The search is over and Phil Housley is the 18th Head Coach in Buffalo Sabres franchise history, GM Jason Botterill announced Thursday afternoon. Housley had previously been an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators since 2013.
“I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet,” He said today at his introductory press conference. “I can’t say enough about how pumped I am to be back in Buffalo and be part of something special here.”
One of the greatest players in Sabres history, Housley was drafted sixth overall by Buffalo in 1982 and spent eight seasons with the team. The St. Paul, Minnesota native became one of the NHL’s top d-men in his time with the Sabres, scoring 178 goals and 527 assists for 705 points in 608 games. The Sabres packaged him to Winnipeg in a 1990 blockbuster for fellow future Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk.
Housley retired in 2003 with 1232 points in 1495 games played. Though it took almost 10 years (a ridiculous amount of time in the opinion of many), he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. One of the greatest US-born players of all time, Housley was the highest scoring American in NHL history until he was surpassed by Mike Modano in 2007.
As a coach, Housley’s resume is also highly impressive. He led Team USA to gold at the 2013 IIHF World U20 tournament, the captain of which was Buffalo’s Jake McCabe. As Peter Laviolette’s assistant in Nashville, Housley’s defensive expertise sparked a change in the Music City and produced one of the NHL’s top defensive units. Nashville’s blue line, led by PK Subban and Roman Josi, was an integral piece in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final this year.
Housley’s experience with defense should be music to the ears of Sabres fans as defense was one of the prime issues plaguing the team this year. McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen are two of the biggest pieces of the team’s future, but the remainder of the corps, most namely Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian, are liabilities at best and hindrances at worst. Also, according to Paul Hamilton, Dmitry Kulikov has not been happy in Buffalo since he was traded from the Panthers at last year’s draft, and his play has reflected it. Buffalo’s awful defense did not at all help goaltenders Robin Lehner or Anders Nilsson. The duo performed very well all things considered and we’re left imagining how much better the Sabres could have been with a stronger blue line last season.
Botterill and his new coach will have to get to work immediately in order to decide whom the third protected defenseman for Buffalo will be at the imminent Expansion Draft. My vote would be for Justin Falk, the guy is not at all flashy, but he is a solid player and was a pleasant surprise this season. A Buffalo defenseman is drafted by the Golden Knights could impact how the new coach will structure his units.
The Dan Bylsma experiment failed in part because of foolish decisions by former GM Tim Murray, but Bylsma hurt himself by not understanding his players and trying to mold everyone to his own system. It led to tensions with multiple players, most namely Jack Eichel, who reportedly refused to stick with the team long-term as long as Bylsma was at the helm. Eichel denied having said this, but it certainly shows that Bylsma was not working and a change was needed.
A calmer, more experienced leader in Housley, coupled with the lack of Tim Murray’s antics, could be just what the Buffalo Sabres need to finally turn things around.