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Let's rewind Kevyn Adams' actual timeline
The Sabres general manager looks a lot better and more sympathetic now
Think back with me if you will to June 2020.
We were a few months into the beginning of the pandemic and life was generally overall terrible for everyone. Aside from the threat of acquiring COVID-19 without even trying, jobs were being cut everywhere and the Buffalo Sabres were out front of that, embarrassingly so more often than not. What got the most attention was how the Pegulas fired GM Jason Botterill, his staff, and the majority of scouts as they prepared for the NHL Draft that was in the weeks to come.
Kevyn Adams, who’d been an executive vice president of business operations, was hired as general manager and was tasked with firing the scouts and development coaches as his first duty. From figuring out how to rebuild the Sabres to acquiring new scouting heads, and searching for a new coaching staff for Rochester it was a long laundry list to complete for a guy who had never been a GM in the NHL.
Which brings us to the Jack Eichel trade. It’ll be the trade Adams will be forever known for and how it ultimately turns out will weigh heavily on how he’s perceived. However, during Eichel’s post-trade media blitz on Thursday we learned from his interview with Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet he essentially asked for a trade following the 2020 season after meeting with team.
“I was hearing a lot of things that we were going to try and do a rebuild. So I went to the team and just said I wasn’t really happy with the idea of that and if that’s the route they wanted to take, that maybe it’d be better to move me and use me as a jump-start and get some picks, prospects — whatever you want to say — and start your rebuild if that’s the case. And obviously that didn’t go over well. I’m a competitor, I want to win, and we obviously haven’t won. Like I said this is a business and it’s been pretty apparent to me for the past eight months and I looked at that as a decision that I was making because I thought was the best business decision for me as a hockey player and that obviously didn’t go over well.”
With that in mind now, thinking about the rumors of the New York Rangers calling about his availability shortly after Adams was hired and Adams pushed that talk aside saying he gets calls on players all the time and it’s his job to listen. He also said he wasn’t shopping Eichel either. It’s classic GM speak that sort of informs and sort of deflects but that’s how to play the game.
Not long after that the Sabres signed Taylor Hall perhaps as a last-ditch effort to sway Eichel’s feelings about moving on. In case you forgot, the Sabres season went horrendously, Eichel got injured, and Hall was eventually moved to Boston.
I try to be empathetic at all times and I had tremendous empathy for what was thrown on Adams’ shoulders when he was hired as well as for the grief he and the team got for hiring him in the first place. After all, he’s just a guy trying to do a job - it just happens to be extremely high profile and with a team that hasn’t seen the playoffs in over a decade. None of that is easy and life isn’t easy so that’s enough to stress out even the most experienced GMs.
But for over a year Adams kept his cool. He never divulged that Eichel wanted out and prevented what would’ve been a massive firestorm of attention. Consider that the Sabres missed making the Bubble Playoffs by two points and now they were going to tear things down and try to fix things from the ground up. Having Eichel trade speculation being an everyday thing from the moment it’s known he wants out would’ve made things so much more difficult that offseason. That they tried to still find a way to impress him is almost cute. That he wound up having a serious neck injury in the season to follow is incredibly devastating for everyone because it turned into this entire sad ending.
Should things not turn out well down the road because of this trade, hindsight is going to point towards Adams for not doing a deal right away in 2020 and that will be unfair given everything he had to sort through both behind the scenes and what he had to do to keep the outward face of things appear solid. It was a mountainous number of tasks he was appointed to resolve and doing that while keeping cool and perhaps even doing really well on a trade you’re bound to lose I have to give a big nod to Adams for doing it and not cracking under the pressure.
I was, and always am, skeptical of hires made by ownership (fool me once, shame on me; fool me two and three more times, I stop being nice) but Adams handled this like a seasoned executive and if nothing else he was able to keep the situation calm when it very much was not. That’s worthy of praise. Now he just has to put a team together that can win consistently and get to the postseason. No biggie.