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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres fired head coach Don Granato on Tuesday, making him the seventh coach to be ousted during what’s grown into an NHL-record 13-season playoff drought.

The move was announced by the team a day after the Sabres closed their season with a 4-2 win at Tampa Bay. They finished with a 39-37-6 record and had been eliminated from playoff contention last week.

Granato completed his third full season in Buffalo after taking over on an interim basis in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2021 season after Ralph Krueger was fired. And the move comes with the 56-year-old Granato still having two seasons left on his contract, which featured an extension that kicked in to start next season.

He finishes with a record of 122-125-27 in Buffalo.

“I would like to thank Don for his time in Buffalo and commitment to the Sabres organization. He has been integral in the development of many of our players and has undoubtedly been the right coach to bring us to where we are now,” general manager Kevyn Adams said in a statement posted on the team’s website. “But I felt it was necessary to move in a different direction at this point in time. My expectation is to be a consistent contender and unfortunately that goal has not been met.”

The team also announced the firing of assistant coach Jason Christie and video coordinator Matt Smith.

The Sabres stumbled through a season in which the team won three straight games just twice and were too often unable to overcome slow starts.

This was not the expectation for a team that opened the season Adams declaring the window of contention as being open. The blossoming hopes were generated by the Sabres missing the playoffs by two points last season.

The Sabres’ playoff drought is tied with the New York Jets as being the longest active drought in North America’s four major professional sports.

This season, the Sabres were undone by injuries to key players, goaltending inconsistencies, a front-office decision to add more youth to what was already the NHL’s youngest roster and Granato making the questionable change in coaching philosophy to have the Sabres switch to a more defensive style.

A season after the free-wheeling Sabres finished third in the NHL with 293 goals, Buffalo’s production dropped to currently rank 22nd with 244 with two days left in the regular season. After finishing 26th in allowing 297 goals last season, the Sabres currently rank 11th in allowing 243.

Poor starts played a key factor in sinking Buffalo’s season. The Sabres have allowed a league-worst 97 goals in the first period, while scoring just 67, which ranks 22nd.

Granato declined to address his status following the game at Tampa Bay, by saying he wanted to focus on the outing.

Last week, Granato said, his sole focus every season was improving the Sabres.

“I have to do my job every day. And it’s to help this team and this franchise get better every day. That’s my focus every day. That’s my drive every day,” he said. So I don’t know, you know, any other way to do things. When I first got in this position, even as the interim, I wasn’t trying to become the next head coach. There’s a job that needs to be done. My focus is on that. It has to be on that.”

As a first-time NHL head coach, Granato was credited for his ability to develop numerous players during his tenure, including defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and center Tage Thompson, who blossomed by combining to score 116 goals – including a career-best 47 in 2022-23 – after managing just 18 in his first four NHL seasons. An injury to Thompson’s hand in November limited him to scoring only 29 goals in 71 games this season.

The Sabres now find themselves in an all-too familiar position in launching yet another coaching search. Granato was the team’s sixth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired two months into the lockout-shortened 2012 season.

Potential candidates to replace Granato include former St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube, Sabres minor-league coach Seth Appert and former Sabres captain Michael Peca, who spent two seasons as Appert’s assistant in the AHL with Rochester before being hired as an assistant with the New York Rangers last summer.

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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