Mike Harrington: With no ringing endorsement of Bylsma, a Ruff reunion? - The Buffalo News
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Mike Harrington: With no ringing endorsement of Bylsma, a Ruff reunion?

Tim Murray had every chance to make a clear statement Wednesday. To these ears, we're still waiting.

Murray danced and dodged around questions about Dan Bylsma's status. Saying "he's the coach today like I'm the GM today" is basically like saying we're all day to day in this world.

In this view, Bylsma had been pretty safe. After all, you fire the coach and most of the spotlight will fall on the GM's shortcomings in building the taking-on-water SS Sabre. But now, you have to wonder.

Murray revealed he's yet to have meetings with owner Terry Pegula in the wake of the GM's annual exit interviews with Sabres players and staff. That process will come next week at what should be dubbed Pegula Tower, the owner's estate in Boca Raton, Fla.

You might argue Murray was, in fact, definitive at one stage when he said of Bylsma, "I haven't had any thoughts of firing him up to this point. The reason I always say today is because something could happen tomorrow."

Uh huh. That something could be the owner signing off on a change, with Bylsma still owed three years and $9 million on his contract.

Other than saying he works hard -- which is a given for any head coach in any sport not named Rex Ryan -- Murray trashed Bylsma pretty good Wednesday. He wants to see more speed and puck possession from the Sabres. Wants more demands made of the players. Wants more "black and white" rules on playing style and roles, scheduling of practices, team rules, player accountability.

Listen to Sabres GM Tim Murray's full end-of-season press conference

Particularly damning was when Murray said the coaches need to cut back on videos and systems, grab a cup of coffee and get to know their players better. And you know that opinion certainly came from the players themselves.

"Players have legitimate gripes about the coach," Murray said. "I think players have some legitimate gripes about the way our team is built and that's me. And I think players have some gripes that aren't legitimate and are excuses. Again, we're all to blame."

So what's a big problem here? NHL teams are moving fast on coaching changes. But they don't have an owner running around the country scouting college football quarterbacks like Pegula is.

Bills GM Doug Whaley has clearly been marginalized, again proven as University of North Carolina offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer showed when he tweeted a picture of Pegula and new coach Sean McDermott visiting Chapel Hill in recent days. They were clearly in town to work out Tar Heels quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in advance of the NFL draft.

It seems that only until the Bills' quarterback evaluations and draft strategy are in place will Pegula get to the issues at hand with his equally-failing hockey team.

The NHL is a good old boys show. There's not a lot of coach development like you see in the NFL, The name of McDermott, for instance, was widely discussed as a hot new candidate and the Bills made the move for him.

Hot names aren't the rage in hockey. Re-living the past is.

Randy Carlyle went back to Anaheim last summer, trying to recapture the magic of the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup run. When Boston axed Claude Julien earlier this season, Montreal took advantage to show Michel Therrien the door and re-hire Julien, who was with them from 2002-2006. Thursday in Dallas, the Stars are holding a news conference to announce the re-hiring of Ken Hitchcock, three teams and 15 years later from his firing.

Hitchcock, of course, won his only Stanley Cup here in the infamous No Goal fiasco of 1999. And who is he replacing in Big D?

Lindy Ruff.

You have to at least wonder if there's thoughts here of a Ruff reunion if Bylsma is shown the door. Pegula loves Ruff and is known to have hated the way things ended in 2013. Pegula loves winning the press conference too and it would be just like him to go make this kind of move.

After all, when he fired Ruff four years ago, he should have long fired Darcy Regier first. Now can you imagine Ruff getting re-hired when a different GM screwed up again? For his part, you wonder if Ruff has choices. There's openings in Florida (where he was an assistant) and Los Angeles. There's no opening here. Yet.

Murray finished his three days of players interviews just before meeting the media. He didn't say with whom but his last one was with Eichel, who was seen walking out the players' security exit on South Park Avenue just as I was walking into the Illinois Street exit to prepare for the news conference.

The bet is Eichel got in some very important last words on behalf of the team.

Eichel is known to have soured badly on Bylsma. Murray said he wants to open talks on a long-term deal with Eichel on July 1, the first day he can. It's clear Murray thinks it's time for Eichel to become the captain and that's likely going to be part of the negotiation. Eichel has the Sabres over a barrel leverage-wise. If he says he's not signing longterm with Bylsma as the coach, the Sabres are sunk and the decision is made for them.

It's an ugly part of the NHL's trend to pay young players big money in their first deals once their entry-level contracts are over.

"He's our guy," Murray said of Eichel. "He wants to be a leader, wants to take more of a leadership role and I encouraged him to do that."I made a promise to him that I would do the best I could to make the team around him better and we would be a long-time playoff team."

That sure sounds like the start of negotiations. One way to sell a fix to make the team better around Eichel would be a new coach. Maybe Murray would foolishly give Eichel the keys to the castle and hire his college coach, Boston University's David Quinn. Or maybe the answer would be Ruff. Stay tuned.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway from Sabres GM Tim Murray's press conference

 

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