The Buffalo Sabres have been without a General Manager for nearly a week now, and owner Kim Pegula told John Vogl of the Buffalo News that they have already “put a lot of work” into the search for a replacement. The team has started holding interviews according to John Shannon of Sportsnet, though he has been told that they’ve not yet asked permission to speak with Dean Lombardi. The Sabres would need to get the Los Angeles Kings’ permission, because of the way firings work in the NHL.
“Relieved of their duties” is the term teams use when coaches and executives are still under contract—which Lombardi was—are fired, retaining their rights around the league. It’s why often teams like Columbus and Edmonton had to give up draft pick compensation even though John Tortorella and Peter Chiarelli had both been fired by their teams. While the compensation aspect was eliminated last year, the fact that you still need to ask for permission to speak with them remains. It would be unlikely that the Kings would deny the Sabres access to Lombardi, but perhaps it signals that he isn’t on their list.
Instead, Craig Custance of ESPN and Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet made an interesting connection to Arizona’s John Chayka, who does have ties to the Niagara area after going to school at Brock University in Saint Catharines, Ontario. The Canadian college town sits about 35 minutes away from Buffalo, and is still the home of Stathletes, the advanced analytics company that Chayka founded before being plucked away by the Coyotes. The Pegulas claimed that they wanted experience in the role, and even though he’s just 27 Chayka now has a full year operating in the league.
Friedman also lists Julien BriseBois (Lightning), Chris Drury (Rangers) and Mark Hunter (Maple Leafs) as possibilities, while several other names have been floated in various reports. Our own poll here on PHR ended with Lombardi as the overwhelming favorite for the job, with former Sabres’ President of Hockey Ops Pat LaFontaine as the runner up.
It will be interesting to follow over the next week or so who Buffalo eventually installs in the position, and if he will get to pick in the top-3 during his first entry draft. On Saturday, the Draft Lottery will be held to determine the order of selections, with Buffalo holding a 7.6% chance at the top selection. Even if they were to secure another top-five pick like they have in the past, another excellent player would be added to a young stable that still has the potential to grow into a contender.