The Sabres not-so-shockingly fired Dan Bylsma, but also decided that it was time for Tim Murray to go as well. We turn our eyes to Terry Pegula, who will lead the search for the team’s next general manager at a crucial time for the team. The moves made this summer will determine whether this team becomes a playoff contender. At his press conference, Terry Pegula announced that he wanted an experienced general manager… and then news came out the next day that he was looking for “new blood.”
So everyone’s available! Let’s run down some of the names that have been thrown out there so far by various media members, and try to find a favorite. I’ll discuss the candidate’s past history, their work with analytics, and how they might be viewed by the head honcho himself, Terry Pegula.
The most heavily floated name so far is former Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who was just fired after the Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Lombardi was the GM when the Kings won two cups in six years, though he was not the sole architect of their success – Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, two pillars of the roster, we drafted before Lombardi took over. Lombardi did grab Drew Doughty at #2 overall in his first draft with the Kings, though, and also made bold moves in trading for players like Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik, who would become instrumental in the Kings’ cup successes. Once he won, though, Lombardi became somewhat too attached to his roster, keeping on would-be rentals like Gaborik for far too long. And while his team was always near the top of the league corsi wise, Lombardi’s commitment to analytics is murky at best. He was responsible for the US roster at last fall’s World Cup of Hockey, which favored grit, heart, and all that other crap over skill, and which flamed out spectacularly.
The Kings’ analytic success may be attributable to coach Daryl Sutter’s system; most of Lombardi’s moves have favored big, heavy players and veterans, contrary to where the league is moving. Pegula may be entranced by Lombardi’s success, and maybe Lombardi checks the “character” box, although Lombardi had some shady dealings with ex-Kings Slava Voynov and Mike Richards. Lombardi has a track record – going all the way back to his work with the Sharks in the mid 90s – of building teams into contenders before stagnating. He couldn’t quite get over the hump in San Jose, but he did in Los Angeles – problem is, the roster’s a mess now. Who knows what he’d do with a fresh slate, but I’m not sure I want to find out.
Dubas is in the midst of a meteoric rise in the hockey world. At age 24, he was named GM of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds , and three years later was named the Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (I’m 24 now, and definitively not three years away from being the assistant GM of the league’s most valuable franchise.) Now at the ripe age of 31, Dubas has been floated as a possibility for a full GM role. Dubas is known for his advanced analytics aptitude, and would be a smart pick for any forward thinking organization – since he’s been with the Leafs, they’ve made a lot of smart moves, and I wouldn’t attribute all of those to the official GM Lou Lamiorello.
However, Tim Murray seemed to be at least familiar with analytics, and he just got canned, and Dubas may also not have the organizational “character” that Pegula seems so desperately to crave. Add into the fact that he’d be leaving the greener pastures of Toronto – a better roster and less pressure as the assistant manager – for Buffalo, and this one seems like a remote possibility, as much as I am intrigued by the idea.
So, well, here’s the thing. Treliving is currently employed by the Calgary Flames, who just made the playoffs, meaning his name shouldn’t even be here. But… Treliving’s contract is up this summer and the Flames have yet to resign him. So if the Flames decide for whatever reason to move on, or Treliving does, his name would be in the discussion. The Flames have built a nice young core over the past couple of seasons, as well as a very good defense corps, and Treliving has made some smart moves in trading for Dougie Hamilton and singing cheap, effective depth players like Kris Versteeg.
(This season: 15 goals, 37 points, 950,000 dollar cap hit. How much is Matt Moulson making again?).
On the other hand, Treliving gave a three year, 8.75 million dollar deal to human pylon / fighter Deryk Engelland, so he does not a spotless resume. Calgary was middle of the pack analytically, so it’s unclear how committed Treliving is to fancy stats. All in all, though, Treliving has managed to build a winner in Calgary, and he’d be a top candidate were he to hit the market.
Side note: Flames Assistant GM Craig Conroy has also had his name thrown out there; take everything I said about the Flames and Treliving just now and imagine a candidate with less experience, but maybe truly available for hire.
Futa is currently the Assistant General Manager of the Kings, having been promoted from his developmental and scouting role after Lombardi’s firing. For a couple years, the Kings had one of the better AHL teams in the league, culminating in a Calder Cup in 2014-15; Futa likely would have been responsible for the scouting of young talent and the implementation of a system that helped both the AHL and NHL levels.
(This is something that Buffalo has struggled with in dealing with the Amerks.)
His promotion seems to have been a way to keep him around, but maybe enough Pegula bucks will tilt the scale. Futa has enough credibility to wow ownership, but no experience as an NHL general manager, which means he could be a happy medium between experience and new blood.
Botterill is the associate general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, having worked in the organization since 2007. If you haven’t noticed, the Penguins have been pretty good since 2007. Yes, yes, I know, it’s pretty easy when you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team made a fairly remarkable change in the past couple of seasons, crafting a roster that won the Cup last season with, as Ricky Bobby would say, “hot, bitching speed.”
If you want any indication of where the league is going, look at the Penguins – speed and skill are predominant. Who knows how responsible Botterill is for shaping the roster – he started off as a salary cap and contracts guy, but has risen through the ranks and was even an interim general manager – but if he just followed the Penguins example, the Sabres would be pretty well off. In my opinion, Botterill is a sneaky favorite for the job, since he has winning pedigree and worked for a Pennsylvania team (you know where Terry is from) while still counting as “new blood.”
Gilman was the assistant GM for the Vancouver Canucks from 2008 to 2015, working mainly on salary / cap related issues for the team during their cup contending years, as well as player scouting. Though that team never won the cup, they came pretty close, and were consistent contenders otherwise. The Canucks have become a huge mess since Gilman’s time, making him look better in hindsight.
He reportedly helped the NHL set up its expansion process, but not much has been heard of him otherwise since he left the Canucks front office. He seems like a skilled cap guy, and I wouldn’t be against bringing him on in a similar type of role, but I doubt he’s going to get much consideration for the head GM job – he just doesn’t have a ton of cachet right now.
Fenton is the assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators, the team you may have just watched sweep the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. Fenton has worked for the Predators for 18 seasons, and has spent 10 as the assistant general manager, with a focus on scouting and development. The Predators have drafted some excellent players beyond the first round in Fenton’s time, most notably Roman Josi in the second round (2008) and Mattias Ekholm in the fourth (2009). The Predators have built up an amazing blue line, something that the Sabres need to do, and I’m a big fan of the roster the Predators have built in general.
Preds GM David Poile would be a solid example for Fenton to follow were he to get the Sabres job. Poile has been aggressive in building his team, whether it was his trade for PK Subban last offseason, his trade for Ryan Johansen the year before that, or his grand larceny of a trade a couple years back when he got Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat. The team also seems to be analytically inclined, another plus for Fenton. Fenton may be my favorite candidate, as he has a very good record as a scout, a distinguished mentor in Poile, and a good amount of experience.
Adams is currently the “Vice President / Director of the Academy of Hockey” at Harborcenter, following a two year stint as one of Buffalo’s assistant coaches during the later Lindy Ruff years. Adams played in the league for 11 seasons and won a Cup with (shudder) Carolina in 05-06, but has no experience as a GM.
If anything, Adams would be a dark horse coaching pick, or, more likely, in line for some sort of hockey ops position, if Terry Pegula were to hire one. That would involve Terry putting someone between himself and the GM, though, and he doesn’t seem so keen on that thus far. Adams is a local guy, though, so I’d expect to see him involved in some aspect of the organization eventually.
Does anyone have that gif of Michael Scott saying NO over and over again handy?
McGuire is a former scout, assistant general manager, and one time head coach, who now bothers you during hockey games. McGuire’s name always gets thrown out with GM openings, probably because he’s got friends in the media, but c’mon. Nobody can take this guy seriously. Fans uniquely loathe him and players are constantly making fun of him. His coaching stint with the Whalers was – and this is no hyperbole – legendarily bad. Just read this article. The guy’s own captain crapped on him after he got fired. Paul Hamilton merely dreams of Jack Eichel saying something this bad about his coach:
“In a blistering post-mortem, captain Pat Verbeek called McGuire’s firing the best thing that could have happened to the Whalers. He said other teams mocked their coach. He said his own teammates had no respect for McGuire. He said a number of players wouldn’t have wanted to play in Hartford anymore.”
Hiring Pierre McGuire at any level would make Buffalo a league laughingstock as well as piss off the fans and the players. It won’t happen. It can’t happen.
Hiring Chris Drury would be more of a pandering move than… (thinks back) … well, basically any time Rex Ryan would namedrop an old Bills player like Cookie Gilchrist during a press conference. Drury, who you know and love, served as the New York Rangers’ assistant GM this season, a year after being named the Rangers’ Director of Player Development.
Nobody’s quite sure about Drury’s level of involvement with the team, but the Rangers did upgrade their roster this season, committing to speed and depth, although the blue line is still somewhat iffy. Drury would check a lot of boxes for Pegula – character, new blood, a connection to the area, and (limited) success as a front office person. I get the feeling, though, that Drury is happier with the Rangers than anywhere else.
Anyway, those are just some of the options on the table so far at GM. The draft’s coming up soon, and the franchise at a critical inflection point, so, um, no pressure, Terry!