Tuesday started out like any normal day. Unbeknownst to the hockey world, Kim and Terry Pegula planned on upending the Sabres organization. With a list of managers, coaches, and staff to be fired in-hand, the Pegulas picked up the phone and called general manager Jason Botterill. That’s when they uttered their two favorite words — you’re fired. The next call the Pegulas made was to Kevyn Adams. Adams was was being promoted from Senior Vice President of Business Administration to Sabres General ganager. That would have been enough of a shake-up on its own, but the Pegulas weren’t done. When the dust settled late Tuesday afternoon, Randy Sexton, Steve Greely, Chris Taylor, Gord Dineen, Toby Petersen, Ryan Jankowski, Jeff Crisp, and many members of the Sabres and Amerks staff were all terminated.
No one in the hockey world saw this coming Just a few weeks ago Botterill received a vote of confidence from the Pegulas. At that time Kim Pegula told the AP’s John Wawrow, “We have a little bit more information than maybe a fan does, some inner workings that we see some positives in.” On Monday Botterill was quoted in a press release about the signing of prospect Oskari Laaksonen. By Tuesday morning the Pegulas had a change of heart.
Praise from the Pegulas is quickly becoming a kiss of death. The same situation occurred when Tim Murray was general manager. Not long before Murray’s termination he too received praise and was offered a contract extension.
The most devastating firings came in Rochester. After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Amerks found some success under Botterill and Sexton. The pair hired Chris Taylor as head coach, and Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen as assistant coaches. Sexton had an eye for veteran talent and he signed impactful AHL players. The Amerks made the playoffs the last two seasons and they were heading toward their third playoff showing in as many years before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The one glaring disappointment during their tenure was that the Amerks lost both playoff series in the first round without so much as a single win. If that was the reason for terminating the Amerks coaching staff it might be forgivable. The reality is that these terminations had little to do with performance — they were Botterill’s hires and that made them marked men. The fact that they brought success to the AHL while the Sabres continue to be an embarrassment in the NHL sealed their fate.
I was initially against hiring Taylor as head coachI was initially against hiring Taylor as head coach of the Amerks, but he won me over in his first season behind the bench. Players looked motivated and he was able to develop draft picks. Earlier this season Taylor even filled in as assistant coach of the Sabres when Don Granato was forced to take a medical leave of absence. All reports during that assignment were positive. Gord Dineen assumed the role of head coach in Taylor’s absence and the Amerks went on a winning streak. At the end of the day, Taylor, Dineen, and Petersen were delivering what was required of them. I fear history will not reflect kindly on these terminations.
The way staff was let go paints an ugly picture of the organization’s inner workings. While the Pegulas made the initial calls to Botterill and Adams, they tasked newly promoted Adams with terminating the remaining employees. Congratulations on the promotion — here’s the axe.
Since the Pegulas purchased the Sabres and Amerks they have fired three Sabres general managers, five Sabres head coaches, four Amerks head coaches, and one Amerks general manager. That’s not a great picture on its own, but when you include all the presidents, vice presidents, directors, assistant coaches, player development coaches, trainers, and front-office staff that have been terminated during the same time period, it’s downright ugly. If you are employed by the Pegulas your days are numbered.
No search for a general manager was conductedKevyn Adams is an unknown — he has no professional hockey management experience. Adams has been with the Sabres organization filling various roles since 2009. Following Adams‘ NHL career, he joined the Sabres as a player development coach. He was an assistant coach from 2011-2013 — a position he was fired from when Ron Rolston was promoted to head coach of the Sabres. He was then hired on as vice president and director of the Academy of Hockey at Harbor Center. Most recently he served as senior vice president of business administration for the Sabres. The Pegulas did not search for an experienced general manager before promoting Adams to the position. Of course that begs the question — would anyone with experience want the job considering the organization’s history since being purchased by the Pegulas? One thing is becoming evident about Adams. He is a rank and file corporate “yes man.” That might have been his primary qualification in the Pegulas’ eyes.
What will the Sabres organization look like next season? That’s anyone’s guess. One thing is certain — after 9 years of losing in the NHL, multiple house cleanings that resulted in no improvements, and the unprecedented firings during Tuesday’s massacre that included coaches and a manager in the AHL that were getting results, the Pegulas have made the Sabres organization the laughing stock of the hockey world.