NHL Notes: Sabres hope to hire head coach by early next week

NHL Notes: Sabres hope to hire head coach by early next week

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the Stanley Cup Final out of the way, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has resumed the team's coaching search with the expectation to make a decision by early next week.

In a text sent to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Botterill declined to reveal which candidates from the Cup finalists he still intends to interview after Pittsburgh beat Nashville to win the championship in Game 6 on Sunday. When asked specifically about his interest in Pittsburgh's Rick Tocchet and Nashville's Phil Housley, Botterill would only say: "I have respect for both of the coaches mentioned."

The newly hired GM has already interviewed numerous candidates, including Washington assistant Todd Reirden. Botterill, however, was forced to place the search on hold because NHL rules prevented him from interviewing assistant coaches on teams still competing in the playoffs.

Botterill was hired last month after the Sabres fired both GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma in April.

Botterill has an immediate connection to Tocchet. Botterill spent the previous 10 years working his way up the Penguins' ranks to eventually become the team's assistant GM (see full story).

Sabres: Ullmark signs 2-year extension
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goalie Linus Ullmark to a two-year, $1.5 million contract extension.

Ullmark completed the final year of his rookie contract and was eligible to become a restricted free agent next month. Though spending much of the past two seasons being groomed in the minors, Ullmark has an 8-11-2 record in 21 NHL career games.

Last year, he went 26-27-2 in 55 games with AHL Rochester. Selected by Buffalo in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Ullmark spent the next two seasons playing in his native Sweden.

The Sabres have until Sunday to determine whether to protect Ullmark or returning starter Robin Lehner when submitting their list of players eligible to be selected by Vegas in the NHL expansion draft next week.

Predators: Yannick Weber signs 1-year deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have signed defenseman Yannick Weber to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

Webber played a career-high 73 games this season and had one goal and eight points.

The 28-year-old Weber has 23 goals and 55 assists in 347 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks as well as Nashville. He also has 33 goals and 62 assists in 155 career AHL games with Hamilton and Utica. Weber is 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds.

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).