Housley fits

June 15, 2017 - 7:20 am

I did not expect to have this strong a feeling about the Sabres coaching search. Phil Housley, Rick Tocchet, Todd Reirden and whoever else is being considered could all be fine choices. They also could be the wrong guy. It's tough to know. But after pondering this for the past month I've realized I'm firmly backing the Housley idea. It's not at all because Phil Housley began his hall of fame career as a teenager with the Buffalo Sabres. If anything, I have a tendency to be leery of nostalgia driving any decision our teams make.

I love this idea because it makes perfect sense in the way it addresses two of the biggest concerns I have about the Sabres.

Managing the maturation process of their young players, most notably Jack Eichel and improving the play of their defensemen. Housley comes with a resume that gives me hope for improvement in both areas.

First there is experience working with young players. Housley has been a part of three different USA World Junior teams. In 2007 and in 2011 he was an assistant coach for teams that would win bronze medals. In 2013 Housley was the head coach when the USA won gold. That team was captained by current Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe, by the way.

That's the kind of experience that gives me some hope that Housley knows how to work with young talented players and understands how to reach them, relate to them and help them max out on the talent that got them here in the first place.

Getting the best out of the young players on the Buffalo roster is a must. This team is going nowhere without Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen maxing out. I want a coach with experience working with that sort of young talent.

For this point I also like that Housley was an elite talent as a player himself. I've heard that former coach Dan Bylsma sometimes had trouble identifying with the more talented players on the Sabres roster. Perhaps this was because as a player, Bylsma was a grinder type. This is not my favorite point as there are plenty of fine coaches who were not talented players and of course, great players who've made lousy coaches. But given where the Sabres are coming from, if Housley is the opposite of Bylsma in this respect, I'll take it as a plus.

That brings me to the blue line. The Sabres were not good on defense the past two years. Some of this certainly is because of the players not being talented enough. That has been addressed already with the addition of Victor Antipin from Russia and the arrival, hopefully, of Brendan Guhle from the WHL. Another move during the summer is called for as well so hopefully the talent problem will be solved.

The larger problem in my opinion was a confusing system installed by Bylsma that players either didn't understand or refused to buy into. Maybe they refused to buy into it because they couldn't understand it. Whatever the cause, there was a major problem with how to play the game that threw the most basic things in the game, way off.

You know, like passing.

Reading Nashville defensemen rave about Housley during the Predators run to the Stanley Cup Final was music to my ears. Watching them play was even better. The Nashville defense was the key to the entire team. And not just because they locked people down. They keyed the attack, roaming freely in the offensive zone.

Now I know the Sabres don't have P.K. Subban, Roman Josi or even Ryan Ellis on the roster. But I'm reasonably confident that the concepts being taught by Housley would result in better play from what will almost certainly be an improved group of Sabres defensemen and better cohesion overall between the forwards and d-men.

So I'm kind of on edge over here waiting and hoping for Housley. That's not to say a different choice will mean GM Jason Botterill chose the wrong coach. He's in the room with these candidates and surely knows exactly what he's looking for. It's just that from this distance, it sure seems like Housley meets the most important criteria.

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