As another Buffalo Sabres season slips away, amid criticism about his head coach, star free agent signing, goaltending situation, and lamenting over the team's general asset-botching over the years, general manager Kevyn Adams had to say it.
"No, he has not asked for a trade. Jack (Eichel) is someone that I've bounced things off of. He's talked to me and we have an open dialogue."
Adams has been on the job for less than a year.
Yes, in case you hadn't heard, it's that kind of season again in Buffalo and still getting worse.
Step back two weeks and much of what Adams said sounded an awful lot like Flames GM Brad Treliving.
Need to play with more grit, in the hard areas of the ice? Check.
Need to find an "identity"? Check.
"Not good enough"? You better believe that's a check.
The Flames fired their coach 13 days after Treliving went on Sportsnet 960 and had a similar, frustrated message about his team. In Ralph Krueger's second season with the Sabres, the heat is turning up as doubt sets in that he'll be able to squeeze more out of his group.
"Part of the evaluation...is to look at everything big picture, small picture, and everything in between," Adams said. "I need to do what's best for the team right now and also in the long term. So I look at those type of things on a daily basis. I have conversations and what's interesting about this team -- and it just flat out hasn't been good enough -- but there's good people in there and they communicate well with the coaches. The players enjoy playing for Ralph and the coaching staff. There's a belief in that locker room. But it hasn't worked and it needs to."
"Everything's being evaluated. Ralph and I talk every day. Multiple times a day. He understands the situation we're in is unacceptable."
Krueger has already made $9-million-winger Jeff Skinner a multi-game healthy scratch, had inaccurate messaging about Eichel's injury, and suggested Rasmus Ristolainen -- his most-used player -- maybe had a bad game because of lingering COVID affect.
The Sabres have shown no improvement over last season and have the worst 5-on-5 offence in the league.
But firing the coach comes with its own pitfalls. The Sabres have had five coaches in the eight years since Lindy Ruff was dismissed following his 16-year tenure. Changing the messaging again would be problematic, and is a vicious cycle many troubled organizations repeat. Is the next candidate available, affordable and assured enough that they won't also find themselves in this same position a year or two from now?
"Continuity is something that you hope can happen," Adams said. "Ultimately how does continuation happen? It happens with success. We need to have success."
So the coach's seat is hot, but a move there alone wouldn't fix Buffalo. They need a goalie to replace injured Linus Ullmark, and they need to start exploring trades for their pending UFAs -- yes, even Taylor Hall, who said he was "open" to staying with the Sabres. And even more than that, anyone else beside Rasmus Ristolainen, the top prospects and Eichel (heck, maybe him, too, one day soon) should be negotiable.
The deadline to trade is April 12, but because of the extra layers involved in moving between divisions this year, the Sabres and other teams around the league are exploring wider options, earlier.
"It's an interesting time right now," Adams said. "I'm on the phone every day with all the different teams in the league and everybody's having conversations. What's interesting is with all the protocols and quarantine it's going to be a challenging year, so I think you're seeing more conversations happening even though the deadline is still over a month away. And I'm having those."
Truth is, this season is already a write-off for the Sabres. Twelve points out of a playoff spot and 29th in the league by points percentage, they're nestled in a very familiar spot at the bottom of the league, where another shiny new prospect awaits.
But it won't matter if that player walks into this same malaise. Adams was frustrated, unhappy and primed to do...something. Will it be a trade, a coach swap, both?
Something's about to give.