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Krueger fired as coach of Sabres

Replaced by assistant Don Granato; Buffalo has lost 12 straight games @NHLdotcom

Ralph Krueger was fired by the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday and replaced by assistant Don Granato.

The move comes 12 days after general manager Kevyn Adams called out the Sabres' competitiveness and said everything is being evaluated, including Krueger.

"It felt right that it needed to be done now," Adams said Wednesday. "I think we could talk about ... could have been done before. For me, this is about results that haven't been good enough and I look and evaluate everything and I was trying to take a real, honest, fair evaluation, understanding the adversity and the situation our team was in, taking it all into account ... I do believe every crisis is an opportunity for positive chance and this is a chance for us to move forward and to begin to get this thing pointed in the right direction."

The Sabres (6-18-4), who have lost 12 straight games (0-10-2) and 16 of their past 18 (2-14-2) since six of their games were postponed due to NHL COVID-19 protocols, are last in the MassMutual East Division and the NHL with a .286 points percentage. They have been outscored 49-19 in the 12 games, including a 3-2 loss at the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Though Granato has been named coach, Adams said, "What I will tell you is the search will be effective immediately.

"I have in my head and I've thought a lot about this recently, characteristics and attributes that I think will be important for this organization, this team moving forward," he said. "There will be a lot of people that I will speak to. There will be other people part of the process as we go along. But what I don't want to do is rush into anything of make a quick decision without truly taking as much time as we need because this is about getting it right."

Assistant Steve Smith was also fired. Director of player personnel Matt Ellis and player development coach Dan Girardi were named assistants.

Granato was coach of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program from 2013 to 2016 and an assistant under his brother, Tony Granato, at the University of Wisconsin. He was also an assistant of Joel Quenneville for the Chicago Blackhawks before joining the Sabres on Oct. 1, 2019.

"It's not easy right now," Buffalo forward Kyle Okposo said after a 6-0 loss at home to the Washington Capitals on Monday. "It's not easy. This is not an easy situation. Guys care; it's just not happening right now. I don't know how else to put it. It's just ... it's tough. We're in a really tough spot here. Guys are trying and it's just not working. I don't know what else to say."

Krueger, who was in his second season after replacing Phil Housley on May 15, 2019, was 36-49-12 with the Sabres, who have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011, the longest active streak in the NHL.

Adams, who replaced Jason Botterill as general manager June 16, made a number of moves this offseason, including signing forward Taylor Hall to a one-year contract Oct. 11 and acquiring center Eric Staal in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Sept. 16.

Hall, who won the Hart Trophy voted as the NHL most valuable player in 2017-18, has scored two goals in 28 games. Staal has scored three goals in 28 games, and center Jack Eichel, who in the offseason said he was "fed up" with losing, has scored two goals in 21 games and is "out for the foreseeable future" with an upper-body injury, Krueger said Saturday.

"We've just got to dig deep," Eichel, the Buffalo captain, said Feb. 28. "I don't have a cliche answer for you. I don't know. I'm trying to process this all myself, you know? It's tough. I mean, if we had answers I think we would be spitting them out. I don't know. We're trying to figure it out as well."

Forward Jeff Skinner, who signed an eight-year, $72 million contract ($9 million average annual value) on June 7, 2019, scored his first goal since Feb. 29, 2020 (24 games), in a 5-2 loss at the New York Islanders on March 7 and was a healthy scratch for three straight games from Feb. 22-25. He has scored two goals in 25 games. 

Goalie Linus Ullmark has been one of the few bright spots this season, going 5-4-2 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .919 save percentage, but was ruled out for at least a month Feb. 27 because of a lower-body injury.

Adams said it's imperative for the entire Sabres organization to raise the bar.

"I said it a couple weeks ago, it's unacceptable in every area," he said. "So why do we do it? Well, we're doing it because we feel we have to start to improve. Of course, results matter. This is a results business, and where we are is unacceptable, it speaks for itself. But it's deeper than that. To change the culture and to do what we have to do to get this headed in the right direction, I felt this was the move that we had to make ... 

"It starts with stacking wins. How I look at this, for me personally, is if we all stack wins in the things that we do every day, they start to add up. The culture shift, and I've been part of it as a player and I've seen it before, can happen quickly because you get some buy-in and people feel good. But we individually have to first start to look in the mirror and say, 'What do I need to do today to be better? How do I stack wins? How in my role do I make a good decision?'"

Krueger is the third NHL coach fired this season. The Montreal Canadiens fired Claude Julien on Feb. 24, replacing him with Dominque Ducharme, and the Calgary Flames fired Geoff Ward on March 4, replacing him with Darryl Sutter. independent correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report

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