Dean Lombardi might be a fine choice for the Sabres, either as a president of hockey operations or the general manger to replace Tim Murray. He's closely tied in with USA Hockey, just like the Sabres are now with advent of HarborCenter. And it's hard to ignore his two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles.
But in the wake of sweeping Murray and Dan Bylsma out the door, what Terry Pegula needs to do is look for the red flags. Too often in the past, the Sabres have ignored them. There's plenty of them around Lombardi that make the 59-year-old far from an automatic choice even though he's perceived to be the quick frontrunner because of his experience
The Kings' two Cups were a result of great goaltending from Jonathan Quick and a bruising style of play that was perfect for the playoffs but would not work in the regular season. And it's quickly gone out of favor in a league built on youth and speed. Would Lombardi be able to adapt?
The Kings, remember, were only third in the Pacific in both Cup years and won in 2012 as a No. 8 seed. They won one or more playoff series in only three times in Lombardi's 11 seasons; three other times, they were first-round losers. After winning their second Cup in 2014, the Kings missed the playoffs in 2015 and this spring. They were knocked out in five games by the Sharks last year. So one playoff win in three years got both Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter their exit papers.
Lombardi fired Bylsma assistant Terry Murray midway through the 2011-12 season and recycled Sutter from their time together in San Jose. Sutter would not be the kind of coach the Sabres would want while trying to build a team around Jack Eichel. If players in that room had problems with Bylsma, how would they handle Sutter?
Sutter has coached in Chicago, San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles. He was out of the game for five years after the Flames fired him in 2006 and there's plenty of chatter he simply wants to ride off into the sunset of the family Alberta farm. I'm not hiring a 58-year-old coach for the Sabres who would clearly be in the sunset of his career. If Lombardi wants to come here and push Sutter as a package deal, Pegula should run away.
If Lombardi is willing to come unhitched from Sutter, the conversation can continue but Pegula better ask some tough questions about Lombardi's butchering of the salary cap in his time in Los Angeles. Because the new executive branch in Buffalo is going to have a hard time undoing some of Murray's handiwork.
The Kings were completely hamstrung by Lombardi's deals. Anze Kopitar got an eight-year, $80 million contract -- which has a $10 million cap hit through 2024. He hasn't been a 30-goal man since 2010 and had just 12 goals and 52 points this season. You can talk all the Selke Trophy nods you want but that's a bad contract for those numbers. Far too similar to what Murray gave Ryan O'Reilly.
There's plenty more where that came from. Ten years and $58 million for Quick, running through 2023 when he will be 37. Seven years and $34.1 million for Marian Gaborik through age 39. And the ultimate albatross: Eight years and $47 million to Dustin Brown through 2022 and age 37. Brown has averaged 13 goals and 29.5 points over the last four years. Ouch.
And let's not forget that it was Lombardi who butchered the United States entry for the World Cup of Hockey. He chose the likes of Justin Abdelkader, Blake Wheeler and Brandon Dubinsky while leaving off names like Phil Kessel, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler. Seriously.
The World Cup is not the NHL but it speaks to Lombardi's mentality. Sure sounds like dinosaur potential here. Pegula should darn well discuss what went wrong in this tournament before he hands over his keys to Lombardi.
Pegula said he wanted an experienced executive to replace Murray and it makes sense you would go that route after the first-time GM didn't work out as you hoped. But this organization better do its homework here. Plenty of Canadian media types quickly floated Lombardi's name when the Sabres fired Murray. My response: Not so fast.
Wrap on Bylsma and Murray
Bylsma and Murray can both sit around and make plenty of Pegula's money but you would imagine each man will have plenty of fires to rekindle in the wake of what happened in Buffalo. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the league views their time here: Underachieving and not worthy of another chance, or no chance because of organizational dysfunction?
Bylsma obviously has a good resume from his time in Pittsburgh and can also point to the Sabres' 27-point improvement last season as notches on his resume. Certainly, his clear issues with star players and dubious run with Team USA in the Sochi Olympics won't cast him in a favorable light.
His only chance at a head coaching job for now would seem to be in Los Angeles, since he was a teammate for two years with new Kings GM and Hall of Fame defenseman Rob Blake when both were at Bowling Green. But the Kings seem focused on associate coach John Stevens to replace Sutter. The Florida Panthers were interested in Bylsma two years ago but have much of their attention on University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery.
Bylsma may have to go for an assistant's job, in a role much like Terry Murray served for the Sabres the last two years, or lay in wait during the season as a replacement for a fired coach.
Murray's run of rough moves make him far more likely to be someone's scouting director than a GM again. Murray is a rinkrat. He loves watching junior and college games and thrived on that during the tank years here. But once the bulk of the Sabres' key young talent was acquired, Murray didn't get the chance to go to nearly as many amateur games as he wanted to because the NHL games suddenly became the focus. It didn't seem like being the GM was much fun for him at that point. It will be interesting to see what becomes of him going forward.
It should be noted publicly in this space that both Bylsma and Murray were solid in their dealings with the media. Neither has spoken publicly, and the Pegulas' infamous non-disclosure agreements may keep things that way going forward.
Murray simply responded "thanks" in response to a text from this corner asking for comment and wishing him well. Late Friday night, Bylsma sent a gracious response back also declining comment and accepting the well wishes. Nothing about their dismissals.
Tough time for Hawks
It's going to be an interesting offseason in Chicago, where the Blackhawks piled up 109 points and a No. 1 seed in the West but very much looked the part of the league's oldest team in getting swept by the Predators. Thursday's 4-1 defeat marked the Hawks' second straight first-round exit and the first sweep against them since 1993.
“It was a major disappointment across the board,” said coach Joel Quenneville, who made it clear the playoff flameout nullifies his team's 50 regular-season wins.
Chicago reporters said GM Stan Bowman was flat-out angry when he met the media Saturday morning.
"We did not even come close to reaching the standard we have set. And that’s unacceptable," Bowman said. "Not close to good enough.... Joel is our head coach. He will continue to be our head coach. And Joel and I will work together to make sure this never happens again"
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 22, 2017
“We probably all thought it was going to go a different way, especially with the regular season,” added South Buffalo native Patrick Kane. “Coming into the playoffs, we felt pretty confident. So yeah. Disappointing. Shocked. I don’t know. It’s going to be a long summer for sure. ... To score three goals in four games, I mean, there’s no way you’re going to win doing that."
The Hawks clearly had their foot off the gas at the end of the season and never got their engine revved back up. They finished 0-2-2 -- meaning they went winless their last eight times on the ice. Their defense is aging and Bowman has the same problem Lombardi has with the cap.
It's an even bigger issue next season with Artemi Panarin's deal kicking in at a $6 million hit. The Kings and Blackhawks alternated Cups for four straight years from 2012-2015 and knocked out the other in the West final in 2013 and 2014. Only those losses prevented a dynastic run by one or the other. Neither has won a series since their last cup (LA in 2014, Chicago in '15). It just shows you how tough it is to keep things together in a cap world.
Around the boards
---Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau got testy with reporters as his team fell into a 3-0 hole against St. Louis and he probably had a point. The Blues' 3-1 series lead heading into Game Five Saturday was mostly about goaltender Jake Allen and not about the Wild's play.
The Wild took 61.1 percent of the shot attempts at even strength over the first four games and were by far the best Corsi team but had nothing to show for it. The actual shots on goal through four games were 145-107 -- including 125-80 at even strength. Allen had a 1.07 goals-against average and .966 save percentage in the four games while Minnesota counterpart Devan Dubynk was hardly a slouch at 1.42/.943.
---"See you in a couple days": Leafs coach Mike Babcock, to service-level staffers in Washington's Verizon Center as he walked to the team bus after Toronto lost Game Five in overtime Friday night. The Leafs try to even the series in Game Six Sunday in Air Canada Centre.
---Speaking of Babcock, the Leafs' four OT games against the Capitals are their most in any series since the 1951 Stanley Cup final, when they posted a five-game victory over Montreal as every game went into extra time. It ended on the Cup-winning goal by defenseman Bill Barilko, who was killed in a plane crash that summer.
---We entered Saturday with 15 overtime games in the first round and a lot of hockey left to be played. According to Elias Sports, the record for first-round OT since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1980 is 17 games, set in 2013. We're likely to fly by that.