General Manager Jason Botterill hasn't deviated from his plan to get the Buffalo Sabres back to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Botterill has emphasized the importance of patience while building the Sabres through drafting and developing young players. However, fan unrest is growing, as illustrated by the peaceful protest held in KeyBank Center's Alumni Plaza last Saturday and average attendance that has fallen to its lowest levels since 2005-06.
Though Botterill spoke recently about his plan for on-ice improvement, he wasn't in a position to address fans' anger about misspellings on alumni jerseys, why the red-and-black goat head jerseys weren't worn by current Sabres for on-ice warmups for a 1990s celebration Jan. 4 or potential improvements to the experience in KeyBank Center.
Kevyn Adams, the Sabres' vice president of business administration and a former NHL player, spoke to The Buffalo News about those topics and several others during a sit-down interview Thursday.
Q: Why haven’t Terry and Kim Pegula addressed fans’ concerns publicly?
KA: Last week, Jason spoke on behalf of Terry and Kim about the hockey side. Obviously, I’m here today talking about the business side on behalf of Terry and Kim. I think at the appropriate time Terry and Kim will talk. The most important part of this that I want to make sure I get across is just because they haven’t spoken publicly doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged. They are completely engaged. No one has committed more resources to the Sabres organization and the city than Terry and Kim Pegula. They care. They’re passionate. They want this to be better and they’re working hard across every area of the organization to find solutions. I just think that’s a really important part of this.
Q: What are your thoughts on the narrative that Terry and Kim prioritize the Bills over the Sabres, and why do you think a segment of the fans believe that’s the case?
A: I can’t speak to why people say it. I just think, for me, it’s so important to clarify that it couldn’t be further from the truth. They care so deeply about this team. They want it to be better in every way. They understand the fan base’s frustration and we’re all in this together. The message from Terry and Kim consistently has been, "We’re all in this thing together; let’s figure out how we can make it better on ice, off-ice, the fan experience, every part of this organization. Let’s work through that." I talk to them on a daily basis, both Terry and Kim. I know Jason and other executive leaders do as well.
Q: What is the organization’s reaction to the fans’ expressions of frustration over the past month?
A: To be honest, we’ve talked about it as an incredible positive because of how passionate our fans are. I’m from here, I grew up in this town. I went to my first hockey games and fell in love with hockey sitting in the oranges at the old Aud and watching Gilbert Perreault, so I get it as a Buffalonian. I get where the fan base is and their passion for the team. It means so much and it’s ingrained in the fabric of this community. I kind of look at it that we’re fortunate to have such a passionate fan base that wants to call radio stations and express themselves. I think there are other markets in the National Hockey League that would die to have this type of fan base. I think it’s great. I know Terry and Kim, and everyone across the organization, feels the same way.
Q: How can the Sabres regain the trust that’s been lost with the fans over the past decade?
A: It’s earning the respect every day. It’s doing the little things. The way I like to think about it is, are we a little bit better today than we were yesterday? There’s an accountability in our organization where things are going to happen sometimes. You’re going to make mistakes, whatever that might be. How do we learn? How do we get better? I believe if you do that, day in and day out, then those little things add up to bigger things and the trust will be earned. I truly believe our fans want to come to the arena and love this team and be excited about it. We have to continue as an organization, across every area, to get better.
Q: Why should the fan base have hope that the organization will improve going forward?
A: I think part of the message is we are working diligently to find solutions in every way, shape and form. Kim has challenged us as a staff to consider how we can get better across the board. What does that mean? When we look at NHL metrics, what are teams around the league doing, where do we stack up? Where are we with fan surveys and areas we need to see improvement? Are we listening to our fans and certain things they’re saying, and trying to implement them into game presentation or wherever that might be. So, internally, looking at our own analytics to say, "What is it saying to us?" These are all areas that I hope give fans hope because that’s the work that’s being done on a daily basis.
Q: Do the Sabres have a fan advisory board and, if not, are you considering creating one like there is for the Bills?
A: It’s something that’s being discussed now. We just talked about it, and I think it’s incredibly important to have fans sit in a room and talk. You learn from every conversation, regardless if it’s a 30-year season ticket story or a young kid – they’re going to say something and you’re going to learn. The more we can be face to face and having those conversations the better off we’ll be.
Q: What is the level of concern about another dip in attendance?
A: I think back on when I was still playing. There were times I came in here as a visitor playing against the Sabres, and I was surprised I didn’t see as many fans as I thought I was going to see. I think over the years there have been times where this place has been sold out and you can’t get a ticket, and there were times it wasn’t. I believe we have to focus on what we can control. We have to think about from the moment a fan steps out of their car to when they get back in their car, are we providing them with the best possible fan experience we can? How do we take those three hours and help our fans be entertained? Obviously, a piece of that is on the ice, but I do believe – and this is something I’ll share with you – when I was at the Board of Governors meetings it was talked about consistently for two days across all clubs. What can you do for a fan, besides the win and loss when the game is over because that’s going to happen? What else are we doing in that time frame to help entertain our fans and make it the best possible experience?
Q: Has there been any progress with future renovations of KeyBank Center?
A: There’s a study that’s going on that’s privately funded, and we’re not ready to talk about the results. That will be part of the solution moving forward. I want to make sure people understand we’re talking about it and thinking about it. We just aren’t prepared to share or discuss the results of the survey. I want fans to know we hear them and we’re talking about how to improve.
Q: Why were jersey nameplates misspelled for Dave Andreychuk and Mike Robitaille during theme nights this season?
A: I’m glad you asked because there has been a lot said about it. The truth is Mike Robitaille has had that jersey for a long time and he’s worn it out multiple times. In fact, he got it before, knew it was misspelled and likes to wear it. He showed up that day and put it on. It wasn’t something we gave him that night, but he wore it.
In terms of Dave Andreychuk, that was '80s Night and that jersey we did give him. There is a positive and negative to that. The negative is the jersey was misspelled. The positive is the error was caught in the hallway before he went on the ice. We were able to swap out the jersey and get him the correct one before he went on the ice.
I think it leads to a bigger discussion that we want to be accountable as an organization. Mistakes are going to happen sometimes. It’s not about finger-pointing. It’s about how can we be better. In terms of a bigger point to all this, I want to make it clear our alumni are incredibly happy and engaged in our team. They couldn’t be more proud to come back for this 50th season. ... Terry and Kim do more for the alumni than – I played on six teams and it’s not even close to what you see typically across the league. I want to make sure it’s really clear how proud our alumni are and how connected they are to this team.
Q: Why weren’t authentic goathead jerseys worn by alumni during '90s Night?
A: Authentic jerseys aren’t made anymore from those different eras. To celebrate the nostalgia of the decades, replica jerseys were worn for the '70s and '80s. People were excited about those theme nights and decade nights, and we heard the fans. They were unhappy with the jerseys on '90s Night, but they were replicas like the '70s and '80s jerseys that were worn by alumni. They don’t make those jerseys. We heard the fans and totally understand.
As an organization, we want to make sure we’re listening to what our fans were saying. (Thursday) you’re going to see our alumni going out in the 50th jersey. It’s important that fans know we heard them.
Q: Did a former Sabres executive miss a deadline for the team to wear the goathead jerseys during warmups on '90s Night?
A: Yes, under previous leadership, there were errors made. We acknowledge it. Moving forward with the current structure we have in place we’re going to do everything we can to be better in every area.
Q: Why aren’t more 50th anniversary jerseys available for purchase?
A: There was no way to see in the future and know our fans were going to love these jerseys as much as they have. We have ordered more jerseys. In terms of the authentic Adidas jerseys, they take a long time to manufacture and get. If we were to get them now it would head into the offseason. The jersey order was made with the hope our fans would love these 50th jerseys and clearly they have. They’re sold out across every outlet in the country. It speaks to how passionate our fans are and how much they love these jerseys.