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LeBrun: The Jack Eichel trade a year later, and how Sabers GM Kevyn Adams is building to ‘compete every year’

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It is a fan base that deserves to enjoy hockey again.

No one involved with the Sabers is swayed by a 7-3-0 start, but at least it’s nice to see so many feel good about what’s going on in Buffalo.

The Sabers are fun to watch, they play for each other, and there’s an obvious belief in the locker room about what they do.

And to think, just two and a half years ago, when Kevyn Adams was named GM, he had to answer some pretty tough questions in his market about the direction of this team after what seemed like a lost decade for the franchise.

Adams had some of those media availabilities during the pandemic, to be sure. They were not easy. But he tried to be transparent about the way forward. For a rookie GM at the time, one thing I remember is that he didn’t sugarcoat the reality of the moment after he was hired in June 2020.

Which makes the path he took to this day that much more impressive.

“When I think back to the beginning, the most important thing, in my opinion, was to be honest,” Adams said. the athletic Thursday. “I was just telling the truth about exactly where we were and why. I talked a lot about how we needed to learn from the past, but we couldn’t live in the past. Just by understanding where we were and trying to be honest about how we have a vision, we have a plan, will we stick to the plan and not get caught up in the emotion.

“In saying that, I totally understood from the fan base the perspective of frustration. So you just had to face it head-on and do your best.”

With three straight wins, including 8-3 over Detroit and 6-3 over Pittsburgh, as the Sabers entered Friday night’s game at Carolina, it looks like a watershed moment is occurring, though one could see some hints of it in the season as well. second half of last season.

“I would have to go back a little bit to last season, and I think part of what we saw happen was there was a real, true acceptance of our locker room, on and off the ice,” Adams said. . “I could see that the culture had changed to players who really believed in the organization and believed in themselves and each other and wanted to be a part of this. And that’s what we were working for.”

Which is partly why the Sabers, while not heading to the playoffs last season, chose not to be complete sellers at the trade deadline.

“We didn’t do much at the trade deadline last year and that was helpful because we wanted to make sure we gave these guys every opportunity to continue to grow and grow together,” Adams said. “The team played very good hockey down the stretch. When I saw that happen, it gave us confidence for this year that we will continue with the plan. And, in fact, we became even younger.”

Owen Power is playing his first full season and will join the likes of JJ Peterka, Jack Quinn, Peyton Krebs and Mattias Samuelsson. According to CapFriendly, the Sabers entered the season as the youngest team in the league.

“But we believed that these were guys that would continue to develop, learn and grow,” Adams said.

The Sabers also have the most salary-cap space in the NHL right now. It’s a rare commodity these days, but the reality is that the front office has a clear vision of how that cap space will be exhausted in the coming years as the young core needs to receive new deals. The Sabers have already done so with extensions for Samuelsson and Tage Thompson. Dylan Cozens is coming off his entry-level contract after the season. Power and Rasmus Dahlin are two years away from needing new deals, but they could be extended by a year next summer if the Sabers decide to go that route.

So the Sabers are carefully planning for all that cap space.

“When you look at where we’re at as we build this, we think about it a lot from a salary-cap perspective: having a young team, where we’re going to be,” Adams said. “Part of it is knowing when you have a young group of core players who are hopefully successful and you know those dollars are going to change.”

The point is that payroll is likely to grow organically from within.

“That’s exactly right,” Adams said. “The message from the owners is: ‘We will give you all the opportunities and all the resources you need to be successful.’ We’ve tried to put together a plan to make sure we’re thinking about how we’re doing.

“We want to maintain a truly competitive team that is sustainable in the long term. … Our goal here is to build it so that we can compete every year.”

Thompson’s seven-year, $50 million extension was announced on Aug. 30, and I remember hearing some hockey people that day wonder if the Sabers were betting too aggressively.

Well, Thompson’s early results this season (seven goals and 14 points in 10 games, including a six-point night against Detroit) certainly show why Buffalo wanted to be aggressive about it.

“I think every manager would probably say the same thing,” Adams said. “When you’re doing this kind of thing, you’re obviously projecting and you’re taking a lot of things into account, certainly the body of work that you’ve seen before your eyes, but you’re also looking at the individual, are they the kind of people that are going to keep pushing every day? And do you really want to be here in Buffalo and you want to be here for the right reasons?

“With Samuelsson and Tage, we felt like both situations were guys that would continue to get the job done, they are hungry to get better every day and they also made it clear to me that they want to be here. That’s a big problem. That’s why we feel comfortable as we go through that process.”

As we know, Jack Eichel no longer wanted to be in Buffalo, especially after a disagreement with the Sabers over how to move forward with his neck surgery. And we’re not here to relive all that drama. I’m happy to see Eichel healthy and doing well in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights, a team that looks like a Cup contender. That’s a trade that could end up being really beneficial for both franchises.

Since the end of the Sabers, the early returns from the trade have been fantastic. Alex Tuch has seven goals and 10 points in 10 games this season, and he’s passionate about being a Saber, as well as seeing what Krebs can become, the team is excited about first-round pick Noah Ostlund, and there’s a second-round pick . yet to come in June.

The funny thing is that neither Adams nor I realized until I clicked on the trade details again in the middle of our conversation that it’s the one year anniversary of that Friday blockbuster – the deal closed on November 4th. 2021.

All of that was incredibly stressful for a young GM like Adams. He admits there were some sleepless nights during that process. But he also learned a lot from it.

“I definitely did,” Adams said. “One of the things I really try to do every day is learn from every situation. I certainly learned a lot through that. It was a very challenging moment. But what I did strongly believe was that this was a critical decision for our organization as to how we were going to move forward. And we couldn’t commit to going back, no matter what pressure or stress was going on abroad.

“We needed to be patient and calm until it was the right deal that made sense to us.”

Adams believes he probably talked to every NHL team about Eichel during that long, drawn-out process, which had a few moments where it seemed like he was going somewhere and then he wasn’t.

“It would get hot and you’d feel like it’s generating and coming in and getting more traction … and then it would cool down,” Adams said. “Part of that is what made it so difficult was the injury situation and you had the salary ($10 million). There was a lot in it. It was not the typical exchange of players.

“But I can honestly say, at the end of the day, we had a lot of different discussions with a lot of different teams, but we never felt like we had a reason to make a deal until it was finally done with Las Vegas.”

Veteran GM Don Waddell has known Adams for a long time and isn’t surprised by the overall work he’s seen from the young Sabers GM.

“I knew Kevyn as a player, I had him on the USA show,” the Hurricanes general manager said Thursday. “The type of player he was, they didn’t give him anything for free. He had to work for everything he got. Same for him now as GM. He will not be granted anything. He will have to work for it, but that is what he is doing. So far he has done quite well.”

Meanwhile, Adams was entering the final season of his contract as general manager before signing an extension in September. It was during those conversations with ownership that he expressed a desire to also extend his head coaching even though Don Granato still had this and next seasons on his contract. Granato’s recently signed two-year extension means he is signed through 2025-26. For a franchise that has had a coaching and GM rotation for the past decade, that needs stability.

“When I was discussing with Terry Pegula about my own personal situation, one thing I made very clear is that I want to be here, and I am excited about the future and moving forward, but it was a number one priority to get Donnie lined up and extend his contract. Adams said. “I just feel like he’s been very important to the group in terms of the way he handles himself every day, the development mindset he has with his experience, his ability to understand and work with younger players, and really the influence he has. has had on the players and coaching staff.

“Just to push and keep getting better every day. Also understanding that you are going to go through ups and downs, especially with the younger players.”

Indeed, more ups and downs lie ahead, but the general path seems clear. Sabers are back.

(Photo of Alex Tuch (89) celebrating a goal with his teammates in October: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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