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."

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Team Canada names Sean Burke GM for 2018 Olympics
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres re-sign goalie Lehner to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils re-sign 3 restricted free agents
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.