Sabres coach Bylsma expects he'll return for 3rd season

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Though rebuilding the Buffalo Sabres is proving more difficult than anticipated, coach Dan Bylsma expects to continue overseeing the overhaul.

Bylsma answered a question about his job security on Monday by saying he's ''going forward'' with the understanding he'll return for a third season based on recent conversations he's had with general manager Tim Murray.

Disappointed as he was a day after Buffalo closed the season by extending its franchise-record playoff drought to six years, Bylsma said it takes time to develop a winning culture on a team that was rebuilding from scratch when he took over in May 2015.

''I don't think any of us thought at the end of this year we'd be a Stanley Cup contender,'' he said. ''That's what we're trying to develop into. And that's a process that's going to keep going on here into next year and the year after.''

At the same time, Bylsma acknowledged missteps occurred during a season in which Buffalo (33-37-12) finished last in the Atlantic Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference with two fewer wins and three fewer points than last year.

''We fell short of where I think we thought we could be, hoped we could be, and I take full responsibility for that,'' Bylsma said.

Murray is scheduled to address reporters on Wednesday. He has previously said he will assess Bylsma's job during end-of-season meetings, while his own job will be judged by owner Terry Pegula.

Sabres players were left to spill their frustrations over a season that began with an array of injuries and ended with the team unraveling by going 7-14-2 in its final 23 games.

The decisive stretch spanning the Sabres' bye week in mid-February. After climbing within a point of being in playoff contention, Buffalo went on a 2-8-2 skid, which included blowing three third-period leads over a five-game stretch.

''We have to look in the mirror,'' captain Brian Gionta said. ''I don't think anyone is happy with where we sit.''

Jack Eichel said it's on the players to develop a winning culture.

''I think it's important to realize you can't be satisfied with the fact you're in the NHL. I'm here to win so it's pretty frustrating,'' the second-year center said.

''I think guys want to win, but there's a difference between saying you want win and actually wanting to win and putting the work in and dedicating your life to it.''

Lack of maturity and accountability were issues cited by numerous players.

''It starts with myself, but there's big changes that need to happen within each guy, and we have to grow,'' center Ryan O'Reilly said. ''On paper, I think we're a lot better. And we could've done a lot more.''

Here's a number of things that stood out, and a look ahead to a lengthy offseason:

OKPOSO UPDATE: Without providing details, Bylsma said Kyle Okposo's status is uncertain for the start of next season after the forward was hospitalized by an undisclosed illness two weeks ago.

Bylsma said Okposo hopes to spend the summer recovering and rejoin the team in the fall.

The team's top free-agent addition last summer missed Buffalo's final six games. Okposo finished fourth on the team with 19 goals and 45 points in 65 games.

POWER-PLAY PUNCH: The Sabres' power play scored 57 times in 233 opportunities for a 24.5 percent conversion rate to lead the NHL for just the second time in franchise history.

On the downside, Buffalo ranked 28th by scoring just 126 times in five-on-five situations. The Sabres' penalty-killing unit also struggled, finishing 25th in allowing 53 goals on 237 power-play chances.

CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: If the Sabres want him back, Gionta intends to re-sign with Buffalo this offseason to continue help in the rebuilding process. And the 38-year-old from nearby Rochester, New York, is open to returning even if the team elects to select a new captain.

Gionta was honored by the Sabres last month for playing in his 1,000th game and had 15 goals and 20 assists in 82 games.

ROCKIN' ROBIN: Goalie Robin Lehner played a career-high 59 games and finished 16th with a 2.68 goals-against average and sixth with a .920 save percentage among players with 50 or more appearances. Buffalo's trio of Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Linus Ullmark finished fourth in the NHL with a combined .921 save percentage.

FREE AGENTS: Gionta, Nilsson, defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson are eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer. Buffalo can extend qualifying offers to retain the rights to restricted free agents, including Lehner, Ullmark, forwards Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Evan Rodrigues.

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This story has been changed to correct the Sabres record to 33-37-12.

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For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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