Blake’s Takes: Botterill Out in Buffalo

Last week was a busy one in the NHL. The Sabres fired their GM, the AHL made a major announcement, and the NHL took another step forward with social justice. I’ll dive into all of those topics in addition to a few other  tidbits. Let me know what you think in the comments.

1. Sabres Fire GM Botterill

[Photo Credit: Buffalo Sabres via Twitter]
The Sabres are moving in a new direction. Last Tuesday, they fired general manager Jason Botterill. In almost three seasons with Buffalo, the Sabres were 88-115-30 with Botterill at the helm. They never once qualified for the playoffs.

According to this article on ESPN.com, Sabres’ ownership had publicly supported Botterill just a few weeks ago, saying,

“He’s our GM. Our plan is to continue with him,” team president and co-owner Kim Pegula told the Associated Press in May. “I realize maybe it’s not popular with the fans, but we have to do the things that we feel are right. We have a little bit more information than maybe a fan does, some inner workings that we see some positives in.”

The Pegula’s must have had a change of heart between then and now. Kevyn Adams, who is currently the VP of business administration in Buffalo, will take Botterill’s place.

Not only was Botterill fired, but the team also cut bait with both of their assistant GMs, Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley. They also fired more than half of their scouting department.

Something had to change for Buffalo. It’s not like they weren’t acquiring good players. Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, and Ryan O’Reilly all suited up for the Sabres under Botterill’s tenure.  O’Reilly was famously traded to St. Louis and helped them win last year’s Stanley Cup. There’s no excuse to be as bad as they have with the amount of talent that has come through the organization.

And it’s not going to get any easier for Buffalo. They’re in a division with two behemoths, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. The Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs could flip the switch at any moment. All four of those teams are on the up and up. Montreal is a solid team, too. There doesn’t seem to be an avenue to compete for Buffalo. That being said, it will be interesting to see what the Sabres can do with a competent GM at the helm.

2. AHL Announces Return to Play Task Force

Finally, some news on the AHL front. Last week, the AHL issued this statement regarding their status for returning to the ice.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League announced today the formation of a Return to Play task force, established for the purpose of providing expert leadership and strategic direction to the AHL in planning for the league’s return to play in the 2020-21 season.

The task force will consist of multiple NHL general managers and AHL decision-makers. You can find that list below:

This isn’t the biggest news, as I don’t think anyone doubted the AHL’s return. Still, the AHL is an integral part of the NHL’s ecosystem and is vital for the development of young players. It’s important that smart people are in charge to ensure that the AHL is in lockstep with the NHL in providing a pathway to return to the ice safely and efficiently.

This important nugget was included in the AHL’s statement:

“The Return to Play task force will not have any operational or management responsibility for executing the AHL’s return to play, but rather will provide strategic leadership to the league in developing or identifying opportunities for a return-to-play process that can gain widespread support in both the AHL and the National Hockey League.”

Basically, if something goes wrong, don’t blame the people listed above.

3. The NHL Acknowledges Juneteenth

The NHL continues to learn from its mistakes in the social justice department. Last week they issues a statement regarding the holiday of “Juneteenth.” It is below:

With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to make waves in the news, many organizations have been pushed (thankfully) to look inward and make meaningful contributions to social justice. This statement regarding Juneteenth doesn’t do much, but it does bring much-needed awareness to the holiday.

The NHL has a commitment to being progressive and educating its stakeholders and viewers. Posting this message about the little-known holiday of Juneteenth is a good step towards making meaningful contributions towards enriching black lives. Since the murder of George Floyd, the NHL has done a good job of trying to amend for the mistakes made by members of their community, such as former NHL coach Bill Peters. While those mistakes cannot be changed, the league has proven they are committed to taking a more active approach to social justice.

4. Lightning Players Test Positive for COVID-19

As most of you SHOULD know, were are still right in the thick of the Coronavirus. With the move into Phase 2 of the Return to Play plan, players have begun working out in small groups at their team’s facility. That didn’t prevent some Tampa Bay Lightning Players from contracting the virus.

According to Bob McKenzie, three players and two staff members have tested positive. Because of the positive tests, the facility has shut down and will re-open if no additional players or staff test positive.

Florida has seen a resurgence in the virus, most likely because they opened public areas before they should have. If the Lightning, and other teams for that matter, can’t get the virus under control within their organization, it could jeopardize how quickly the league can return to play.

It’s not up to me to tell the players and staff of each team how they should live their lives. But, it would be nice to see all local and state governments on the same page to prevent the spread of the virus. Hopefully, for the sake of the NHL season, everyone affiliated with the NHL can take proper precautions and stay healthy.

5. Seattle Nickname Announcement Delayed

According to a report published by NHL.com, the Seattle expansion team will not have a nickname until the fall. Seattle’s CEO Tod Leiweke said the following to the Seattle Times on Tuesday,

“The NHL Seattle expansion team’s plan to announce its nickname has been put off until at least the fall because of trademarking issues, local protests on racial injustice and policing, and the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Tod Leiweke told The Seattle Times on Tuesday.”

The trademark part in that quote intrigues me. I asked myself why it takes so long to trademark a name and some images. But, Leiweke also said the franchise has trademarked multiple names, just in case.

I do agree that with everything going on with social justice right now, it’s not appropriate for the Seattle franchise to shift their focus to its name. Especially while there is much work to be done in the community.

I’ve said this many times, but I’m praying that the new franchise doesn’t screw up this name. If it’s the Metropolitans or something bland like that I’m going to lose it. The Golden Knights blew their opportunity to do something awesome with their name. I’m hoping Seattle pays homage to the city while also doing something fresh and unique.

On the flip side, if they do screw it up, I’ll have a hot takes about it!

Stay safe, everyone. 

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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