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Sabres competitiveness questioned, GM says 'everything's being evaluated'

Buffalo is last in NHL, has not made playoffs in nine seasons

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

Kevyn Adams called out the Buffalo Sabres' competitiveness and said everything is being evaluated, including coach Ralph Krueger, in a frank 30-minute media session Friday.

"I speak from the heart here," the general manager said. "Not happy. Unacceptable where we're at right now. Part of my job is to raise the standard, the expectations and the accountability in this organization, and we're not where we need to be. I can hear excuses. I'm just going to be honest with you. But it's unacceptable."

Buffalo has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for nine straight seasons and is last in the NHL at 6-13-3 following a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday. Adams was hired as GM on June 16, inheriting Krueger, who is 36-44-11 in two seasons. 

Asked about Krueger's status, Adams said, "I mean, everything's being evaluated. Ralph and I talk every day, multiple times a day. We're very honest with each other. He understands the situation we're in is unacceptable, and the players do. Everybody does. It's just flat out not good enough."

Adams said center Jack Eichel has not requested a trade and declined to discuss Eichel's health. The No. 2 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft and the Sabres captain, he has 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in 20 games.

"Jack is one of the best players in the world, period," Adams said. "Are people going to make a phone call and ask? Of course, right? And that's the extent of it. For me, Jack is someone that is just … when you see him going and you see the dynamic difference-maker he can be, there's not many in the League like him."

Video: NYR@BUF: Eichel puts home pass from Reinhart

Adams said the Sabres set out to address three areas during the offseason: character, special teams and 5-on-5 scoring.

They feel they brought in high-character people, starting with forward Taylor Hall, who signed a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 11. Their special teams have been strong, with the power play third in the NHL (30.7 percent) and the penalty kill ninth (81.6 percent) entering Saturday. But they're last in 5-on-5 goals (26). 

Hall, who scored 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists) in 76 games with the New Jersey Devils when he won the Hart Trophy voted as NHL most valuable player in 2017-18, has scored 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 22 games this season.

"It's great to have character and great to have people care about each other and like each other, but it has to translate to on-ice success, and it hasn't, and that's where it's unacceptable," Adams said.

Forward Jeff Skinner, who scored 40 goals in 82 games for Buffalo in 2018-19, has no goals in 19 games this season. Krueger scratched him for three straight games Feb. 22-25. Adams said he spoke to Skinner's agent, Don Meehan; told Skinner to find a way to face the adversity and become stronger; and thought Skinner was professional about it.

"There's all sorts of ways coaches use motivation," Adams said. "My job as general manager is to be part of the process to talk to Ralph about things I'm seeing and share, and Ralph's going to make those day-to-day decisions."

The core problem?

"I could go on a long, long rant here," Adams said. "I'll keep it short for you. I don't think we've been competitive enough in all areas of the ice. I think we've shown pockets of it. We've shown glimpses at different times but not a consistent hunger and battle and competitiveness through the games.

"To be honest with you -- I think the data would back this up -- we give up too many Grade A scoring chances, which means we're not hard enough in our defensive zone, and we're not creating enough Grade A scoring chances in the offensive zone, which means we're not hungry enough to get to the net and we're not competing enough. I mean, that's battle and will, so we have to be better in those areas."

What about confidence, injuries and COVID-19 disruptions?

"I will never, ever have a team that makes excuses or talks about, 'Oh, my confidence is down,' or, 'I can't …,'" Adams said. "Focus on what you can control. What you can control is going out there and absolutely working as hard as you can every practice, every game, and that's it. And focus on that, and then confidence can build from that.

"So, for me, I am just … will never tolerate excuses. I won't tolerate the fact we've had injuries, COVID adversity. So have other teams. You've got to battle through it, and you've got to find a way, and that's it.

"For me, that's a really important message to the players. Hey, we're in this thing. You show up, and you've got to get after it. That's it. No excuses."

Asked if it was time to start over and rebuild, Adams said he didn't believe in rebuilding with a specific time frame. He wakes up every day looking for solutions and being open to improvement.

"Look, guys," he said. "I can keep saying it. I'm going to keep saying it. It's just flat-out not good enough. I mean, I'm angry, and I would hope that all of you are. I would hope that all our fans are, because that means you care, and that's a good place to start. But what's going on is unacceptable.

"I'm sure we'll have multiple conversations on this on philosophy and how we get there, but let's just start with we need to be better. I've been empowered by [owners] Terry and Kim Pegula to fix this, and that's what I'm going to do."

Adams said he would not be rash, however.

"You're not going to be reactionary," he said. "My job is to take the emotion at times out and figure out solutions to improve. And sometimes that means short term; sometimes that might be for the longer term. And that's what we're working on.

"But am I upset right now? Yeah. Yeah, I am upset, and we're going to have those conversations. But I would never do something because you're upset or because you're emotional on where we're at.

"But let's be honest. It's got to get better."

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