Sabres GM Murray says players need to be more accountable

By JOHN WAWROW, AP Hockey Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Tim Murray says he can’t be alone in taking full responsibility for the Buffalo Sabres’ disappointing season that ended with the team extending its franchise-record playoff drought to six years.
The Sabres general manager on Wednesday said coach Dan Bylsma needs to be more demanding of his team. He also singled out players by saying they need to be more accountable in sharing the blame for the Sabres failing to play to preseason playoff-contending expectations .
“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.”
As for the players, Murray questioned their focus during a season-turning 1-5-2 skid after the team’s bye break in mid-February, essentially knocking Buffalo out of contention. The stretch began with consecutive losses at Colorado and Arizona, two teams that finished in the bottom three of the overall standings.
“Where’s the accountability among the players when we come out of the break and we can’t beat Colorado and Arizona when we have a sniff at a playoff spot?” Murray said.
“I can’t blame the coaches 100 percent for that. I’d like to, but I can’t take 100 percent of the blame for that,” he said. “I’ll take blame for a lot of stuff, but sometimes the players have to take a little bit of the blame, too.”
Murray spoke during a wide-ranging half-hour news conference held three days after the Sabres closed the season by finishing last in the Atlantic Division, 15th in Eastern Conference and 26th overall. With a 33-37-12 record, Buffalo finished with two fewer wins and three fewer points than the previous season.
That’s a considerable disappointment for a team that was supposed to be on the upswing two years after concluding a major overhaul in a bid to rebuild through youth.
Several Sabres acknowledged over the past week that accountability and maturity were issues this season.
“I think it was everyone this year not really seeing their roles,” goalie Robin Lehner said. “We’ve all got to buy into those roles.”
Murray backed Bylsma to keep his job and return for a third season. Murray, however, noted the decision on whether he and Bylsma return is ultimately up to team owner Terry Pegula. Murray said that won’t be decided until he holds a season-ending meeting with Pegula next week.
One concern he expressed about Bylsma and his staff is to spend less time poring over video and more time communicating with players.
“It’s about coaching individuals a little more and coaching system a little less,” Murray said. “I believe that’s the right way.”
Murray said injuries contributed to Buffalo’s struggles, particularly at the start of the season.
Top forward Jack Eichel had a team-leading 57 points despite missing the first 21 games after spraining an ankle in practice a day before the season opener. Forward Evander Kane scored a team-high 28 goals despite missing 11 games after breaking his ribs in the season opener.
And defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, one of Buffalo’s top offseason additions, was limited to playing just 47 games because of an injury to his tailbone sustained in the preseason.
On other topics:
— Murray said his top offseason priority is adding a puck-moving defenseman.
— Citing privacy issues, he had no update on the status of forward Kyle Okposo, who missed the final six games and was hospitalized because of an undisclosed illness.
— Murray said he’s interested in re-signing pending free agent, captain Brian Gionta, but only on certain conditions. Murray said he’s open to signing the 38-year-old to a one-year contract.
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