As the Buffalo Sabres approach the end of a turbulent season, thoughts turn to Dan Bylsma and whether or not he will remain as coach.
Yes, the Sabres have a chance to finish with more points than last season, if they win their remaining two games. But we’re pretty sure one extra point is not want they were aiming for, in terms of improving on the 2015-16 campaign.
In general, this has been an extremely frustrating season for the Sabres and their fans. With the early barrage of injuries, the controversy surrounding Sam Reinhart‘s benching and the recent shocking developments regarding Kyle Okposo, little has gone right.
(Obviously, we wish Okposo and his family all the best. Forget playing hockey again – we just hope he can recover and go on to lead a healthy life.)
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However, arguably the main reason the Sabres have been unable to take the next step, comes down to internal issues. Speculation has become increasingly rife, about a major rift in the locker room.
More specifically, the belief is the younger players, including Jack Eichel and Reinhart, are unhappy with Dan Bylsma and the system he deploys. Meanwhile the veteran players, led by captain Brian Gionta, are allegedly siding with the coach.
This would certainly explain the overall production this season, even though it should be pointed out this apparent rift has not been confirmed. While the injuries haven’t helped, there is no denying the assembled talent has underperformed.
So, has Bylsma lost control of the locker room? Certainly, he has frustrated a lot of fans this season, although this is likely partly due to yet another season without playoff hockey.
Further, does Eichel have a right to be going against the wishes of the 46-year old? As always, perspective plays a significant part in answering this question.
Statistically speaking, the young superstar has been fantastic, having already surpassed his points total for last season, in 22 fewer games. However, is this as a result of, or despite Bylsma’s system? (With his undoubted talent also playing a part.)
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No matter your viewpoint, it is clear the Sabres’ form has dipped since late February, with them going 7-11-2. For the sake of comparison, they finished last season on a 10-5-4 run.
Bylsma was interviewed earlier this week on WGR550, and made reference to the injuries to Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane earlier this season. His belief is that if all three players had been healthy, the Sabres would have been right in the playoff mix.
However, it should be noted the trio has been in the lineup during the recent poor run of form by the team. In that respect, the optics don’t look good for the Sabres’ coach.
So, what does the future hold for Bylsma, who has three seasons remaining on his five-year deal? Regardless of the fact he had the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing for him, he still has a Stanley Cup on his coaching resume, which theoretically must count for something.
Further, if Crosby and Malkin were able to show their coach his due respect, why can’t Eichel and Reinhart? Is it down to youthful petualance, or just the fact winning makes compliance that much easier?
Part of the answer may well come down to the former player’s relationship with general manager Tim Murray, which is believed to be good. Speaking to Howard and Jeremy, Bylsma said:
"“Tim and I talk and communicate throughout the days and weeks. We’ve talked about the future going forward, we’ve talked about our team, we’ve talked about our players. That’s where it stands and that’s where I’m at with that.”"
Overall, again taking into account everything which has transpired this season, you can make a justified argument that Bylsma deserves at least one more season to turn the Sabres around. However, if Murray does decide to part company with him, it will give a clear indication of how deep the turmoil is in the locker room.
What’s your take on Bylsma and the coaching job he’s done with the Sabres? Does he deserve at least another season in Buffalo, or should the franchise bring in someone new? Share your thoughts in the comments section.