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Jerry Sullilvan’s Mailbag: Bylsma had time to wait for better offer

Mail traffic was a little slow this week. Maybe it was the holiday and the nice weather. A lot of the air has gone out of the Deflategate scandal. And apparently, people don’t find NFL players running around in “voluntary” noncontact drills all that compelling.

Things did pick up steam on Thursday, as the Sabres were deep in negotiations with Dan Bylsma to be their next head coach. Now that he’s been hired, I’m sure there will be more Bylsma questions as the days and weeks move along.

You know the drill. Send your comments and questions to me via Twitter (@TBNSully) or to my News email account ( Come at me hard if you must, but try to maintain a modicum of civility. This week’s mail:

@Jeepin2012 asks: Sully, why haven’t other teams hired Bylsma in the last year?

Sully: Bylsma might have taken a new job sooner if the Pens had fired him when they jettisoned GM Ray Shero in mid-May of 2014. But in a sleazy move, Pittsburgh kept Bylsma as a lame duck for three weeks, preventing him from having his pick of open jobs – especially Washington – at the time.

Jim Rutherford fired Bylsma as soon as he was hired as GM three weeks later. Three teams (Florida, Vancouver, Carolina) were said to be interested. But either the jobs weren’t attractive enough or, in Florida’s case, the team wouldn’t meet Bylsma’s $2.5 million salary demand.

Bylsma still had two years left on his Pittsburgh contract, so he could afford to wait for a better offer. He spent his year off helping coach his son’s hockey team and watching film of NHL games so he would be better prepared when his next opportunity came along.

His reputation certainly took a hit in 2014 when both his U.S. Olympic team and his Penguins forgot how to score goals in the most critical moments. But he’s a good coach and wasn’t lacking for suitors.

@keepitreal524 asks: With the Sabres offer to Babcock being public, will Bylsma have the upper hand in negotiations and receive more than he’s worth?

Sully: There’s no doubt the Sabres and Maple Leafs sent NHL coaching salaries through the roof in the Babcock negotiations, which paid Babcock double the money of any coach in history. It’s hard to say exactly what an NHL coach is worth at this point.

You have to think that Bylsma, who won a Stanley Cup and more than 60 percent of his games with the Penguins, had a lot of leverage with Terry Pegula. I’m sure both sides knew it would be an utter embarrassment to the Sabres if their second pick for head coach got away.

@SirKennyPoo asks: Any chance Pegula will buy Buffalo back into the NBA? Maybe MLB, too? Two sports may get old fast.

Sully: Considering its TV market size, Buffalo is fortunate to have two major sports franchises. I’d love to have an NBA team. It’s my favorite sport and I’ve said for years I would trade the Bills and Sabres for an NBA franchise.

But barring a monumental leap in our economic fortunes, there’s no chance of getting a third pro team. From what I can gather, Pegula isn’t much of a hoop guy. The Sabres continue to show no interest in having some kind of banner to honor the Buffalo Braves at the Arena.

As for baseball, that ship sailed some 25 years ago. The Riches had dreams of landing a big-league team. That’s why the capacity at Coca-Cola Field is so vast. But they were justifiably spooked by soaring salaries. In the end, it was clear baseball never really wanted them.

@716thoughts asks: How many years did Tom Donahoe set back the Bills franchise?

Sully: That’s a bit unkind, but it’s Donahoe, so I’ll allow it. I’d say he set back the Bills a good three or four years when he was president and GM, mainly because he wasn’t content to fully bottom out and kept reaching for quarterbacks to repair the situation.

Trading for Drew Bledsoe when he was heading into steep decline was a bad move in retrospect. Then Donahoe panicked in 2004, trading a first-, second- and fifth-round pick to the Cowboys to take J.P. Losman with the 22nd pick of the draft – after failing to move up to get Ben Roethlisberger.

The late Ralph Wilson compounded the problem by firing Donahoe and running scared from the idea of an empowered leader. He hired Marv Levy to be his GM and bring a happy feeling to the operation.

Daniel Sanford asks: I know it’s eaaaaarly, but what are you seeing from our incredibly deep QB talent pool during OTAs this week?

Sully: Do I detect a note of sarcasm? There’s no place for that in the Mailbag. I spent a day at OTAs and watched the quarterbacks throw and wasn’t terribly impressed. But as you suggest, it’s waaaaay too early to draw any conclusions about the QB battle at this point.

The one thing that’s clear – as I wrote in Thursday’s column – is that it’s a true open competition, with EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor getting equal reps and equal time in front of the media.

@SinisterSully asks: I know you are fired up about this topic. Game Seven NBA finals or Game Seven Stanley Cup finals? Which game is more entertaining?

Sully: Look, a seventh game in any sport is entertaining and dramatic. I’m a basketball guy, so I’d take the NBA any day. I’d rather watch a first-round NBA matchup than a Stanley Cup overtime game.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the NHL playoffs. I’ve covered seventh games and overtimes and they’re among the most riveting and exciting events in sports. I would expect hockey fans to claim that there’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup overtime.

Yes, and there’s nothing like the seventh game of a World Series, or an NBA Finals, or the dramatic ending of a Super Bowl – or for that matter, a shootout to decide a World Cup soccer match. It’s all a matter of your personal bias.

Sometimes I wonder if NHL fans need to believe their playoffs are the best as compensation for hockey being a second-tier sport in much of the U.S.


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