While moves are always inevitable after a losing season, Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta said he did not expect the team to undergo the major shakeup it did Thursday as coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Tim Murray were both fired.
"Completely shocked," Gionta said Friday night, when asked for his initial reaction during an intermission appearance on NBC Sports Network's coverage of the Toronto-Washington game. "Leaving our exit interviews, we didn't think that was coming. We had some negative stuff as far as where we wanted to be as a team. Everyone was disappointed with where we wanted to be as a team but we didn't think this was coming down the pike.
"Obviously though, ownership wants a winning team and they want it now. We had a disappointing season and it's on us players to be better. Whoever comes in, it's for us to be better and be a team that can make the playoffs next year."
Speaking with NBCSN host and University of Buffalo graduate Liam McHugh, Gionta had praise for Bylsma but said he's already looking to next season.
"Dan was great with the guys," Gionta said. "I know he got a lot of slack there with the communication they thought lacked there but he was good with us. It's somebody that's going to have to be able to hold guys accountable, keep that room tight. It's a good bunch of guys. We can make this work. We can be a team that can make the playoffs. It just has to be the right fit."
Gionta, 38, was the only member of the Sabres to play all 82 games this season, including the 1,000th of his NHL career. He had 15 goals and 20 assists in the third and final year of his contract and said he planned on playing again next season.
McHugh did not ask Gionta for his thoughts on Murray or about re-signing next season, nor did the host mention the controversy that has swirled around Jack Eichel this week. For his part, Gionta had big praise for Eichel.
"He can take games over," Gionta said. "He's a guy who's still maturing, 20 years old. It's just his second year in the league. He's going to be a guy for the Sabres for a long time that's going to make this thing run. Surround him with the right guys and as he matures, as he grows here he's going to continue to grow into that role."
As for the Leafs, Gionta acknowledged the players understand the constant comparisons between Buffalo and Toronto.
"There's no way you're not going to hear the comparison," he said. "You're a rival. You're right down the road from them. Similar situations coming into the season. That's what makes it disappointing. We know we could be that team. We know we could be the team that was right there on the verge of making the playoffs and that's what makes it frustrating going into the offseason."