The Buffalo Sabres fired general manager Jason Botterill on Tuesday in a dramatic change of course three weeks after co-owner Kim Pegula said his job was secure.
In announcing the decision, the Sabres promoted senior vice-president of business administration Kevyn Adams as Botterill’s successor.
“The decision was made after many candid discussions with Jason during a full review of our hockey operations,” Kim and her husband, Terry Pegula, said in a statement. “We recognized we have philosophical differences regarding how best to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup.”
Botterill’s dismissal represents a major reversal after Kim Pegula backed the GM in May, telling The Associated Press: “He’s our GM. Our plan is to continue with him.”
Pegula acknowledged at the time that the decision might not be popular with a win-starved fan base. She cited the GM’s familiarity with the team and its needs as being invaluable with the Sabres entering an extended off-season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
With a 30-31-8 record, Buffalo finished 13th in the Eastern Conference standings and one spot short of qualifying for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff.
Botterill, who grew up in Winnipeg, was fired three seasons into his tenure and after the Sabres failed to show any signs of improvement, extending what’s now a nine-year playoff drought. The drought is the NHL’s longest active streak and one short of tying the league record.
“Our fans deserve better, and we are all tasked with the burden to improve and provide them a consistent, contending team for years to come,” said the Pegulas, who are scheduled to address the media later in the day.
The firing continues a revolving door in Buffalo, with Adams becoming the Sabres’ third GM since Darcy Regier was fired during the 2013-14 season.
Botterill was under fire for mismanaging the lineup with numerous questionable moves, while attempting the rebuild the roster through youth.
His missteps started with his first coaching hire of Phil Housley, who was fired two seasons into his tenure. Housley was succeeded by Ralph Krueger, who showed signs of providing the Sabres
an identity this past season.
The Sabres lacked secondary scoring and had a lineup with an overabundance of defenceman last season, which led to Zach Bogosian refusing to report to the minors and having his contract terminated by the team.
Forward Jeff Skinner struggled in a second-line role, finishing with 14 goals and 23 points a season after signing an eight-year, $72-million contract.
The decision to fire Botterill came a few days after defenceman Lawrence Pilut, a restricted free agent, caught the Sabres off-guard by leaving the team to sign a two-year contract to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
Botterill took the brunt of criticism for getting little in return when trading unhappy centre Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in July 2018.
None of the three skaters acquired by Buffalo in the trade has made much of an impact at the NHL level. Forward Patrik Berglund abruptly left the Sabres a few months into his first season and had his contract terminated by the team.
In Botterill’s defence, he inherited a disjointed mix of a team put together by his predecessor, Tim Murray. The Sabres’ farm system also lacked NHL-ready depth as a result of a series of poor drafts and questionable trades.
Adams is a former NHL player who grew up in the Buffalo area and spent the past nine years working for the Sabres in various capacities.
Kim Pegula, who also serves as Sabres president, most recently said she’s been leaning on Adams’ expertise in helping her oversee the franchise.
“We are confident Kevyn and Ralph (Krueger) will work together to build a consistent contender,” the Pegulas said.