The Buffalo Sabres made the right call on Thursday, calling on Phil Housley to become their 18th head coach in franchise history.
We made the case for Housley the other day, and the case boils down to this:
His temperament created a sense of fun as an assistant with the Nashville Predators, and connected him on a personal level with players. Dan Bylsma was billed as a players’ coach. He didn’t necessarily connect like one in Buffalo.
His acumen as a defensive coach helped develop players like Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis with the Predators into outstanding blueliners, and the Sabres need a teacher like that for a moribund defense corps. While much of this is due to personnel in goal and on defense, the Predators were first in goals-against three times and second once in Housley’s four seasons there.
That his lack of head coaching experience should have been no more a hindrance to his hiring than new GM Jason Botterill. Housley’s coached under both Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. We assume he learned a thing or two.
Said Botterill: “Based on his experience as a player and coach, we think Phil is uniquely qualified to be our head coach and to help us achieve our organizational goals. His approach to the game aligns with the way we envision our hockey team playing and we’re excited to see where his leadership will take us in the future.”
Drafted by the Sabres in the first round (6th overall) of the 1982 NHL Draft, Housley went on to play 21 seasons in the NHL. He’s a member of the Buffalo Sabres, USA Hockey and IIHF Halls of Fame, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Sabres’ coaching process is that Rick Tocchet, who just won a second straight Stanley Cup as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh, wasn’t contacted by Botterill, who was an assistant general manager in Pittsburgh before getting the Buffalo gig.
Maybe owner Terry Pegula declared a moratorium on ex-Penguins coaches. Clearly, though, he’s still got a thing for Sabres alumni.
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