For the fifth time in the last seven years, the Buffalo Sabres have fired their head coach. GM Jason Botterill announced earlier this afternoon that Phil Housley has been kicked to the curb after his second season with the team came to an end last night. Botterill will address the media and explain the decision in just a moment.
The firing is interesting in the sense that it still managed to be somewhat shocking even though everyone and their mother could see it coming. The 2018-19 campaign was one of the worst in the Sabres pathetic history and arguably even more dour than last year’s dead last finish. Buffalo finished fifth last in the league and has a chance to win the Draft Lottery for the second consecutive season.
The season got off to an encouraging enough start back in October. The team stumbled at times but look notably better in terms of goaltending and defense. Then November came around and we all know what happened, but that’s what so funny to think about. During the streak I remember reading article after article and seeing post after post on social media of Sabres fans arguing Housley’s case for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. The thought of that is ludicrously funny in hindsight.
After the streak came to an end the Sabres tanked in a way that is amazing even by Buffalo’s low standards. Here’s all you need to know about it: after the Sabres won 10 consecutive games, they wouldn’t win two in a row again until the last two games of the season. In that span, everything fell apart. Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton’s solid tandem in net unraveled, the improved defense went back to 2017-18 form, and Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner ran out of gas as their backs become too sore to carry an entire team’s offense.
Unsurprisingly, the very same fans that were endorsing their coach for the Jack Adams were soon calling for his termination, and they got their wish. Whether you believe that this is the right move or not (I for one do not), it’s tough to deny that Buffalo might have a very hard time attracting a new coach. What those troves of fans calling for Housley’s canning don’t seem to realize is that a coach like Joel Quenneville wouldn’t touch the Sabres with a 100 foot pole after the season they just wrapped up, and who could blame him? Losing breeds losing, and not even an ECHL coach would want to come to a team that knows nothing but.
I don’t think that Housley was the Sabres’ problem at all. Sure there were some decisions that he made that were frustrating and hurt the team, but many of the team’s numerous issues aren’t his doing. It wasn’t his fault that Ryan O’Reilly was traded to St. Louis when it wasn’t at all necessary. It wasn’t his fault that the team’s supposed big return in that deal turned out to be peanuts, and it wasn’t his fault that he had to force younger players into roles they weren’t ready for as a result. Don’t get me wrong, I like Botterill as GM and think he’ll make this team respectable again someday, but he’s more to blame for this season than Housley.
In addition to the Draft, Buffalo will now look into finding someone to replace the hole behind the bench. Who in the world will want that accursed job is beyond me.