Kukla's Korner

The Sabres Observer

While Bylsma’s Seat Gets Warm, Murray Still Gets A Pass

Everything was supposed to be fine when Jack Eichel came back.

It isn't, and many Sabres fans are starting to get angry. Last night's 4-2 loss to Boston was a new low for this team. Seems hard to believe after a game in which they played their best first period of the season, but that fact is what makes it hurt more.

And, as expected, your humble Sabres correspondent received his usual daily dose of Fire Dan Bylsma tweets and emails. On top of that, in an unscientific twitter poll of nearly 450 fans last week, the coach was given the blame for Buffalo's struggles.

Funny thing is, when you ask them why Bylsma should be fired, the most common response is his system. But when you ask what's wrong with the system, most don't have a clear answer. They just say things like "he's stifling his players" but aren't able to get more specific. It kind of makes you wonder how many of those fans actually even know what Bylsma's system is.

Truth be told, and obvious to many, this coach has not been given a very good hand to play. But Tim Murray, Buffalo's lovable short-spoken everyman, has made it clear that the ascension to greatness is a process, and patience is needed.

Sabres fans for the most part are completely on board. When seeking a scapegoat for Buffalo's position at rock bottom of the standings, the GM is off the hook.

At least for now.

While nobody is going to sit here and call Bylsma the next Toe Blake, firing him at this point would make no sense, and honestly would be undeserved. He certainly doesn't need to prove he can win a Stanley Cup with talent. If nothing else, he's been professional enough not to show frustration over the dead weight that still resides on his roster.

Last night's game is Exhibit A. On the first goal, Johan Larsson didn't have the speed and/or intensity to stay with Patrice Bergeron as he drove to the net. The second goal came on a power play that was awarded after Josh Gorges got juked badly in the corner by David Pastrnak. The game winner came when Larsson wasn't quick enough to get to Ryan Spooner in the high slot. Cody Franson, as is often the case, looked like he had cement in his skates. Derek Grant needs to be playing in Rochester until the NHL decides to double the size of the nets.

Bylsma isn't going anywhere in large part because Murray wasn't expecting the Sabres to be contenders this season. The GM has openly stated that he'd like to have a faster team. He said there were offers on the table for defensemen who could help him win more games right now, but at the expense of quality prospects and/or draft picks.

If the boss isn't in win now mode, he isn't firing the coach for not winning now.

One of the biggest criticisms of Bylsma is that the Sabres don't attack enough. Those folks need to explain with a straight face how you can have a great forecheck with one of the slowest teams in the league.

Murray has been known to take some chances, and Sabres fans for the most part really like that about him. But the jury is still out on some of his moves.

While he gets a win for the Ryan O'Reilly trade, he gave up a first-round pick for Robin Lehner with the hope the young goalie will come of age. He gambled that Hudson Fasching will turn into a top-six forward and was willing to give up talented defenseman Brayden McNabb and two second-round picks to find out. Evander Kane, with 48 points and a minus-23 in 89 games as a Sabre, is a high risk / high reward player who hasn't been consistent enough to permanently lock into a top-6 forward role.

Depth is a problem. It was a fallacy to think having Eichel back from a high ankle sprain, and "slotting players" down to their proper spots, would make this a playoff team. In an era of the NHL where most good teams have at least three really good lines, you can't fix an inadequate roster by hiding guys in lesser roles anymore.

Buffalo is in the midst of a crucial stretch of games against teams they need to catch in the Eastern Conference standings, and they've lost five of six. They've been outshot and outchanced consistently. Eichel bailed them out Tuesday with a highlight reel goal in Detroit which gave the Sabres enough cushion to withstand a predictable third period collapse, but he can't do it every night.

The Sabres are in the same spot with Eichel as they were without him during his injury -- last place. If Murray really thought this flawed group had a strong chance to make the playoffs, he would have made a move by now. 

How much more patience will Sabres fans have before fingers start getting pointed at the GM's office? I'd say at least until Thanksgiving. In the meantime, what we have here is a young roster being tied down by some underperforming veterans. It's collectively a slow group, with a defense that the man in charge of roster construction won't risk mortgaging the future to fix. And their best player was out for two months.

There isn't a coaching system in the world that can overcome all of that.


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Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink
  Tags: buffalo+sabres, dan+bylsma, tim+murray


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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]

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