Botterill has his man

Let's hope that the second time is a charm for Sabres general manager

Howard Simon
May 15, 2019 - 5:38 pm

Photo: Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports


Your question: Howard, what do you think of the Ralph Krueger hiring?

My answer: Meh.

No offense to Ralph Krueger, but that would have been my answer with just about any person the Buffalo Sabres would have hired to be the 19th head coach in franchise history. This offseason is more about the roster improvements that need to be made than who the next coach of the Sabres was going to be. Couple that with what happened with the last two coaching hires and you know why my answer was meh.  

First, the Sabres brought in a guy who won a Stanley Cup as a head coach and came from one of the most successful organizations in the league. However, former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma bombed and was fired after two years on the job, along with general manager Tim Murray.

Next, the Sabres and new general manager Jason Botterill brought in Phil Housley, who was a Hall of Fame player, came in from a winning organization in the Nashville Predators, was on a staff that just took their team to the Stanley Cup Final and was credited with overseeing perhaps the best group of defensemen in the NHL. Housley bombed even more than Bylsma. 

I’m not here to tell you that Krueger was an inspired hire who should excite you, but I’m not going to say he’s destined to fail and the Sabres are so bad they could only get a guy who had been out of the league for six years. I do like a number of things I have read and heard about Krueger over the last couple of days, but his success or failure as head coach of the Sabres will likely depend on what Botterill does with the roster.

If you are looking for reasons to be encouraged by this selection, I’ll give you a few.

Krueger has extensive head coaching experience as opposed to Housley. He only has one season of NHL head coaching experience, a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the Edmonton Oilers, but Krueger has a dozen years of head coaching time in Switzerland where he led national team in international competition. He also received very high marks for what he did with Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. They were the surprise of the tournament, finishing in second place to Team Canada. 

Krueger coached Switzerland in three Olympic games and his teams always stood out to me. They were far from the most talented, and usually had just a handful of players with NHL experience. However, they were always super competitive, looked pretty organized and were always a tough out when facing the world powers like Canada, Russia, the United States and Sweden.

For those of you who believe the Sabres played without passion and looked like an unmotivated group far too often, this is an area of strength for Krueger, according to those who know him. Former Sabres forward Thomas Vanek was on Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup, and he called Krueger the best motivator he had ever dealt with. Vanek said the strong showing by Europe that year was due, in large part, to Krueger being able to motivate that team in a different way.Vanek added that Krueger’s greatest asset is his ability to deal with players as individuals. He knows which guys need a pat on the back and which guys need to be pushed and prodded. Krueger is a motivational speaker, and even wrote a book about motivation.

Former Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was also on Team Europe. He told USA TODAY that he couldn’t say enough good things about Krueger.

“He is focused on keeping everyone’s confidence up and everybody’s head right, believing in yourself and the group” Ehrhoff said." We’ve come together as a team.”

Botterill was looking for someone who is a presence in the room and has command of the room, and it appears Krueger checks both of those boxes. I do wonder if Botterill wanted to hire Krueger two years ago. The two did speak about the Sabres' coaching vacancy, but Krueger was committed to his job as chairman of the Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League. 

Even though his time in Edmonton was short, Krueger should have gained valuable experience in terms of coaching a young core group. The Oilers had nine players who were 24 or younger during the 2012-13 campaign. Now look at the Sabres' core group with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin. Add in guys like Lawrence Pilut, Victor Olofsson and perhaps Alex Nylander or even Will Borgen. All of these players will be 24 or younger this coming season. How those players either develop or, in some cases, continue to develop will be a huge factor in the team’s future.

For what it's worth, his Oilers team was 16-13-7 and in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference before losing nine of 10 games in April and falling out of postseason contention. 

The hiring of Krueger won’t create a buzz amongst Sabres fans. It probably won’t do anything to boost season ticket renewals either, but I’m willing to have an open mind and see what he can do. I’d say it can’t be worse than what we’ve seen in recent years, but any Buffalo sports fan should know better than to ever utter those words.

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