Here We Go Again

Are Sabres approaching 4th coaching change in four years?

Mike Schopp
March 15, 2017 - 3:10 pm

Photo: Kevin Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports

Here we are yet again, counting down to the end of a Buffalo sports season that never even brought on any real hope of success. If you feel like you’ve read me writing that over and over for years, you pretty much have, and so while the content has hardly changed please enjoy the exciting presentation of our new web design!


Terry Pegula bought the Sabres six years ago and inherited Lindy Ruff, whose hiring in 1997 you could read about online after your modem made that shrieking dial-up sound. By 2011 television graphics would show Ruff’s tenure to be longer than almost coach in pro sports – curious mostly for the fact that the Sabres had no championships and only one Finals appearance in those many years. (Gregg Popovich, by comparison…)

Ruff got the Sabres to the 2011 playoffs, then lasted 99 more games here before Pegula dumped him. The team with unheard-of coaching stability – especially for a non-winner – made a change for the first time since Wayne Gretzky played in the league.

Ron Rolston, from inside, took over in February 2013 and lasted 51 games. Then The Past’s Ted Nolan returned for two seasons of overall last place.

The Sabres really didn’t search for a coach until firing Nolan and hiring Mike Babcock I mean Dan Bylsma.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Bylsma represented more than the team’s first legitimate coaching search and hire in two decades. He coached Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2009. He personified the thing Pegula has invested so heavily in here: credibility.

It isn’t working.

The Sabres entered play Tuesday night in San Jose more than just in a seventh-place position in the division standings. They were 29th in the league in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage, a distinction worthy of the label “bad team”.

They’ve had injuries, and they also still have serious road work to do on the roster, especially on defense. But with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Evander Kane up front, 29th in Corsi over almost a full season is inexcusable.

I don’t think the Sabres should stress over making a coaching change. Most coaches in the league are interchangeable, and they shouldn’t be afraid to try someone new next season. It’d be yet another $15M for the Pegulas to pay someone not to work there anymore – the Leino List – but if, you know, your “reason for existence is to win the Stanley Cup”, you make the change.

Players have been reported as frustrated and unhappy for more than a year. The results are subpar. Coaching changes are made all the time. Pegula isn’t above firing a coach in the second year of a five-year pact; ask Rex Ryan. The Sabres are a franchise that for years was known for their coaching stability, but not anymore.

So be it. With an exception or two (cough, Babcock) your coach can be replaced at little cost. Eichel is young but by far more valuable than the head coach here, and if he’s ready for a new leader then so am I. Perhaps down the road I won’t give him the benefit on the doubt on whether a move like this is needed. But this time I am. 

What have you got to lose?

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