffs said he always had a great rapport with players and was a good teacher ! Doesn’t look like a smart move by the Sabres ! Shalom ! Fr Pat Ipolito

  2. If cost cutting is the goal, then I guess it succeeded. If it is viewed from any other perspective, it’s basically going to result in at the very least, a significant setback. If I were a prospect, I would be seriously doubting where the franchise is headed and if I wanted to be part of something long term that more and more appears to be grossly mismanaged. How many successful (that means winning, AND making the playoffs, AND not exiting the playoffs in the first round) teams fire coaches considered phenomenal? The Capitals didn’t re-sign Barry Trotz after winning the Cup, but it was a money issue, and may well have been smart in view of their aging lineup. But this is the Amerks, the AHL. The Amerks went from dismal to playoffs and what any fan would consider an almost Cinderella success. It looks more like a purge of anyone Botterill or Penguins related. Also, where is the wisdom in firing nearly the entire scouting staff when the draft has yet to occur? I’m inclined to think all of this is fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, and I will say we may see more of this type thing across the league, it’s nearly inevitable. (The players in MLB apparently haven’t figured out that with today’s player salaries, no owner, millionaire or billionaire, has bottomless pockets). Billions are being lost throughout the economy, and the pandemic is far from over. No franchise is immune to economics. Problem is (I’m no NHL statistics guru), I suspect there isn’t another team in the NHL that has had the turnover in coaches and GM’s (averaging every 2 years for both positions) and been successful. Seems like the cake keeps getting pulled from the oven half baked. Unfortunately, the pandemic is a very significant, unwanted, and unfortunate complication. Still, cleaning house on this scale cannot but damage whatever progress was being made. And, focusing on development? Poppycock. What better way to develop productive NHL ready talent than to learn what WINNING entails. That’s something the whole organization is sorely lacking top to bottom. The least the Pegulas could do is be truthful to the fans. The fans aren’t stupid. They are experiencing the same economic difficulties. Quit trying to sugar coat the situation by talking about “vision” and philosophy. The best way to obtain success is to go with people who demonstrate they can produce a winner. Firing those that demonstrate that ability is dismaying and ultimately counterproductive.

  3. Bill dont let your warm feelings of Taylor and his staff muddy the facts. The facts are he recently brought Rochester to two Calder cups and both times his coaching and his players wilted like pansy flowers in the sun. As for developing players let’s be real. Oloffsson was developed in Europe and Ullmark will remain nothing more than journeyman backup at best. Basically thats it.. The cupboards are bare as far as developing forwards in Rochester. The fact that Buffalo filled the Amerks with veteran players makes it harder to defend Taylor. Now this move may be a cost saver for the Pegulas but it also is the right thing to do considering the failures in Rochester.

    1. Hi Bruce, I don’t see it the same way you do but at the same time, I understand the reason they fired him. As an Amerk season ticket holder what I saw was a team, who’s most of its players, came to play hard every night. I think its fair to say that Taylor is a winner with a winning mentality and that development takes a secondary priority over winning. I do not think Taylor is the reason the team lost in the playoffs either year…I just think the team was outmanned. The issues are this…do you play a prospect that doesn’t bring the intensity (Nylander), do you play a prospect who, regardless of intensity, is no where close in talent level to the older vets? I think Taylor definitely leaned more toward productivity than potential. I often wondered why UPL didnt play every game. It could be argued he wasn’t as good as Hammond but…The philosophy that JB had was creating a winning culture…and that winning would generate winning up top. This new guy, I believe is just going to use the Amerks as a developmental team, and the team will likely suck bad, but it might yield more prospects to Buffalo. Ultimately they both have the same goal..winning hockey in buffalo, just two different strategies to get there. I think Taylor is too competitive to sit down a player he knows is better than a young kid. I personally believe…its a balancing act. Think of the Bills…there are some spots they hand to the future of the organization, whether he’s their best chance or not…and there are some spots that you leave up for competition. For my money…I’m playing UPL. I’m playing kids that have shown at the very least…NHL potential and merely lack consistency. Its a tricky situation for sure. Its likely determined on a player by player basis. You cannot just have a coach that lets a Nylander play all the time when the kid is obviously a cherry picker afraid to win the puck. If you play those guys, you just lose your team who is very aware of what is going on. In summary..I understand the move to get rid of Taylor…I just think the move of putting Adams in…was so stupid. Get a guy that understands how to take an organization from bottom to top. Its that simple. They’ve seen how to do it, and who to hire. Adams is just guessing. I’d freaken hire McDermott if you asked me.

  4. Better to clean house than plug holes in management as they have done in the past. I like the fresh start. Eichel will quit if they don’t make the playoffs next year. There is talent enough to make playoffs but Botterill et al could not find adequate depth of supporting cast!

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