Leadership, accountability still issues with slumping Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A lack of player leadership and accountability were among the criticisms which led to the Buffalo Sabres cleaning house in April.
Very little has changed 10 months into the Sabres’ new regime of general manager Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley in overseeing a team that ranks last in the Eastern Conference and 30th overall.
Housley acknowledged Monday that he might have underestimated how daunting a task he faced in addressing leadership concerns and changing the culture of a team now in jeopardy of extending its franchise-worst playoff drought to seven seasons.
“When you only have 14 wins, there’s a lot of areas that need to be addressed. One of those is culture, and we’ve got to continue to find a way to change it,” said Housley, who took over after Dan Bylsma was fired following just two seasons. “We all have to change. And that’s something I’m continuing to learn throughout the season.”
Several players shared similar concerns.
“It’s hard when you get kind of stuck in this environment and it becomes not acceptable to lose, but it becomes the norm,” assistant captain Kyle Okposo told The Associated Press. “And that’s something that has to change. And we’ve got to change it.”
Defenseman Josh Gorges said it’s not a question of his teammates’ desire to win, but questioned whether enough buy into that objective consistently.
“Collectively, do we have enough guys that say, ’82 games this year, did I do things the right way?’” Gorges told The AP. “Obviously, where we are right now, that answer is no.”
With a 14-29-9 record, Buffalo’s 37 points through 52 games are one better than the Sabres teams which finished last in both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
Scoring is an issue, with Buffalo’s 117 goals ranking last in the NHL. So is winning at home. At 6-15-3, the Sabres are tied with Arizona for the league’s fewest home wins.
Changes are expected to come in the weeks leading up to the NHL trading deadline on Feb. 26, with more to follow in the offseason.
Forward Evander Kane is on the trade block as is goalie Robin Lehner. Both are in the final year of their contracts and not expected to be re-signed. Veteran forward Matt Moulson is already off Buffalo’s roster after being loaned to the Los Angeles Kings minor-league affiliate, leaving open the option of the Sabres buying out the remaining year of his contract in June.
Further questions remain regarding the rest of a high-priced — seven players, including Moulson, are making $5 million or more this year — but under-achieving lineup that opened the season 6-15-4 and is 8-14-5 since.
Buffalo’s inconsistencies were evident in the weeks spanning the NHL All-Star weekend. The Sabres entered the break on Jan. 26 by winning three straight on a western-Canadian road swing. They’ve since lost three straight home games in preparing to host Anaheim on Tuesday.
“You see glimpses of it, you see that we have the pieces,” Okposo said. “I think we have to put more work in to be a good team. You’ve got to buy into playing the right way. We’ve got to come together as a team.”
Center and assistant captain Jack Eichel leads Buffalo with 49 points, but acknowledged he’s not fully delivered on his preseason vow to be a team leader off the ice.
“I think it’s all part of maturing,” the third-year player said .
“We have a lot of young guys, myself included, but I think it’s part of growing up and becoming a pro and learning it needs to go on every day,” Eichel added. “And if something’s not there, then obviously you need to step up, say something, do something to change it.”
Forward Sam Reinhart backed the team’s core group of players by calling it capable.
When reminded how the group hasn’t exactly delivered in the standings, Reinhart said: “No. You’re right. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
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