What is culture?

Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton explains what it means to the organization

Paul Hamilton
April 23, 2019 - 3:35 pm

Photo courtesy of Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Culture. It’s the new buzz word of sports. Every coach and GM talks about it, but only a chosen few can execute it.

Culture is a very misunderstood term. Folks that have never played sports and have never experienced it, mock it. There are no analytics to measure culture, so those who watch sports through their computers crunching numbers also mock it.

Amerks general manager Randy Sexton joined Howard and Jeremy on Tuesday. Sexton is also the Sabres assistant GM under Jason Botterill, and he said when they arrived, culture needed to be built.

Sexton and Botterill have a very clear definition of what culture needs to be in place to be successful, “Culture is a sexy phrase these day, but culture, to us, means what are the expectations on everybody, from the most important player, to the youngest guy on the roster, from the most senior executive to the most junior person on the staff, so what is required to make sure we provide the right working environment so they can thrive?”

There are many ways to achieve that, but it starts with putting in place things that make players want to put in the work. Sexton said, “What is required to ensure that we create the right working environment so they can thrive? What do we have to do to make sure we have the right set of expectations and standards in place so when these people come to work, they come to work with a bounce in their step, positive and enthusiastic, ready to have great day.” Sexton added, “That sounds easy to do, but it’s hard and it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of communication, it takes a lot of collaboration to make sure everybody top to bottom understands it.”

So what happens when you make all the things Sexton talked about happen? How does culture stay in place? Sexton said, “A lot of people think hey, if I just get the culture in place, I can put my feet up and everything’s going to fine, but our belief is culture is a living and breathing thing and you have to work at it every day, otherwise you run the risk of it going backwards, so it has less to do with ping pong tables and who’s sitting next to who and more about a set of expectations and standards.”

With Sexton also functioning as Botterill’s right hand man, he isn’t in Rochester every day. He said that means teaching players how to be a Buffalo Sabre falls on the head coach, “He’s absolutely the most significant driver of that. Chris Taylor is there every day living and breathing the Rochester Americans and the development mandate from the Buffalo Sabres and there is nobody better suited to drive that part of our organization than Chris Taylor. He is the single biggest reason that we’ve been able to do what we’ve done in a short period of time because it all flows through Tails.”

Alex Nylander turned 21 in March. He played 12 games in Buffalo and 49 in Rochester this season. Nylander has been described by the Sabres as day-to-day since the beginning of April with a cut on his leg. Jason Botterill’s policy on injuries makes a fool and a liar out of his coaches who have to toe the line. Nylander seemed to be progressing in his final month in Rochester. Sexton said he is still in the organization’s plans, “We’re excited about Alex and I certainly understand where the fans are coming from, but the one thing we need to focus on is Alex’s age. He ended up playing in the American Hockey League as an 18-year-old, so he’s played three years in the American League when he should’ve or could’ve been playing in the Ontario Hockey League and given his skillset and his hockey sense and his capabilities, if he was playing in the OHL he’d probably have 120 or 130 points and everybody would be saying, ‘My god, look at the player that we have.’”

Nylander was sent to the AHL under Tim Murray and this regime would’ve done things differently. Sexton said, “A decision was made before we got here to go that route and that’s the way it goes. Alex has been forced to not only to continue to develop his skills as a teenager playing a man’s game, so it’s taken him a little bit longer than most people would’ve liked, so we’re excited about where he is and would we love him playing on the right side with Jack Eichel getting 70 points? Absolutely. Is he ready for that? Not yet. Could he get there? We hope so.”

Victor Olofsson is pointless in his two playoff games. Sexton said his future for next year depends on his playoff, his summer and his training camp.

Olofsson, along with Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut, showed so much progress this season in Rochester. Sexton said players like that don’t develop overnight, “I love what Rasmus has done. He gets a little bit better every day. Very rarely is development a straight line up, it’s more like a stock graph, there’s a little bit up, a little bit down and Rasmus has had quite a steady improvement.

“It takes young players at least a half a season to adjust to the difference of the North American pro game. Forget about the culture and the new country, you’ve got a new ice surface and for the first time in their life their playing three games in 40 hours with maybe two bus trips in between, there’s a very significant adjustment.”

Sexton said Pilut was the exception this year as he adapted to the North American game faster than others. 

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