Saint Sebastian is recognized by many Christian athletes by wearing a medal for protection while engaged in sports or even to direct a quick prayer in his direction. Other parents, siblings or spouses may pray to the Saint for the protection of the athlete’s health while competing or even throughout the rigorous travel for the sport. The medals are worn for protection from a ghastly injury by the athletes while competing.

I do not know if Phil Housley wore one during his long Hall of Fame playing career, eight of which was spent playing for the Sabres. He played in a total 1,495 NHL games in his career, so he was doing something right.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of a specific Saint or medal that specializes in protecting hockey coaches in the daily battle of job security. I only know one way to stay employed…more wins.

Or, many many more wins in Housley’s case.

His two years coaching Buffalo were statistically much worse than Dan Bylsma, who was terminated prior to Jason Botterill being hired to replace Tim Murray. Ted Nolan lasted only two seasons his second time around, but those were the “embrace the tank” seasons. After the dismissal of Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma, Botterill was hired and immediately tasked to hire his first coach. Housley, at the time, had just completed his fifth year as an assistant coach in Nashville and his defense was just a couple of wins away from being world champions.

The Stanley Cup evaded Housley in the Music City.  The respectability of at least competing for a playoff spot evaded Housley in his two seasons coaching Buffalo.

No matter what was said by ownership or Botterill over the past couple of months about Housley being the guy, the truth is Botterill had to fire Housley. This is a results-based industry and if the GM does not make a move upgrading the coaching position, the GM may not remain employed.

Last time, the Pegula’s fired the coach AND general manager as they decided to start fresh in both roles. Maybe that inspired Botterill to waste no time in making a coaching change the day after the season concluded.

Naturally, they won back-to-back games to end the year. Something which had not happened since the winning streak last fall. However, finishing the season with back-to-back wins was not nearly enough to save the head coach his career coaching in the Queen City.

The Pegula’s have chosen to not have a hockey guy in a President position—similar to what Lafontaine started to do. They have strictly gone with the old school GM position alone as they feel Botterill is up to the challenge as a first-time franchise boss.  That being the case, as big of a supporter I originally was in hiring Housley, maybe having a first-time head GM should come with the stipulation of bringing in a very experienced coach. I am guessing Botterill’s second, and most likely last, attempt at the right hire in the head coaching role will be someone who has coached successfully at the NHL level before.

Botterill is already responsible for bringing in the right players to play along with the high draft choice stars they have. He needs to construct a team that Sam Reinhardt, Rasmus Dahlen, Jack Eichel, and a select few others can be surrounded with that are not just a group of players possessing certain skills. He needs combinations and chemistry.  He needs to hit on some cheaper free agents or lower draft picks who can help the team for one contract term at a bargain price.  It is not just putting decent players in place.  It is putting a team in place.

Divergent roles need to be in place in addition to the superstars to build a winner. He can not come up the loser in deals as he did with the Ryan O’Reilly trade. The Sabres gave up a lot to get him and paid him a lot to contribute. And that he did. If it came down to him no longer fitting the culture, then you need to get impact pieces in place in return for him. I am not sure how any culture was in place that Ryan O’Reilly was impacting. I saw a bad team with a losing culture and had they changed and won enough to make the playoffs, O’Reilly would have fit right in continuing to contribute.  Evander Kane had a history of being a nuisance.  O’Reilly was supposed to be a leader.  Getting our hands-on Kane and O’Reilly was almost an impossible “Wish List” to build around Eichel and Reinhardt.

The bright side is, they did get a first-round pick from San Jose for Kane. However, forcing the players they received for O’Reilly into the lineup when potentially other deserving players in Rochester are patiently waiting, is not the way to win any games.

Two key takes on the O’Reilly trade. First of all, they needed to get much more in return than they did.  Quality over quantity, potentially? Second, if you get pick-pocketed in a trade, by no means make it a forced action item that they must play. The best players should be in the lineup. Period.

This is the second time Housley is being somewhat run out of town for being “soft”.  Housley needed to be fired. Housley did not need to be put in the position he was in as a first-time head coach with a first time general manager. In addition to some very glaring holes in the roster. Perhaps, Housley had his hand’s tied in certain areas with certain players. He may have been pressured to play certain players more than desired or at all.

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That being said, his job as the head coach is getting the absolute most of every player.  Often his teams were outcoached. Most times, the talent was there but the effort was coming up short. When he had both goalies firing on all cylinders and bounces going in their favor, his team was the best in the league. However, it was impossible to sustain that kind of record when the bounces went the other way. Same goes for when the goalies came back down to earth.

A good, experienced, “recycled” coach usually has systems and strategies in place to overcome areas of weakness for temporary stretches which Housley may have some day. Just not now. That’s not to say the “recycled coaches” message does not get old and meaningless causing teams to collapse but that is usually after some time. That is in years not months. Housley had his team look great one night and then was embarrassingly bad for the next several games.

I like Housley. However, I did flip-flop on his future throughout the season. I assumed, as good as they were in November, that even a slump or collapse would not be bad enough to keep them out of the playoffs.

Boy, was I wrong.

Housley had to be fired. In the NHL an unproven coach needs to be fired after the past two seasons that were presented to Sabres fans as an acceptable NHL hockey team. GM’s typically run out of rope, so the harsh business reality is that moving on from the coach most likely shows the Pegula’s he can make tough decisions and is not satisfied with baby steps.

Allow me to mention that baby steps were certainly not on display for the games I attended. The product that was on display required high doses of caffeine to make it through three periods. If the game went to overtime, the investment of five-hour energy shots seemed to be just the right treatment. Once the required energy was attained to stay focused on the product, then I needed to self-medicate with Pepto-Bismol to not get sick on the fan in front of me. I wish I could use the excuse that I drank too much like in my younger days.  But this nausea was strictly out of pure disgust from watching a team that has been rebuilding since Darcy and Lindy requested our patience for some suffering.  Well, now we lead the league, as the Bills did in their sport, for the longest stretch of no postseason games.

Best of luck to Housley to land on his feet. Would Lindy Ruff have this roster in the playoffs? No Hasek or Miller. Yes. Yes, he would.

Unfortunately, Joel Quenneville landed on his feet in sunny Florida.

Go get your guy, Mr. Botterill. Choose wisely.

Things we know about the Buffalo Sabres this week:

  • Victor Olofsson, Alex Nylander, and Lawrence Pilut were returned to Rochester to get some precious playoff experience as the Amerks makes a run. Best of luck to the Chris Taylor coached playoff team a few miles down the 90 East.
  • Jeff Skinner hasn’t decided on free agency at this point of time. The Sabres really did not have the opportunity to ever sign him without overpaying for his services. That being said, overpaying for him immediately following the trade or during the season would have been a much better version of over-paying than having him score 40 goals as he is about to become a UFA. With O’Reilly not here and that trade not really appearing to be a win for the blue and gold, they certainly should not allow Skinner to walk away for nothing in return. (Briere and Drury …ouch…). I could picture Skinner being a linemate for many years with Eichel as he is at that perfect age of his career as far as maturity or prime.
  • Sign him. This is not Ville Leino, who scored a couple of playoff goals against Buffalo before they threw the bank at him.  His is a regular talented goal scorer who has chemistry with the captain. Sign him. Spend the money. If you need to buy out the contract someday, so be it. The Sabres missed the playoffs with his 40 goals. Where would they have been without that offensive production?
  • TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie reports Todd McLellan is a front runner to be the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres. He coached San Jose to the playoffs six times and Edmonton once. He was fired from both teams. Hockey coaches are hired knowing they will be fired.  It is just a matter of what is accomplished before it gets to that point. UPDATE: Todd McLellan is now NOT a candidate according to McKenzie.
  • Well, it is playoff hockey time.  The most entertaining series of games in professional sports. Unfortunately, there are some fine young adults in Buffalo who do not know how that could be. Some young Sabres’ fans have experienced being a freshman in both high school and college. They have now graduated both and have active careers.  This all was accomplished without the Sabres being in the playoffs even once.
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