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Pegulas do not plan to hire president of hockey operations for Sabres, source says

OTTAWA — Kim and Terry Pegula do not plan to add another layer to the chain of command atop the Buffalo Sabres.

The Pegulas have notified General Manager Jason Botterill that they do not intend to create a president of hockey operations position above him, a source confirmed to The News. TSN was the first to report the Pegulas' decision.

The source also said that, contrary to reports, the Pegulas did not conduct a search for the role last summer.

The Pegulas have preferred to have the general manager report directly to them since Pat LaFontaine abruptly resigned as director of hockey operations in March 2014, a little more than three months after he was hired in that role.

The Pegulas' decision should not necessarily be viewed as an endorsement of Botterill. The Sabres' ownership has not spoken publicly this season, though Kevyn Adams, the team's vice president of business administration, recently addressed issues not related to the on-ice product.

When the subject of a president was broached earlier this month, Botterill said he preferred to report directly to ownership and called the Sabres' current management structure, specifically the presence of assistant general managers Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley, a "strength" of the organization.

"Well, that’s why I brought Randy Sexton onto my staff," Botterill said during a WGR interview Feb. 4. "He’s a former general manager in the league. That’s why I brought in Steve Greeley to be sort of our player personnel guy. I wanted to make sure that I surrounded myself with people that brought in different ideas. ... So to me, there’s always different ways to develop a team, and I wanted to have sort of a diverse group that came in from there. I love the fact that my interaction is directly with Terry and Kim. I respect that and certainly think that’s a strength of our organization. And I think the fact that we’ve built people around there, I have strong ideas — strong people providing ideas to me.

"What I like about our group is they’re not afraid to challenge me on different things. I don’t have a bunch of 'yes guys' around me. I feel comfortable with the management group we have, and we understand that we have to continue to be better."

Sexton spent four seasons as a general manager in Ottawa and Florida before his seven-year stint as the Pittsburgh Penguins' director of amateur scouting. Greeley, meanwhile, was a scout with the Los Angeles Kings for seven seasons before his two-year stint as the New York Rangers' director of player personnel.

Sexton has worked with Botterill to implement the scouting and player development model that helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, and he serves as general manager for the Rochester Americans. Greeley, a 39-year-old who is viewed as a future NHL general manager, oversees the Sabres' pro scouting staff department.

The Pegulas' decision to maintain the current management structure follows a league-wide trend in which most teams have opted to not employ someone strictly in the role of director of hockey operations.

The Columbus Blue Jackets did not replace John Davidson after he left to become the Rangers' team president last summer. Vancouver and Calgary did not replace Trevor Linden or Brian Burke, respectively, after they held the title.

Only two others teams employed a director of hockey operations when Burke was hired by the Flames in September 2013: Columbus and Edmonton. The position typically acts as a liaison between the general manager and ownership while serving as an adviser to the former. Their names typically don't appear in news stories or headlines.

The management model worked in Columbus, where Davidson hired general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the two chose John Tortorella as coach. The Blue Jackets made the playoffs four times until Davidson's departure last summer, including each of the past three seasons. Last April, they pulled off a first-round sweep over Tampa Bay to earn their first playoff series win.

Three current NHL general managers also have president of hockey operations in their title: St. Louis' Doug Armstrong, Arizona's John Chayka and Edmonton's Ken Holland. Seven other teams have someone working strictly in the role and three others have a front-office employee holding a dual title that includes president of hockey operations.

Eighteen teams, including the Sabres, have the general manager reporting directly to ownership.

After joining the Sabres in November 2013, LaFontaine hired Ted Nolan as interim coach and Murray as general manager. Though the reason behind LaFontaine's departure remains a mystery, there was speculation of a possible disconnect and break in the chain of command when Murray told the media he maintained contact with Terry Pegula upon his hiring in January 2014.

Buffalo entered its game Tuesday in Ottawa eight points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, on pace to miss the postseason for an NHL-worst ninth consecutive season. Though the Sabres' drafting under Botterill has been universally lauded by analysts, he has been scrutinized since Ryan O'Reilly won the Stanley Cup with St. Louis last June.

In June 2018, Botterill traded O'Reilly to the Blues in exchange for forwards Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and two draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2019. The Sabres have received very little production from the three forwards — Berglund left the team after 23 games in 2018 — while O'Reilly solidified himself as one of the league's premier two-way centermen.

Under Botterill's leadership, the Sabres have used first-round draft choices on Dylan Cozens, Ryan Johnson, Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt. The team has also acquired winger Jeff Skinner, who signed an eight-year, $72 million contract last June, and defenseman Henri Jokiharju, among others.

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