Philadelphia Flyers

Sabres clean house by firing GM Tim Murray, coach Dan Bylsma

Sabres clean house by firing GM Tim Murray, coach Dan Bylsma

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- General manager Tim Murray ran out of time to rebuild the Buffalo Sabres into a contender. The team will need a new head coach, too.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula cleaned house by firing Murray and coach Dan Bylsma on Thursday amid questions over player accountability during a season in which Buffalo extended its franchise-worst playoff drought to a sixth year. Pegula reached the decision after spending the past two days holding season-ending meetings with Murray, and some 10 days after Buffalo closed its season by finishing last in the Atlantic Division.

"We want to thank Tim and Dan for their hard work and efforts that they have put in during their tenures with the club," Pegula said in a statement released by the team. "We wish them luck. We have begun the process to fill these positions immediately."

Murray completed his third full season as GM, and was responsible for overseeing a top-to-bottom overhaul that began under his predecessor Darcy Regier, who was fired in November 2012. Bylsma completed his second season. Both had three years left on their respective contracts.

Murray hinted last week his future in Buffalo, and that of Bylsma, was uncertain. Though he backed Bylsma in returning for a third season, Murray cautioned the decision was ultimately Pegula's.

It's the latest change for the Sabres, who are no searching for their fourth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013.

And it's yet another shake up for Buffalo's two Pegula-owned sports teams. With Sean McDermott taking over for the fired Rex Ryan at the end of last season, the NFL's Bills are on their third coach since Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the franchise in October 2014.

The other things the two teams have in common are losing and missing the playoffs. The Bills' 17-season postseason drought is the longest active streak among North America's four major leagues.

Pegula's frustrations in the Sabres go even deeper after he vowed to build the team into a winner upon purchasing the franchise in February 2011.

"Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup," Pegula said at the time.

The Sabres were supposed to be on an upward trajectory after the team bottomed out by finishing last in the NHL in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Buffalo landed the No. 2 picks in each of the following drafts and used them to select forwards Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.

Murray also retrofit the roster by purging high-priced talent and rebuilding through youth. The additions included trading for forwards Evander Kane (from Winnipeg) and Ryan O'Reilly (from Colorado) and goalie Robin Lehner (from Ottawa), and signing Kyle Okposo to a seven-year contract in free agency last season.

The acquisitions failed to deliver, and Murray was second-guessed for paying too steep of a price in giving up first-round draft picks to acquire both Kane and Lehner.

After finishing 35-36-11 last season, the Sabres took a step back this past year and went 33-37-1. Injuries played a role in this season's collapse, with Eichel missing the first 21 games because of a sprained left ankle.

The Sabres, however, were relatively healthy in mid-February when a 2-8-2 skid knocked them out of contention. The stretch included the team blowing three third-period leads over a five-game stretch.

Bylsma is out of a job for the second time in three years. He was part of a front-office purge in Pittsburgh in the spring of 2014, when the Penguins also fired GM Ray Shero. Bylsma is most noted for taking over the Penguins in February 2009 and leading them to win the Stanley Cup four months later.

Murray had earlier accepted the blame for the team's struggles, but noted it had to be shared with the coaching staff and players. Murray said Bylsma needed to be more demanding of his players, and noted players needed to be more accountable.

"It needs fixing," Murray said. "We have to make more demands. So I have to make more demands of Dan. Dan has to make more demands of players. And I personally have to make more demands of myself."

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Gunn's bullet points: Run game comes alive and a kicker saves the day

Five bullet points from the Eagles' 27-24 win over the Giants in their home opener (see breakdown).

• The smallest guy on the field was the biggest hero Sunday. Jake Elliott's 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game saved what could have been a disaster. Wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "We didn't even know he could kick it that far." Other players admitted they had hardly spoken to Elliott in the two weeks he's been here, but they would definitely go out of their way to exchange words with him in the future.

• Thirty-nine (39?!?!) rushing attempts in one game! The Birds had a grand total of 41 attempts in the first two games. The Giants came into this affair allowing 133.5 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles busted them up for 193. Wendell Smallwood told me, "We just knew where the holes would be after watching them on tape." Lane Johnson added, "We did a great job of mixing up our runs inside, outside, mix directions and delay runs."

• The Giants' trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard combined for 24 catches, 278 yards and three touchdowns. They killed the Eagles on slant routes. Considering how depleted the Eagles' secondary was, Jalen Mills said they wanted to keep everything in front of them. When I asked cornerback Patrick Robinson why they played Beckham so much in single coverage, he responded, "We didn't think he was that healthy, but in the second half, we found out otherwise."

• As if the Birds' defense wasn't banged up enough going into this game, they lost Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks along the way. Safety Rodney McLeod, who was a scratch for this game, told me he will be ready for Philip Rivers and the Chargers next week.

• Numerous players said they were proud of the way the team came together in unity in response to President Trump's comments. Alshon Jeffery told me, "It doesn't make a difference if you're black or white, we are all in this together."

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot in which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise

Defensemen (8)
Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim

Goalies (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)