Sabres coach on hot seat; GM says team’s play ‘unacceptable’
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger is on the hot seat for overseeing a high-priced and underperforming team that has won just twice in its past 12 games.
First-year general manager Kevyn Adams called the team’s play “unacceptable” and added “it’s flat-out not good enough” during a wide-ranging conference call on Friday.
Adams was short on specifics when it came to Krueger, saying “everything is under evaluation.” He said he has full authority from owners Terry and Kim Pegula to make hockey decisions.
“He understands the situation we’re in is unacceptable, and the players do, everybody does,” Adams said of the second-year coach.
“I like Ralph a lot. I’ve learned a lot from Ralph,” he added. “But we both know that this hasn’t been good enough in terms of translating to success. We’ll assess everything.”
As for his players, Adams questioned his team’s lack of competitiveness and passion. He said he is considering shaking up his roster through trades but ruled out a “full-fledged” rebuild.
Though Adams said captain Jack Eichel hasn’t requested a trade, the GM sidestepped a question over whether he would consider dealing him.
“Jack is one of the best players in the world, period. Are people going to make a phone call and ask? Of course. And that’s the extent of it,” Adams said. “For me, Jack is someone when you see him going and you see the dynamic difference-maker he can be, there’s not many in the league like him.”
Adams’ comments in the hastily scheduled call with reporters came with the Sabres in freefall and already in jeopardy of extending their playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th season. Coming off a 5-2 loss at the New York Islanders on Thursday, Buffalo (6-12-3) is 0-4-1 in its past five and in the midst of a 2-9-1 skid.
“I’m angry and I hope that all of you are,” Adams said. “I would hope that our fans are because that means you care, and that’s a good place to start. But what’s going on is unacceptable.”
This is not what was expected after Adams’ offseason moves. He signed forward Taylor Hall to a one-year $8 million contract and acquired veteran center Eric Staal in a trade with Minnesota.
Krueger has been criticized for being too rigid with his philosophy, which has led to Buffalo ranking last in the league in scoring 24 goals in five-on-five situations and 29th in goals per game at 2.19. The coach was also questioned for benching high-priced forward Jeff Skinner during a three-game stretch last week.
Eichel publicly contradicted Kruger when discussing the timing of an injury, which led to the captain missing two games.
Krueger has one season remaining on his contract. He’s the team’s fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013. Krueger was noted for being a motivator and innovator, but had been out of hockey for five years while overseeing English Premier League soccer club Southampton FC.
The Sabres have also had a carousel at the GM position. Adams is Buffalo’s third in five years after taking over in June when the Pegulas abruptly reversed course and fired Jason Botterill weeks after saying he was going to be retained.
Adams played for the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. He’s from Buffalo, but had no previous front-office experience and was promoted after overseeing the Sabres’ practice facility and hotel/entertainment complex.
Very little has gone right for the Sabres. Their season was paused after nine players, plus Krueger, were placed in NHL’s COVID-19 protocol early last month. The resulting changes to the schedule will force Buffalo to play its final 46 games over 83 days.
Injuries have also played a factor, with checking line forward Zemgus Girgensons sustaining a season-ending hamstring injury in training camp. Two weeks ago, the Sabres lost two defensemen: Jake McCabe sustained a season-ending knee injury and William Borgen was sidelined indefinitely with a broken forearm.
Adams said all teams face adversity.
“I will never tolerate excuses,” he said. “For me, that’s a really important message I have to the players. It’s, ‘Hey, we’re in this thing. You show up and you’ve got to get after it.’ That’s it. No excuses.”
Scoring has been a season-long concern. The team has just nine first-period goals and has held a lead after 20 minutes four times.
Eichel has scored just twice in 19 games and is in the midst of an 11-game drought. Skinner, two years removed from scoring a career-best 40 goals, has one assist in 18 games this season and hasn’t scored in his past 22 outings, dating to last season.
Hall, the 2018 NHL MVP, scored his second goal of the season on Thursday, and his first since the season opener on Jan. 14.
Frustration set in on Sunday after Buffalo was shut out 3-0 on consecutive days by the Flyers.
“If we had answer, I think we would be spitting them out,” Eichel said. “I think everyone’s having a tough time, a tough go right now, but we need to find a way to have some fun, loosen up.”
Adams said while the team has limited opponents’ scoring opportunities, it hasn’t done enough to create them.
“We’re not hungry enough to get to the net and we’re not competing enough,” he said. “That’s battle and will, right?”
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