Are the Sabres underachieving as some suggest under coach Phil Housley?
All players do not have the pure talent of Housley, who played for eight NHL teams. His career landed him in the Hall of Fame when some suggest he didn’t leave it all on the ice each night. If what we saw was only partial potential, I will steal shamelessly from the late great Ted Darling …” Wow, Wee Housley”.
Wayne Gretzky was no coach of the year candidate. However, he was the best player to ever wear skates. With that said, sometimes it’s the blue-collar former players that are successful at leadership roles because they know what buttons to push or how to get peak performance out of all levels of talent. This would be because of the work ethic and level-of-compete they had to bring every shift to potentially be an average third or fourth liner.
I know this theory is not an exact science in every case. But it does seem to fit in many instances when it comes to the successful and non-successful players turned coaches. Gil Perrault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert, Hasek, Barrasso, Briere, Mogilny, Lafontaine, Flutie, Kelly, Reed, Bruce Smith, Moulds were not knocking on the doors with resumes filled with success to coach the Sabres or Bills. Rick Dudley, Jim Schoenfeld, Lindy Ruff, Craig Ramsey, Ted Nolan, Randy Cunningworth, Frank Reich, Jim Haslet and others around the league, although talented, were not so far above others that pure talent could take over a game. Certainly not without every ounce of effort they could dig deep to produce.
Housley was knocked as being “soft” or accused of carrying a purse by the negative Sabres’ media members. His game was skating, joining the rush, quick moves or passes breaking out of the zone. No one ever claimed he was a tough guy or a goon. He was not physically intimidating—hugging players during brawls to keep his guy in check. That was not his place. He never would have compiled 1,232 points and lasted 1,495 NHL games had he forced himself to be a player he wasn’t. No one ever called out Bob Probert or Andrew Peters for not lighting up the lamps or doing end to end highlight reel moves.
Some critics have alluded to him expecting his players to be able to prepare a certain way. Maybe that is not going to work since he would not be catering to extremely abnormally talented stars. He has a team of average players, skillful players, gritty players, skaters, and angle skilled defenseman. Besides Dahlin, he has defensemen that cannot afford to put it on autopilot on certain road trips and stay employed. All the Defenseman in Buffalo needs to give 110 percent every shift to stay in the NHL and compete for wins.
I am not suggesting Housley did not work hard. No one gets where he has without working their tail off. He just had so much talent he could overcome a mistake or catch someone skating if he maybe had a mental breakdown for a moment or made a lazy play. So, relating to the average skater or struggling passer or a player who just can not get it to the net from the point, could be an obstacle impairing the Sabres coach.
However, I repudiate such a suggestion. Housley had success coaching high school kids and juniors who needed to focus on the prize every shift. He was twice an assistant coach for the World Junior team before finally serving as head coach in 2013 when he won gold. That squad included Sabres defenseman, Jake McCabe. In addition, Housley served as an assistant for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey. He did a wonderful job with Nashville’s defense for four seasons gaining praise from all types of players and coaches and he has a solid team of coaches around him.
Fans can not view the tanking and rebuilding of Darcy Rieger and Tim Murray as years that Housley had to turn things around. That can go to Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Ron Rolston, and even Lindy Ruff. When Jason Bottrell and Housley took over, it was because the previous rebuild failed. They succeeded in partially regressing instead of progressing. That may be why the team has Dahlen because Housley took over a train wreck.
If you watched the team last season you know that they were nearly unwatchable. So, this season, although disappointing as their playoff hopes get slimmer by the day, is still leaps and bounds improved over last year. Just think, in November they were in first place in the entire NHL. So, I believe Bottrell when he gives his approval of confidence stating no coaching change needs to or will be made.
Keep in mind that many times when a hockey general manager says that, the coach braces himself for a surprise end of season meeting with his walking papers. That said, I truly believe Housley will be back next season. A short leash may be part of the itinerary. A short leash bunched up to the handle which could mean the trap door awaits before Christmas and not guaranteed a full season. I would hope and suggest that they take the next step next season and we will not have to worry about the choked-up grip on the ever so short leash. No one likes a walking duck coach. Not the players. Nor management. Or the fans. And, certainly not the coach in jeopardy.
My aspirations focus on him coming out next season and putting aggressive dibs on the Jack Adams trophy. Call shotgun now Phil. Your wife is a politician so campaign for your job. Resell the value of Phil Housley to the people of Buffalo and the hockey world.
The pieces are there. The tanking top-picks of Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Dahlin are no slouches. They are playing as good as expected. They just need some depth scoring. Jeff Skinner is a stud and better be re-signed. Especially considering they did not trade him as a rental to a playoff team for a player. They can not afford to let him walk for zero compensation. Especially not after trading away Ryan O’Reilly. The very notion brings back memories of that first day of free agency years ago when both captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere entered the offseason without being signed. Ultimately, they ended up donning non-Sabres jerseys and the team received zero compensation for it. I still get aggravated thinking of that.
To add insult to injury, Edmonton then signs Thomas Vanek to an offer sheet. Darcy runs to be the hero and says teams are not going shopping in our locker room. However, it was too little, too late as the middle of the top two lines had already been decimated. As teams continued to push a shopping cart around the Sabres locker room, Darcy was forced to overpay Vanek to keep him in Buffalo. He could not face the fans if he were to have lost his younger and third best player.
The contract Vanek got made his career in Buffalo challenging and a bit unfair. He did not ask for the money and should not be expected to live up to a contract befitting of a Hall of Famer in his third NHL season. Making him the franchise guy was not really the kind of player Vanek was. Putting him as the first line player, although qualified, results in less production based on competition and game planning by the opposition. He was successful under the circumstances, but had he not been forced to be the main guy purely based on the amount of money he was taking off the salary cap, his tenure may be looked at more fondly.
Perhaps, Buffalo would have had a different fate with all the draft picks Edmonton would have coughed up to snag Vanek with the offer sheet. Based on the size of the contract, Buffalo would have received four first-round picks from the Oilers, two of them were lottery winners. However, I digress….
Things we know about the Buffalo Sabres this week:
- Ryan Miller, veteran net-minder on the Anaheim Ducks, spoke to Montour after the defenseman learned of being traded to Miller’s former team in Buffalo. Miller just ensured Montour that he could reach out to him for anything as he gets adjusted to Buffalo on and off the ice. It should not be total culture shock leaving sunny California minutes from Disneyland given that he grew up 90 miles up the QEW in Brantford, Ontario.
- It’s safe to say that Victor Olofsson has etched his place as one of the organization’s top prospects. Looking towards the future, there’s no reason to believe he won’t have a legitimate opportunity to start the 2019-20 season with the parent club in Buffalo. The former seventh-round draft pick leads the Americans, an hour drive down the I90, in goals and assist. He is fourth in points per game, third in power play goals, first in power play assists, second in game-winning goals, second in shots on goal and sixth in shooting percentage. Not too shabby I say.