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: Sabres' Kyle Okposo in hospital having tests to determine illness

NHL Notes: Sabres' Kyle Okposo in hospital having tests to determine illness

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Matt Moulson wants hospitalized Buffalo Sabres teammate Kyle Okposo to know he has the team's support.

"You're family here," Moulson said after the Sabres closed their home schedule with a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. "And no matter what type of injury or what you have, you always feel for them and their family and giving them support."

Okposo has spent the past three days in a Buffalo hospital undergoing a battery of tests to determine an undisclosed illness that has sidelined him for more than a week.

A person with direct knowledge of Okposo's status confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that the player is in the neuro surgical intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres have not revealed Okposo has been hospitalized (see full story).

Penguins: Letang to have neck surgery, out for playoffs
PITTSBURGH -- Kris Letang's goal in Game 6 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final clinched a fourth championship for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The talented but star-crossed defenseman will have a far different view as the Penguins try to defend their title when the playoffs start next week.

The three-time All-Star will undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck and is out 4 to 6 months, rendering him a spectator as Pittsburgh tries to become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Cups.

"Right now it's pretty hard to swallow," Letang said Wednesday (see full story).

Coyotes: Injury frustrates Doan in twilight of career
Shane Doan kept shaking his head and using the F-word.

"Really, really frustrating," he said. "It's really frustrating."

Doan had just come off the ice after an hour-long workout to stay in shape. The Arizona Coyotes' captain has now missed eight of the past 10 games with a lower-body injury, an absence made worse by the potential end of his NHL career approaching.

The 40-year-old is mulling retirement after 20 seasons and doesn't want to limp to the finish line (see full story).

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing defeat caps frustrating week

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing defeat caps frustrating week

This past week of Flyers hockey was one to remember … for all the wrong reasons.

It was a crushing week of defeats that officially put the Flyers' playoff hopes and dreams on life support.

The week actually started off well with a 6-3 win Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres. But things went downhill from there with a painful 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Thursday in Toronto and Saturday afternoon's brutal 2-1 defeat to the Bruins in Boston.

Let's take a look back at the week that was for the Flyers.

• We have to start with Saturday's unbelievable loss in Boston. Goodness, gracious, what a way to lose such an important game. You have to feel for Brandon Manning, who was just trying to do his job and block a shot for his goalie. It's just instinct to do that. But it was such a harmless shot that Steve Mason would have handled easily. Easier said than done, but Manning just has to let that go. But the fact is, with the way the Bruins brought pressure in the third period and the way the Flyers sagged in the final stanza after a strong second frame, the Flyers were fortunate to even be in a position to get a point with 5.6 seconds left in regulation. Boston outshot the Flyers by a 12-4 margin in the third and had quality chance after quality chance while the Flyers struggled to get anything toward Tuukka Rask's net. It was a heartbreaking loss eerily similar to the one the Flyers suffered on a March Saturday afternoon in Boston in 2015 that all but closed the book on the Flyers' playoff chances that season. But at least the Flyers went to overtime and got a point in that 2015 game. With the Islanders' loss to the Blues on Saturday, the Flyers were 5.6 seconds away from having a chance to be within four points of the wild-card leading Leafs. A huge swing in the standings hinged on 5.6 seconds. Ouch.

• Let's chat about that no-goal call that went against the Flyers on Saturday in Boston. Jake Voracek broke in and was stoned by Rask, but Voracek slung the rebound toward the net. The puck was clearly loose next to Rask's pad and Brayden Schenn looked to have poked the puck across the goal line to open the scoring. But, after deliberation and review, the officials ruled the play dead and no-goal. How was that play dead? The puck was clearly loose on the replay and the whistle never blew. The Flyers got a raw deal on what should have been a goal. Was it the "intent to blow the whistle" call that we've heard numerous times before and is one of the most illogical rules in the league? We all intend to do a lot of things. Doesn’t mean all those things get done.

• Curious decision by Dave Hakstol to go with Michal Neuvirth in net over the streaking Mason for Thursday's important game in Toronto. In his four straight starts going into Thursday, Mason was 3-0-1 with a 1.50 goals-against average and a shutout. Hakstol reasoned his decision by saying the tight scheduled called for Neuvirth to start and that Mason's poor career numbers against the Leafs played a role. I get those facts. But when your season is basically on the line, that stuff has got to get thrown out the window and you have to go with the guy who gives you the best chance to win. With the way Mason was playing heading into the game, he was likely the guy who would have gave the Flyers the best chance to win. It's not like Mason hasn't played a bunch of games in a row before. Remember the end of last season when he lifted the Flyers toward a playoff berth? Thursday turned out to be a rough night for Neuvirth and the Flyers in another blown chance to move up the standings. A curious move by a coach who has been known to ride the hot hand in net.

• If there's one positive to come out of this tough week for the Flyers, it's the continued strong play of Jordan Weal. He was great in Buffalo on Tuesday with a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game. He added another tally Saturday in Boston for the Flyers' lone goal of the afternoon. The puck just seems to find him and he's not afraid to fire away. The thing you have to like most about Weal, though, is where his three goals on the year have come from -- the tough areas in front of the net. He's not afraid to take his 5-foot-10 frame near the crease and go to work in the dirty areas. Players typically get rewarded when they're willing to do that.

• Want a big reason why the Flyers' road trip went downhill? Ugly week for the Flyers' PK. They gave up two-power play goals to the Sabres on Tuesday that tied the game each time. Then they gave up two more to the Leafs, including an absolute backbreaker to Mitch Marner late in the third period that made the score 3-1 in favor of Toronto. And then there was David Pastrnak's opening tally on Saturday in Beantown. Sean Couturier was in position on Pastrnak, but couldn't locate the puck.

• Another week, another questionable offside review. This one came on Weal's goal on Saturday as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy challenged that Wayne Simmonds entered the zone ahead of the puck. After a delay of several minutes, the good goal eventually stood. Why are these offside reviews taking so long? Offside should be a cut-and-dry rule. A guy is either onside or offside. At the GM meetings this past week in Florida, the GMs voted to keep the offside challenge the way it is. Why is the league insisting on creating such an unnecessary gray area for something that shouldn’t be so complicated?

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Columbus (7 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday at New Jersey (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday vs. Carolina (7:30 p.m./CSN).