‘Disconnect’ with players has Dan Bylsma’s future with Sabres in doubt

Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News joined Elliotte Friedman to talk about a column he wrote about the Sabres potentially “tanking” on their coach, Dan Bylsma.

The Buffalo Sabres have disappointed this year — the team currently sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference — but what does that mean for coach Dan Bylsma’s future?

According to Buffalo News writer Mike Harrington, who joined Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Prime Time Sports on Tuesday, Bylsma would likely be on his way out if it were up to some of the players.

“There’s no question, Elliotte, that there is a disconnect between Dan Byslma and some of these players,” Harrington said. “There’s no question that some of these players probably want a different coach next year.”

In Harrington’s view, it has become clear this season that at least some portion of the Sabres roster is unhappy with Bylsma’s systems.

“The number of times we have been told by players — on the record, after games — ‘Well, things changed because we just went out and played. We stopped thinking and worrying where we were supposed to be on the ice.’ That’s an indictment of the way Dan Bylsma has them playing. They want to go play free.”

Included among the group of players unhappy with Bylsma, said Harrington, is young star Jack Eichel.

“He’s playing in spite of the coach,” Harrington said. “He has been nothing short of brilliant for the last couple of months.”

But if there’s discord in Buffalo, should the players have a voice in whether Bylsma, who is two years into a five-year contract, stays or goes? Harrington doesn’t think so. His reason is simple: “The players haven’t earned anything yet.”

“The players should not have the right to decide whether Dan Bylsma coaches this team next year,” he said.

While Harrington acknowledged that superstars in sports do get a say in who coaches their team — citing LeBron James’s involvement in the dismissal of David Blatt last year and Sidney Crosby’s involvement in Bylsma’s firing in Pittsburgh as examples — Buffalo is different.

“These players and this club do not have the right to play general manager with their lack of accomplishment to this point,” Harrington said. “They’re still in rebuilding mode. My attitude is mostly they should shut up and play.”

The danger in letting the players have a say in Bylsma’s future, said Harrington, is partly in the negative effect it could have on Buffalo’s young players, including Eichel, who could end up being labelled as a “coach-killer.”

Just whether the players will get their way and find themselves with a new bench boss next year remains to be seen. It’s entirely likely that Bylsma gets one more go of it, but if he does, he’ll face even more pressure than he does right now.

“I think Bylsma stays,” Harrington said. “But I think the pressure’s on him, and I think if we get to Thanksgiving next year and they’re still struggling along, languishing at the bottom of the East, not looking like a playoff team, then I think they see what’s out there and they make a move.”

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