Sabres fire coach Bylsma, GM Murray
Owner will reportedly oversee search for replacements
The Buffalo Sabres have cleaned house, firing head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula made the announcement in a statement released Thursday morning, saying the decision was reached after "reviewing the past season and looking at the future of our organization."
No replacements were named. Pegula said the Sabers "have begun the process to fill these positions immediately."
A person with direct knowledge of the Sabres' plans told The Associated Press that Pegula will directly oversee the search. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres have provided no details of how the search process will be conducted.
Pegula's direct involvement would be a departure from their last coach and GM search. Murray led the search to hire Bylsma in May 2015, and former team president Pat LaFontaine was responsible for hiring Murray in January 2014.
The moves come a day after a report that said Buffalo star Jack Eichel would not sign a contract extension this off-season if Bylsma remained the team's coach.
A representative for Eichel, who has one year left on his entry-level deal, called the report "1,000 per cent false."
The Sabres haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2011, and haven't won a post-season series since reaching the Eastern Conference final in 2007. They've finished last or next-to-last in their division in each of the last five seasons.
Rebuilding project stalled
Murray hinted last week his future in Buffalo, and that of Bylsma, was uncertain. Though he backed Bylsma in returning for a third season, Murray cautioned the decision was ultimately Pegula's.
It's the latest change for the Sabres, who are no searching for their fourth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013.
And it's yet another shake up for Buffalo's two Pegula-owned sports teams. With Sean McDermott taking over for the fired Rex Ryan at the end of last season, the NFL's Bills are on their third coach since Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the franchise in October 2014.
Bylsma is out of a job for the second time in three years. He was part of a front-office purge in Pittsburgh in the spring of 2014, when the Penguins also fired GM Ray Shero. Bylsma is most noted for taking over the Penguins in February 2009 and leading them to win the Stanley Cup four months later.
Bylsma was behind the bench for the last two seasons. Hired after Buffalo failed in its bid to land Mike Babcock, who opted for Toronto, Bylsma won only 68 of 164 games with the Sabres. He was a Stanley Cup-winning coach with Pittsburgh in 2009.
Late this season, Bylsma benched forward Sam Reinhart for an entire game for "violating a team policy," leading to speculation that the coach and some of the team's young players were not getting along.
Rebuild through youth
Murray was hired in 2014 to execute a rebuilding plan, the centrepiece of which was ensuring Buffalo would have the best possible chance of drafting phenom Connor McDavid in 2015. The Sabres finished last overall in 2014-15 and received the best odds of winning the draft lottery, but they lost out to Edmonton and chose Eichel with the second overall pick.
McDavid ran away with the NHL scoring title this season with 100 points in 82 games and led Edmonton to its first playoff berth since 2006. Eichel had 57 points in 61 games after missing the first two months of the season with an ankle injury.
Murray retrofit the roster by purging high-priced talent and rebuilding through youth. The additions included trading for forwards Evander Kane (from Winnipeg) and Ryan O'Reilly (from Colorado) and goalie Robin Lehner (from Ottawa), and signing Kyle Okposo to a seven-year contract in free agency last season.
The acquisitions failed to deliver, and Murray was second-guessed for paying too steep of a price in giving up first-round draft picks to acquire both Kane and Lehner.
After finishing 35-36-11 last season, the Sabres took a step back this past year and went 33-37-1. Injuries played a role in this season's collapse, with Eichel missing the first 21 games because of a sprained left ankle.
The Sabres, however, were relatively healthy in mid-February when a 2-8-2 skid knocked them out of contention. The stretch included the team blowing three third-period leads over a five-game stretch.
With files from The Associated Press