Sabres fire GM Jason Botterill 3 weeks after owner said his job was secure

On second thought, Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula weren’t pleased with general manager Jason Botterill continuing to oversee their franchise.

Citing a lack of communication and philosophical differences over the direction of a franchise in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought, the Pegulas reversed course in making the abrupt decision to fire Botterill on Tuesday.

It was a stunning move that came three weeks after Kim Pegula told The Associated Press that Botterill would be retained.

At the same time, the Pegulas had a GM-in-waiting by promoting former player, Kevyn Adams, to succeed Botterill. The Pegulas noted they’re more comfortable with Adams, who held the role of vice-president of business operations, in having watched him take on numerous roles within the organization over the past nine years.

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“We felt like we needed to be heard,” Terry Pegula during a Zoom conference call without going into detail on what the philosophical differences were.

“I’m not going to sit here and dish on Jason Botterill, but we have a vision and we want to see our vision succeed,” he added. “We were in detailed discussions with Jason, and how we felt we needed to move forward effectively, efficiently and economically running this franchise, we felt there were too many differences of opinion going into the future.

Kim Pegula said the change of heart regarding Botterill’s status stemmed in part with the NHL draft being pushed back to the fall, which will provide Adams more of an opportunity to establish himself in his new role.

Though Adams has no previous GM experience, the Pegulas believe he’s capable of establishing a collaborative line of communication between ownership and returning coach Ralph Krueger.

Botterill did not respond to a text message seeking comment.

During a season-ending Zoom conference call last month, Botterill said the criticism that came with missing the playoffs wouldn’t alter his vision of continuing to build the organizational depth and developing young talent.

“There’s always urgency in this position, and I’m not surprised that our passionate fans want to see a winner on the ice,” he said.

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Botterill was fired three years into his tenure and following a season in which Buffalo finished 13th in the Eastern Conference standings and one spot short of qualifying for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff.

“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,” the Pegulas said in a statement released by the team.

The Sabres also fired assistant GMs Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley. The house-cleaning even reached the Sabres minor-league affiliate in Rochester, with coach Chris Taylor and his assistants, Gord Dineen and Toby Petersen, also being fired.

Revolving door

The flip flop on Botterill comes at a time the Pegulas have been criticized for mismanaging a franchise which has featured a revolving door at the coach and general manager positions since they purchased the team in February 2011.

In that time, the Sabres are now on their sixth coach and fourth GM.

Adams grew up a Sabres fan in suburban Buffalo and wore No. 11 because of his love of Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault.

He won a Stanley Cup with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes during his nine-plus-year NHL career, and briefly worked as an agent following his retirement before being hired by the Sabres.

In Buffalo, he held numerous roles as a development coach and then an assistant, before moving into the business side of the operation.

As the Sabres’ third consecutive first-time GM, Adams faces a considerable challenge in shaping a roster that lacks secondary scoring and could face a salary-cap crunch with numerous players eligible to become restricted and unrestricted free agents this off-season.

Adams said he will immediately begin reaching out to Sabreds players as well as introducing himself to NHL GMs and agents. He noted he’s already familiar with several GMs and agents from his playing days.

“I believe that winning is doing it together,” he said of his collaborative approach. “We’re going to be positive. And I’m really looking forward to what lies ahead.”

Botterill was under fire for mismanaging the lineup with numerous questionable moves, while attempting to rebuild the roster through youth.

His missteps started with his first coaching hire of Phil Housley, who was fired two seasons into his tenure.

Disjointed mix

Though the Sabres showed signs of building an identity under Krueger, they were undone by a series of inconsistencies which led to captain Jack Eichel recently voicing his frustrations by saying he is “fed up with losing.”

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 US contract.

Player defections were a considerable problem with defenceman Zach Bogosian and Patrik Berglund both having their contracts terminated for refusing to play.

And the Sabres were caught off guard last week, when defenceman Lawrence Pilut, a restricted free agent, left 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. O’Reilly led the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019 and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

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.

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