The call lasted less than a minute. Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams simply informed Chris Taylor he was being fired as Rochester Americans coach, offering no details into the sudden dismissal.
Taylor was stunned. Following a successful three-year run in which the Amerks reestablished themselves as an AHL heavyweight, the Sabres let him go Tuesday with no explanation.
“It was very short, fast, why they felt that they wanted a clean slate,” Taylor told the Times Herald on Thursday.
Earlier on Tuesday, Taylor was shocked to hear Sabres GM Jason Botterill had been fired. In 2017, Botterill hired Taylor, his friend and former teammate, to coach the Amerks.
“At that point, that’s all I thought was happening,” Taylor said of Botterill’s dismissal. “I had no idea what other (stuff) was going on.”
But when Taylor called Amerks GM Randy Sexton, he informed Taylor he had also been axed.
“Your stomach just drops, it was very unexpected,” Taylor said.
Still, Taylor figured he and his assistant coaches, Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen, would be safe.
By the end of Tuesday, Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula had decimated their hockey department, firing 22 members, including Taylor and his staff.
Taylor’s call came around 3 p.m.
“I didn’t think that we were getting a call to be relieved of our duties, I really didn’t,” said Taylor, who was popular with his players. “You know, sometimes you have an inkling of that, you feel like it’s coming, whatever. We didn’t have any of that. My staff was so surprised, like, completely caught off guard.
“I was caught off guard with … everybody that got let go. It’s a hard day, it’s one of those days that you never want to look back on.”
Naturally, the last few days have been difficult for the affable Taylor. His uncertain future has constantly been weighing on him. Many observers thought he would earn a promotion to the NHL in the near future. The Sabres even elevated him to Buffalo on an interim basis earlier this season to fill in for assistant coach Don Granato.
“I wanted to be a coach for the Amerks as long as I could, that’s the hard part,” Taylor said. “Yeah, I think about it every day, every second right now. Trying to process everything, it’s tough.”
Taylor, 48, had been a member of the Amerks for 17 of the last 21 seasons as either a player, assistant coach or head coach.
The Amerks Hall of Famer compiled a terrific 116-65-33 record as head coach, posting winning records every season. 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.
“What we did as a whole staff I’m proud of,” Taylor said. “Jason, Randy, (former assistant GM Steve Greeley) supported us in everything that we did. The players, they changed the culture around in this community, they changed the culture around our dressing room. It was a big change, it was hard to change.”
Taylor, who said he had a good relationship with Adams, would’ve liked to have had a conversation with the new GM about what was transpiring.
“I just thought he would give me more of an explanation or just go through the process of maybe an interview with all our coaches, maybe what direction we were thinking, and if it didn’t work, you just kind of go, ‘OK, then we understand,’” he said. “Just to get a phone call, yeah, I was just surprised.”
He added: “I’m just confused, I’m sure everybody is.”
In an appearance on WGR on Wednesday, Adams offered a bit of insight into why the Sabres let Taylor and his staff go.
“We want to philosophically look at it a different way in Rochester,” said Adams, who also noted Taylor had done a “phenomenal” job. “We want to make sure the priority is purely from a development standpoint. It’s a model that we want to create down there … 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.”
Taylor, of course, disputes the notion he put winning above prospect development. He said he did not have a mandate from management to give prospects a certain amount of playing time or games.
“Player development was huge for us,” he said. “It’s a big thing in what we did, and I took pride in that. We worked with players after practice for a long time on individual skills, had player development guys come in every week. There was not one week where we didn’t have a player development coach on the ice or we didn’t have the Harborcenter player development (coaches) in every month. …
“It was our biggest thing, player development. I was surprised that was even talked about.”
Taylor said he gave the Amerks’ youngsters as much exposure as possible. While the AHL doesn’t release ice time statistics, he said center prospects Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Asplund were both averaging about 23 minutes a game by the end of the season. Meanwhile, defense prospects Will Borgen and Jacob Bryson were skating around 25 minutes an outing.
“A lot of our older guys were down to 18 minutes, 14 minutes, 13 minutes,” Taylor said. “But they were still providing that guidance for our young players, and that’s what made our young players really thrive at the end.”
Taylor, who lives in North Chili with his wife, Lisa, and two children, Samantha and Nick, has no plans to leave Rochester, which has been the family’s permanent home since he joined the Amerks in 1999.
“The whole community means everything to me,” Taylor said. “I know how passionate the fans are, they’re very smart fans, they’re very intelligent, they know their hockey. …
“(I) love the Amerks. Honestly, I wish them the best because of the fans and what they mean to me.”
Today's podcast! @BillHoppeNHL chats house clean, what's next for the Sabres, if Terry and Kim Pegula should sell the team, the Sabres being the laughingstock of the NHL and more: https://t.co/XH8yG5X4jc. Thanks to @ALEnANGUSPUB
— Mike Lindsley (@MikeLsports) June 19, 2020
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