Tim Murray lost his job Thursday for one reason among all others: Terry and Kim Pegula needed answers to how the Sabres would proceed after missing the playoffs yet again, and the general manager had very few – if any. Dan Bylsma was fired because he was one rung down from Murray.
The Pegulas began cleaning house yet again with actions that were as swift as they were surprising. Murray and Bylsma were expected to return next season and resume their duties even though the Sabres took a step back. Both appeared safe going into postseason meetings before they were shown the door.
Was it the right move?
Time eventually will provide an answer. It depends mostly on their next move and whether they hire someone to oversee hockey operations. It means hiring a general manager who understands value and character in players. It means hiring a coach who can make a strong connection to them.
Murray overpaid for numerous trades. He also overpaid players after acquiring them. He gave up a bundle for Evander Kane, an elite talent who arrived with a bad reputation and found trouble in Buffalo. Zach Bogosian was beset by injuries and poor play and played a major role in the Sabres' weak defense corps.
Ryan O'Reilly is a solid player with certain leadership qualities, but Murray handed him a massive contract and watched him underperform. He traded for Dmitry Kulikov, who was a complete bust. He gave away too many draft picks and failed to restock in Rochester, leaving the organization with little depth.
The Sabres spent too much money and received too little in return, and that falls directly on the lap of the general manager.
Bylsma appeared to be collateral damage. The Pegulas couldn't fire Murray and keep Bylsma the way they could have fired Darcy Regier and kept Lindy Ruff when they first assumed ownership. Bylsma coached good teams in Pittsburgh before his message became stale. Nobody could have won with Buffalo's roster.
You can blame Bylsma for failing to build a strong bond with his players, and you can blame players for not embracing their coach. Younger players will understand that NHL coaches carry the same basic message. Some players love the coach, other do not and the rest really don't care. It's true for every coach.
Let me be clear, however, that the Sabres' current problems begin and end with ownership. Terry Pegula arrived with grandiose goals but no real plans when he purchased the team. They didn't make changes when obvious changes were needed. They listened to the wrong people. They were in over their heads.
When they made a good decision in hiring Pat LaFontaine, they flubbed the execution. They allowed juvenile front-office politics to disrupt LaFontaine's master plan that was never completed. It left the organization in Murray's hands and empowered him when he was supposed to be one part of a three-legged stool.
They became delusional fans who embraced the tank, the idea that losing would be a quick fix for winning without understand long-term ramifications within the organization. They underestimated how much weight would be thrown on one player, a young player, in this case Jack Eichel.
They didn't comprehend how the organization would be perceived across the league, that the Sabres would become a dysfunctional laughingstock. Buffalo quickly evolved into an unattractive place for prospective free agents who otherwise might have helped them. They failed to provide a continuous critical evaluation.
They failed, period.
Terry and Kim Pegula can begin acknowledging that they made numerous mistakes, admitting that they trusted the wrong people and accepting responsibility. They surprised people by firing Murray and Bylsma, but they would impress many more if they conceded that they're the source of many problems you see today.
It starts with them understanding that they don't have all the answers, either.
They need to find someone who does.