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Sabres firing Krueger as coach only first step toward turning them around

Stability, culture change must follow to get Buffalo on winning path

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Buffalo Sabres took a step toward turning themselves around when they fired coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday, but it was a first step. What matters now is the next step, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Coaching is part of a larger picture. The Sabres (6-18-4) are last in the NHL this season, a big disappointment. But they likely will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 10th straight season, the longest drought in the NHL. What does that tell you?

"Of course, results matter," general manager Kevyn Adams said Wednesday. "This is a results business, and where we are is unacceptable. It speaks for itself. But it's deeper than that, and 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 we had to make."

Asked about changing the culture, Adams spoke of each member of the organization "stacking wins" in his or her role. He said he made a tough decision in firing Krueger, a smart, worldly man the players liked and in whom they believed, amid a season filled with injuries and COVID-19 disruptions. Assistant Don Granato replaces Krueger for now. 

"Now my next decision has to be the right one, and it has to be the right one after that," Adams said.

The Sabres haven't had stability because they haven't had results; they haven't had results because they haven't had stability. Since 2013-14, they have made three GM changes, five coaching changes and many personnel moves. 

Easier said than done, but they need a good plan and good people, and they need to give it, and them, time to work.

"We have to be better in every single area of this organization," Adams said. "It starts with me. I need to manage better, OK? I need to be better in every way. We need to coach better. We need to scout better. We need to develop players better. We need to practice better. I mean, you name it, we need to do it better, period."

Adams replaced Jason Botterill on June 16. He's a rookie GM. Asked if he needed help in the front office, he said, "Definitely." He said the search for an assistant GM is an ongoing process.

The immediate concern is setting the standard for the rest of this season. Adams said he would have a "very honest conversation" with the players Thursday about how they must have pride in wearing a Sabres jersey and playing in the NHL.

"That matters, and that has to be within the DNA of our team," Adams said. "So I don't care where we are in the standings right now. If we do not show up at the rink tomorrow and for the rest of this season have that characteristic about our team, it's going to be unacceptable.

"And that is going to be a message and something that I'm going to spend time on, and as we evaluate players and we scout players, that needs to be part of it. You have just love to show up every day and want to compete and be a Buffalo Sabre."

The next concern is the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12. The Sabres need assets for the future and must make decisions on players like forward Taylor Hall, whom they signed to a one-year, $8 million contract as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 11. Hall has 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 28 games, but he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18.

Adams said he has been speaking with Hall's agent. If Hall doesn't sign an extension, would the Sabres ask him to waive his no-trade clause?

"We're open to anything and everything," Adams said.

The coaching decision can wait.

"The search will be effective immediately," Adams said. "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, for this team, moving forward. 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 or make a quick decision without truly taking as much time as we need, because this is about getting it right. It's great to say, 'I'm looking for this or that,' or, 'They have to have this or that.' This is about getting the right person, and it's critical."

Every step for the Sabres right now is critical. 

Patience is a word Sabres fans and Buffalo media don't want to hear. Adams understands that. He said it was part of the story and it matters. But impatience could compound the Sabres' problems.

"Trust me," Adams said. "I get it. Like I've said over and over again in press conferences, I get it more than probably most people would. But it's about getting this right and moving forward, in my job doing everything and anything to make that happen."

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