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Sabres fire coach Krueger while in midst of 12-game skid

By AP | Mar 17, 2021

FILE - Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Kruege looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Buffalo, N.Y., in this Saturday, March 13, 2021, file photo. The Sabres fired coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

By JOHN WAWROW AP Hockey Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Twelve consecutive losses — and with no indication of the skid ending — were enough for Sabres first-year general manager Kevyn Adams to determine it was time to fire coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday.

The Sabres made the move the morning after a 3-2 loss at New Jersey, against a Devils team that snapped an 11-game home winless skid.

The team did not say who would take over for Krueger, except to say Adams would speak later in the morning.

Krueger’s firing comes two weeks after Adams said he was evaluating the entire operation, including the coach, with the Sabres in jeopardy of extending their playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th season.

Buffalo’s 0-10-2 streak matches the third-worst in team history, and it’s the longest since a team-record 14 straight losses midway through the 2014-15 season. At 6-18-4, the Sabres rank last in the NHL in victories and points, and they have been shut out as many times as they’ve won this season.

Krueger is the third NHL coach to be fired during this shortened, 56-game season with all divisional play. He’s the first outside the North Division, which has seen Montreal let go of Claude Julien and Calgary replace Geoff Ward with two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Darryl Sutter.

Adams considered taking over behind the bench but had previously elected not to do so because it would take away from his managerial duties leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline next month.

Krueger lasted fewer than two seasons in Buffalo and had one year remaining on his contract.

“All I can say is I continue to enjoy doing this job also in a difficult time,” Krueger said, following the loss at New Jersey. “It’s easy to stand here when things are going well. It’s not that easy to stand here right now in this adversity. But I know we are we are learning and growing as an organization and we will take strength out of this in the future.”

Defenseman Brandon Montour acknowledged the team was bracing for changes.

“That’s 12 in a row now. It is what it is. It’s a business,” Montour said. “I think guys expect something just to get out of this in any way possible.”

Krueger’s firing continues to spin a revolving door of coaching and general manager changes in Buffalo. He became Buffalo’s fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired a month into the lockout-shortened 2013 season. And his firing comes nine months after Adams became the team’s third GM in six years after Jason Botterill was abruptly dismissed following a three-year tenure.

The Sabres have lurched from one crisis to another this season, dealing with a host of injuries to key players — captain Jack Eichel hasn’t been healthy all season and is out indefinitely with an upper body injury — a two-week COVID-19-forced pause to their schedule and being placed in the reformatted and ultra-competitive East Division.

Though the Sabres were considered playoff long-shots to begin with, few expected the team to perform so poorly, especially following an offseason in which Buffalo signed 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall in free agency and acquired veteran Eric Staal in a trade with Minnesota.

The additions have barely made a dent for a team that ranks last in the NHL in averaging 2.07 goals per game and scoring 36 times in five-on-five situations.

Krueger’s status was placed in question following a difficult two-week stretch in which the Sabres were shut out on back-to-back days by Philadelphia, and after a series of mixed messages from the coach regarding the injury status of Eichel and the reasons for high-priced forward Jeff Skinner being benched for three games.

Ultimately, the lack of offense and what’s become a normal series of breakdowns on defense placed the focus on whether Krueger’s philosophy was outdated, too easy to counter, didn’t fit the players on the roster or a combination of all three.

The 61-year-old Krueger was praised upon his arrival for having a reputation of being an innovator and motivator despite being out of hockey for five seasons while overseeing English Premier League soccer club Southampton. Krueger’s past, however, was rooted in hockey, mostly at the international level.

He was a long-time coach of the Swiss national team and served as a consultant for the Mike Babcock-coached Canadian national team, which won the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He took time out from soccer in 2016 to coach Team Europe to a second-place finish at the World Cup of Hockey.

At the NHL level, Krueger spent two seasons as an assistant coach in Edmonton before taking over as the Oilers head coach in 2012-13. He was fired immediately following the lockout-shortened 48-game season.

Krueger now has the distinction of never completing a full 82-game NHL campaign. His first season in Buffalo was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. With a 30-31-8 record when the season was paused in mid-March, the Sabres finished a percentage point behind Montreal, which clinched the Eastern Conference’s 12th and final playoff berth.

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