Krueger knows there's pain and anger, but feels 'so many positives' after Year 1

May 29, 2020 - 2:00 pm
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It was an up-and-down first season as head coach for Ralph Krueger with the Buffalo Sabres.

After getting out to a 9-2-2 start in the month of October, the Sabres started a roller coaster ride that didn't seems to slow down and even itself out any time soon. At the NHL Trade Deadline, the Sabres had gone on a 7-3-1 run to pull within six points of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. However, they went on to lose six consecutive games and fall out of playoff contention.

On March 12, the National Hockey League suspended its regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving the future of the season up in the air.

More than two months later, Buffalo's season would officially come to an end after the league announced a 24-team Return To Play format that would not feature the Sabres and six other teams. The Sabres ended up finishing in 25th place with a 30-31-8 record and 68 points in 69 games.

Since Wednesday, we have heard from general manager Jason Botterill, as well as several other players like Jake McCabe, Rasmus Dahlin, Victor Olofsson, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. Each player expressed their frustrations with how the 2019-20 season ended, whether it was the will to continue playing out the season, or whether is was the disappointment of another losing season in Buffalo without a playoff appearance.

It was Krueger's time to speak on Friday, where he talked about his team in his first year back coaching in the NHL since his days with the Edmonton Oilers. Krueger also addressed the team's frustrations, as well as the leadership of the program and how this coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on many around the world.

Here is what the Sabres head coach had to say:

Krueger on how the group is feeling about this past season:

"Where are we right now? I mean, it's a tale of two types of emotions at the moment. On the one side, we're measured by results. We're measured by points, we're measured by where we are in the standings, and that's extremely disappointing and painful right now through this phase to look at that reality. The other side is the evolution of this group, which, above all, we are encouraged by the spirit of the group, we're encouraged by the maturing of the group, we're encouraged by the embracing of how we need to play and the identity that gives us a chance to compete every night. It's real, we feel it right through the lineup.

"We don't think after these 11 weeks that there's one player who isn't embracing the journey. That's how I sit here after one year. Encouraged by a lot of signs, encouraged by the buy in, encouraged by the culture we're evolving and growing into and the habits that are forming. But we're extremely disappointed with our placing after a season that saw us quite competitive on almost every night, and yet we fell much below the mark that we set. May that pain and may that disappointment help us grow."

Krueger on how to be the leader of a hockey team:

"Quite clearly, I believe that leadership needs to drive two main components into a team. The No. 1 level of respect that we need to have within each other is based on creating a positive environment, and a leader drives that. If I'm expecting a positive, constructive solution-focused environment from the players, yet I am beating on them and dragging them down, that doesn't work. I just believe that I need to be a part of that process and an example of that process. The other side is the discipline that we need. As a leader, I am so excited about the sacrifice and the work ethic that we've brought into this group. There was a lot of it naturally, but it's coming in in the whole. As a leader, those need to be the driving factors, that you've created an environment where everybody respects each other, so we can trust each other to communicate openly. The other is to create an environment where everybody tries to improve everyday and works extremely hard in the moment on what they can control.

"I need to do that as a leader as I expect that from the players. I feel on both those counts, we are evolving in the right direction."

Krueger on his first year of experience coaching the Sabres:

"One year ago, I did not know the city of Buffalo. I did not know the ownership of Buffalo. I didn't know what the coaching job was going to be like in Buffalo. I certainly didn't know the players or the staff in Buffalo, and I didn't know the fanbase. One thing I can tell you one year in is we live in the heart of Buffalo, and my wife and I really enjoy the city, No. 1. No. 2 - the ownership, the management team, these are good people. They are wonderful to spend time with, they challenge you in a healthy way, and support you in a necessary way. I enjoy that. The team - it's been such a joy to work with these guys, and it's been easy because they are ready for this type of environment and their natural instincts are able to flow here. I like the people I'm working with, my staff, the coaches. Above all, I truly love the Sabres and I love our fanbase. I know there's pain out there, and I know there's anger, but I feel so many positives after one year of experience."

Krueger on the frustration shown from Jack Eichel about losing:

"That there's pain and anger, and Jack is at the lead of that, that's a really good sign and it's very healthy. It also shows that our core has a youth, they're willing to reach for higher standards, and now we have to do the work that backs that up. I can tell you anything about the past. It's not really important about what I say about the past, it's the actions that we now take that's going to matter. When we get the opportunity to come together as a group, we have to give those actions to the fans, we have to show them on the ice. On that way now, each individual is going to carry a big responsibility, so if we're going to complain and be angry about the past, we need to work extremely hard right now because the only people that are going to change it is us. We have the opportunity to change it, and only we can do that and it will not come easy to get the momentum and the positive feeling in Buffalo that we're all searching for. It will not be given to us, and it's going to be a tough grind coming up here, and I know the players know that.

"I like the anger. I have no problem with people outing frustration of the past, but then let's move that conversation forward real quick and let's figure out what we're going to do about it. That's going to be our job now no matter how long the break is."

Krueger on Rasmus Ristolainen's comments on possible changes in Buffalo this offseason:

"What I love about 'Risto' is that he doesn't hold back on anything. He tells you the truth all the time. I really enjoyed working with him this year. When I began coaching him and I was the leader of that room, he was somebody that wanted to be traded, and now he has embraced our path and he was all-in on our pathway this year. He attempted to compete at a high level right through, so he's a centerpiece of what we're doing here. The National Hockey League is a world of moving pieces. I want to coach 'Risto' next season. I would enjoy coaching 'Risto' next season. 'Risto' always come with a little bit of bite, [which] is what we love about him. I'm expecting to see him as a centerpiece and a core player in our group next year."

Krueger on establishing a winning culture in Buffalo:

"For me, a winning culture is a culture that reaches its potential. That's the measuring stick for me as a leader is I, as a coach, need to know at the end of the season that I've pushed a group towards its potential and each player should demand that of themselves. If we do reach our potential, then we're part of a winning culture. In the National Hockey League, there's one measuring stick and that's the playoffs. Everybody above that line is a winner, and everybody below that line is a loser. It's a reality, and we accept that. That's what the players are speaking about, but they also have done a lot of winning.

The work that [Eichel and Ristolainen] put in 365 [days], 24/7, those are athletes and they're just a couple of the many examples in our team that have helped take hockey to a whole new level. When I coached this game before I came to the Sabres, it was at a different pace, and it was at a different physicality, and it was at a different technical level. The game has improved so dramatically in the last decade, and it's why it's so beautiful to be a part of this game. They've worked hard to do that, so they are winners in so far as they are in the National Hockey League, they're at the highest level, but the group that they've been a part of hasn't found the potential above that playoff line. That's what we need to find."

Krueger on his relationship with Eichel through Year 1:

"Jack's just wonderful to coach because he just wants to get better every single day in whatever the role is, whatever the responsibility on the ice or off the ice. Everywhere he wants to evolve. That's a lot of fun to be a leader of a person like that. Our relationship is one of quality and not quantity. We don't need to speak hundreds of words. Often, it was just eye contact on the bench in the third period and there was a connection. I was leading and he was taking his responsibility without even saying a word. We would sometimes run into each other in the hallway and it would be 5-6 sentences were enough to get the whole group re-focused on the task at hand because we had a horrible game the night before. I think more than anything, we have a natural relationship, nothing is forced.

"Everything just comes easy since we met back in Slovakia over a year ago. The conversations are predominantly focused on improving the Sabres and doing what we can do in our roles to get this team into the playoffs and to turn this team into a winning organization over more years in a row. I'm very pleased that he has the openness to bring that out into the public, the feelings are mutual and it's extremely exciting to feel his hunger right at this very moment to use the break, to use this also as an opportunity for us to improve as a team, and we'll continue to do that together."

Krueger on the status of his coaching staff heading into next year:

"Under these circumstances, there's a lot of power and continuity. Who would've thought 11 weeks ago that we'd be having a press conference of this nature at this time. There's so much change and so many distractions right now that I believe continuity is important and will actually strengthen us. This coaching staff really did a good job of helping to build the culture on and off the ice that we need, and I'm excited to work with them going forward."

Krueger on the impact of sports during times like the coronavirus pandemic:

"As the hot spots have moved from China to Europe to North America to South America and now, sadly rampant in the Amazon, it's been shocking to see. It's thrown the whole world off balance. We are all off balance. There's no body who wakes up in the morning and goes through an entire day calm and centered right now for different reasons. Sports draws competitive people. Sports draws people that are not only stretching for wins, but also know how to deal with losses and deal with setbacks. I believe sports has a huge role in society regaining its confidence and society getting centered and balanced again. I see that responsibility, and I actually get some goosebumps feeling that responsibility that it's going to be bigger than us just playing hockey in Buffalo. It's bringing the community back together and giving people the confidence to spend time together again, and to socialize properly. We are social animals, and we are being restrained and tied up and cooped in right now. What better vehicle than sports to bring people back together and bring some sense of normality. I believe sports will recover, and I believe sports will have an important role in the new found environments that we're going to walk out into the streets in when all the restrictions are dropped around the world. Within that, I think we have a responsibility that's bigger than just the games that we all play... I look forward to us being an example to the community in Buffalo. I look forward to us leading the charge back to an exciting sharing of experiences again."

You can listen to Krueger's entire press conference below:

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