Nearly 27 years to the day of being dealt to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for fellow Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, Phil Housley has returned to Buffalo as the 18th head coach in Sabres’ history.
It’s a move that has been rumored for the past two months, and while general manager Jason Botterill certainly had his pick of the litter in regards to coaching candidates, it’s a hire that I am on board with for a number of reasons:
- He’s able to relate to players – As the highest scoring American-born defenseman of all time, and the second-highest scoring American ever (Mike Modano), Housley brings a wealth of playing knowledge – 21 years’ worth, to be exact – to the Sabres’ roster and the ability to connect with players.
Other ex-players were considered for the role as well – Rick Tocchet, Todd Reirden and Bob Boughner come to mind – but none reportedly had the type of close relationship with their players that Housley did with the Nashville Predators.
- He’s able to teach responsible defensive hockey – Unless a team boasts the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on its roster, the ability to win games in the National Hockey League – and ultimately, a Stanley Cup – is based upon the need to be sound in said team’s defensive zone. That area of play has struggled in recent years for the Sabres, and Housley’s work with notable Predators defensemen like Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis has raised eyebrows throughout the league.
According to Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports, “Watch the way the Predators played: Smart, mobile, offensively oriented, defensively sound. Yes, you need the horses to play that way, but you also need a coach that can stress the proper way to utilize those talents, and Housley brings that. And he’s shown an ability to imprint on younger defensemen, which is obviously going to the task at hand as Sabres coach with the likes of Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe and others on the way.”
- He will bring an up-tempo style of play to the Sabres’ roster – Housley worked under Peter Laviolette for the past three years and Barry Trotz in 2013-14, and both bench bosses stressed an attacking, high-tempo style of hockey. In the case of Laviolette, he rode his style of play to postseason appearances with four different teams (New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville), three finals appearances and a Cup win in 2006.
Housley will likely bring this approach to a Sabres team that collectively felt bogged down by a complicated, plodding offensive approach from Dan Bylsma, and it should fit the roster better.
Housley doesn’t have much experience as a head coach, save for his 2013 gold medal-winning stint with USA Hockey at the IIHF World U20 Championships, and there’s no guarantee that a nostalgic mindset will bring a Cup to Buffalo. But his fit as the new head coach of the Sabres should be seamless.
At the very least, his return to Buffalo should prompt a few “Woweee Housley” calls from Rick Jeanneret.