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Inside the NHL: Heat growing on Pegula as Sabres' focus stays on Botterill

Last Sunday, Terry Pegula said he was getting close to an end of the Sabres' general manager search, which was a good omen because the expansion and amateur drafts are looming six weeks away. But now the owner is running around interviewing GM candidates for the Bills, who hardly need someone in that slot immediately given the fact the draft is over and coach Sean McDermott has clearly ascended to the power seat.

So what's up with Pegula's hockey team? Los Angeles assistant Michael Futa, who also interviewed with the Sabres three years ago, told that he's staying out West and all indications remain that Pittsburgh associate GM Jason Botterill is Pegula's guy.

But Botterill has closed ranks in Pittsburgh and it seems the Sabres are perhaps waiting to make their decision final until after the Penguins' series with Washington is over, either at the behest of the Pens or the NHL itself.

There's no way the Sabres can wait on a GM until after the Stanley Cup final, if Pittsburgh goes that far, and the league won't make them wait that long. But there's still rumblings about some candidates being asked if they would work with a president of hockey over them. Now, that's a good idea but if Pegula was going to go that route, why wouldn't you hire that person first so they had a say on the GM?

You hear all the time that criticism of the Pegulas is too harsh in Buffalo, which is a foolish point given the lack of success of their teams. But those critiques are rooted in questions around the NHL about what this ownership group is doing here, and specifically about how the quick hooks given to Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray show a total lack of commitment to a plan.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, who has grown into one of the most influential members of the international hockey media, pulled no punches Friday during an appearance on a Calgary radio station with a crew of talkers that included former Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener.

Friedman first said what is universally agreed upon: The Pegulas want to do whatever they can to bring the city a winner. But he issued a harsh rebuke to Terry Pegula as well for comments he made during his two recent news conferences.

"The one thing I didn’t like was how they said, ‘I didn’t hire Tim Murray and I didn’t hire Dan Bylsma,'" Friedman said. "And when they fired the football GM, ‘I didn’t hire Doug Whaley.’ When you’re in charge, that’s not good enough. You’re in charge. The buck stops with you.

"I believe that if the person at the top of your organization makes excuses, then everybody makes excuses. If the person at the top of your organization doesn’t make excuses, then your organization is accountable and doesn’t make excuses. That’s the thing I didn’t like from him was that he basically said, ‘I didn’t hire these guys.’

“I look at it and say if you’re the owner, that’s not good enough. It’s your money. It’s your team. You don’t have to interfere all the time, but you are responsible at the end of the day because it’s your organization. That’s what I didn’t like.”

Couldn't have said it any better. So if Pegula is trying to pass the buck on the past, one thing is crystal clear now: It's all on him from this point forward. Go win something.

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What's goalie interference?

Goalie interference calls have morphed into what's-a-catch territory now and it's only getting worse. Edmonton got hosed in two straight games against Anaheim, including the tying goal late Friday night as Cam Talbot's pad was clearly held by Ryan Kesler in the crease on Richard Rakell's equalizer with 15 seconds left. Veteran Milan Lucic went off on the officiating after the Ducks' 4-3 double overtime win.

“I don’t even know what goalie interference is anymore, to be perfectly honest,” said Lucic. “Last game, it goes in blocker side and they bump his blocker. Tonight, they wrap their arm around our goalie’s leg and he can’t get up, and it’s still a goal. If someone knows, call me and tell me. Because it’s a shame that we are where we are right now with a call like that.”

Tweeted Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr, the longtime former Oilers goaltender: "So now you can hang on to the goalie's pad in the crease and that's okay. #NHL this is becoming a running joke. Will the NHL say they made a mistake or just keep covering for terrible officiating."

The Ducks, by the way, became the first team in NHL history to wipe out a 3-0 deficit in the final four minutes of regulation and win a playoff game. The defeat was a crusher for the Oilers and reminiscent of the famous 1982 "Miracle on Manchester" that saw the LA Kings wipe out a 5-0 third-period deficit and beat Edmonton in OT, 6-5 (Manchester was a reference to the street address of the Forum).

The Oilers lost that series in five games but made the Stanley Cup final the next three seasons, winning the Cup in 1984 and 1985. The Oilers will try to even the series Sunday night at home and captain Connor McDavid issued a guarantee for that one after Game Five.

“There’s not much that can really be said right now. It stinks,” McDavid said. "But we’ll be back here Wednesday.”

He's referring to the day of Game Seven.

Lottery fallout

There were several big takeaways from last weekend's draft lottery. There had to be bitter disappointment in Colorado (dropping from No. 1 to No. 4) and Las Vegas (going from No. 3 to No. 6) as well as euphoria in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas for climbing into the top 3. You would probably spend hours on any lottery simulator waiting for that combination to come up.

After New Jersey won the first pick, the Flyers had just a 2.41 percent chance to take No. 2. Colorado, Vancouver, Vegas and Arizona were all over 11 percent and the even the Sabres were at 8.3 percent. Had Colorado won No. 1, the Sabres would have been up to 9.3 percent to claim No. 2. Just a bizarre set of numbers.

The Sabres fell, of course, from No. 6 to No. 8 but that's hardly a major reason for worry. The bigger issue is the fact the Devils and Flyers will now get the top two picks. The Devils, remember, were the only team in the East the Sabres finished in front of while the Flyers were an 88-point team that had 25 home wins and fashioned a 10-game winning streak. And they get to add the No. 2 pick?

The Sabres obviously have major work to do in the offseason. So much will depend upon who is coaching this team and how the new GM shapes the roster. But right now, if you're picking the East in 2017-18, you might start out with the Sabres dead last and heading for another lottery.

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Lehner watching Darling deal?

Interesting move by Carolina to lock up goaltender Scott Darling on a four-year, $16.6 million deal. Cam Ward ($3.3 million) and Eddie Lack ($2.75 million) are both signed for next year and now certain to be available for Vegas in the expansion draft.

Darling played 75 games the last three years as Corey Crawford's backup in Chicago and showed he's ready to be a starter by putting up a 2.38 goals-against average and .924 save percentage this season. You wonder what Robin Lehner thinks of the deal. He's a restricted free agent this year after playing 59 games with a 2.68/.920 for a much inferior team. But he lost his biggest booster with the firing of Murray.

Is any new GM going to come in and offer Lehner more than a one-year deal? The big Swede might be the biggest collateral damage in Murray's firing. The old GM was wedded to him because he traded a first-round pick to get him. Lehner might have been in line for a three-year deal this summer. Now? It's anyone's guess.

Around the boards

---Interesting work by the Golden Knights getting 30-year-old KHL forward Vadim Shipachyov to sign a two-year, $9 million deal as the club's first free agent. His linemate, 28-year-old Evgeni Dadonov, is also being wooed by several NHL teams and Vegas is one of them. The Golden Knights figure to be a player in free agency and getting two KHL forwards out of the box would certainly rate as a major coup.

---Look at the conference semifinals in the AHL and you see which teams have built prospect pools: Hershey vs. Providence (Washington-Boston), Syracuse vs. Toronto (Tampa Bay-Toronto), Chicago vs. Grand Rapids (St. Louis-Detroit), San Jose vs. San Diego (San Jose-Anaheim). The Rochester Amerks, meanwhile, have won one playoff series since 2005. They have missed the playoffs for three straight years and have won just two postseason games in the last seven years. The Sabres' colossal failure at the AHL level certainly was a stain on Murray's evaluation.

---A familiar name went first overall last week in the Western Hockey League's Bantam draft. Defenseman Kaiden Guhle, the 15-year-old younger brother of top Sabres blueline prospect Brendan Guhle, was chosen by Prince Albert. Kaiden Guhle is already 6-foot-1 and 174 pounds and might be destined for those hot lists for the 2020 NHL Draft. Brendan Guhle played four years for Prince Albert before being traded to Prince George this season.

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