Buffalo Sabres: Why They Must Hire a General Manager Soon

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 30:  Mark Pysyk #3 of the Buffalo Sabres tries to keep the puck from Steve Bernier #18 of the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on November 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres' general manager search began a little over a month ago with the hiring of Vice President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine and the relatively unceremonious firing of Darcy Regier. 

LaFontaine said that he was not cut out to be the new GM and that a formal search for one would begin within days, which is exactly what happened. 

There were murmurs around the internet of LaFontaine being granted permission to speak with a number of assistant GMs around the league, including Jason Botterill (Pittsburgh), Jim Benning (Boston), and Tim Murray (Ottawa).

Other names that have been thrown around include Neil Smith, the former New York Rangers and New York Islanders GM; Paul Fenton, an assistant GM with Nashville and Joe Nieuwendyk, the former Dallas Stars GM. There are certainly others that have not been talked about. 

As it stands right now, one would have to believe that while the list is getting longer, the process has likely sped up significantly considering the Calgary Flames just parted ways with their GM Jay Feaster last week. Brian Burke is not one to wait in line for a candidate, and you can be sure LaFontaine is well aware of that. 

So beyond there being competition for a potential candidate, why is there such a rush for the Sabres to find their GM?

Mark Pysyk's demotion to Rochester of the AHL is a perfect example. 

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Pysyk will be sent down to Rochester along with Brayden McNabb and Luke Adam, clearing the way for Mike Weber, Jamie McBain and Alex Sulzer all to receive more playing time. 

While Pysyk sat the other night, interim coach Ted Nolan said it was more of a "numbers thing" than it having anything to do with Pysyk's play. In fact, Pysyk has been one of the steadiest players on the blue line for the Sabres all year, which includes Ron Rolston's tenure. 

While he was not in line for the Calder Trophy, Pysyk has shown that he is almost a slam-dunk top-four defenseman, and his time spent with Christian Ehrhoff showcased arguably the team's best defensive pairing this season. 

Pysyk moves the puck extremely well, especially in the shallow defensive and neutral zones, something the Sabres have struggled with mightily this season. While not an offensive threat, his steady positioning and puck-moving abilities make him an asset to any scoring line. 

So why is he being sent down?

The answer is simply that right now, especially without a GM, the Sabres are not very interested in developing players at the NHL level. Instead, the team will hang its hat on low-end fourth-line options like John Scott, Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick before his upper body injury. 

It's not too hard to see the fact that either Ted Nolan has no interest in having young guys on the roster or that the team doesn't want him developing them to begin with. Either way it means that the writing is on the wall for Nolan when the new GM comes in.

Circling back to the need for a GM sooner rather than later, the Sabres have found themselves in a troubling middle ground with no GM, and therefore no real plan for the future. 

Not to say LaFontaine hasn't handled this well, because there is no question an extensive search needed to be conducted, but it's time that he allowed the organization to find a direction.

Each one of the GMs listed above will have a different philosophy and will need or want different players to carry it out. It's not a stretch to say that someone with a Penguins background is going to have a different outlook than someone with a Bruins background. 

Also, this is not to say that sending Pysyk down is a "bad" move.

His playing time has seen a significant downturn since Nolan arrived, mostly due to a combination of Nolan's hesitance to play the younger guys on the roster and the marked improvement in Tyler Myers' game in that time. He'll play a ton in Rochester, likely next to McNabb, and will be better for it. 

The issue with Pysyk's demotion is that it is clear that the team is putting the pieces in place for Nolan's system in the short run, and that personnel is not going to win a lot of hockey games, be it this year or five years from now.

The future of this team belongs to the guys that have been cast away in the last few weeks, not the ones that have been brought up to make the Sabres "harder to play against." That's only something you say when you're bad. 

A GM will help shore up a substantial part of this foggy future because the coach will need to adjust to their style. 

Yes, even Ted Nolan because if he ends up being a part of the long-term plan for the Sabres, which right now seems unlikely, he works for the GM and can be replaced in a blink of the eye. 

Needless to say, expect a lot of talk from various outlets concerning the Sabres' new GM in the coming days and weeks. While most of it may be due to the Flames' search, more moves like today's show that the team has absolutely no direction right now will ignite the fan base just as much. 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.


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