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Sabres looking for experienced general manager

Buffalo fired Tim Murray, coach Dan Bylsma on Thursday

by Joe Yerdon / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres want someone with experience to be their next general manager, owner Terry Pegula said Friday.

"Experience is going to be key in our search," Pegula said. "And without disclosing specific details about what our plan is, our plan may change as we start talking to people, the plan is to build a stronger organization top to bottom."

Pegula fired Tim Murray, a first-time NHL GM, and coach Dan Bylsma on Thursday. He did not discuss the coaching vacancy Friday.

The Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of Murray's four seasons after he replaced Darcy Rieger on Jan. 9, 2014. They were last in the Atlantic Division and 26th in the NHL standings this season with 78 points, down from 2015-16, they were seventh in the Atlantic and 23rd in the League with 81 points. 

The decision to hire Murray, who had spent eight seasons as an assistant GM with the Ottawa Senators, was made by Pat LaFontaine, then the Sabres president of hockey operations.

"I can tell you that I was not involved in the last GM, coach search to a large extent and I regret that move," Pegula said.

Pegula disputed a report by a Buffalo radio station that second-year center Jack Eichel was unwilling to sign a contract extension if Bylsma remained the coach. Eichel, who is eligible to sign an extension July 1, told The Buffalo News the report was false.

"Let me borrow what Jack's agent, Peter Fish, said," Pegula said. "Peter said, 'I don't know where those stories come from, that's ridiculous.' Jack's involvement as it was reported, I don't know the exact words how it was reported but it is a complete fabrication. I defend Jack, as Peter did. It's not a true story. Were players unhappy? Absolutely. We're standing here today, we're not in the [playoffs]."

Video: Elliotte Friedman on why Dan Bylsma was fired

Pegula would not put a timetable on hiring replacements. Protected lists for the NHL Expansion Draft, to be held June 18-20, are due June 17, and the 2017 NHL Draft will be at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24.

"We're going to move as quickly and efficiently as we can," Pegula said. "Sometimes you talk to half a dozen or so people and you need to talk to more people. It's all a function of how our meetings go."

Pegula denied having already interviewed former Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks GM Dean Lombardi. Lombardi was fired by the Kings on April 10.

"We haven't talked to anybody. ... It's a pure fabrication," he said.

As for what strengths the next GM should have, Pegula said he had a few ideas. 

"I'll go back to my four words again: discipline, structure, communication and character," he said. "Those things are all something you need in your leaders so they are able to judge and look for the same characteristics in players and employees that work for your organization."

Bylsma was 68-73-23 in his two seasons as coach. The Sabres were 33-37-12 this season and finished 17 points out of a playoff spot. Forwards Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo missed significant time because of injuries. 

Buffalo has not made the playoffs since 2011.

"We as members of the Sabres organization are all responsible for our success but accountability starts with me," said Pegula, the Sabres owner since 2011. "We are not happy with our season this year and there are no excuses. Six years ago I stood here and told Buffalo Sabres fans that the reason for existence is to win a Stanley Cup. That is still the truth. One team wins the Cup. We expected more this season. Kim [Pegula, CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment] and I spoke in depth with Tim and Dan, separately, and decided that our organization needed more discipline, structure, and communication in order to be successful. We will move forward with new leadership and compete in the National Hockey League for the Cup."

In addition to Murray and Bylsma, the Sabres fired director of scouting Rob Murphy and director of amateur scouting Greg Royce. Pegula said head amateur scout Jeff Crisp will oversee the amateur scouting department, and a committee of in-house scouts will head up the professional scouting department.

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