Bravo, Botterill

You have to give credit to the Sabres general manager for the hire of Ralph Krueger

May 16, 2019 - 9:47 am

Okay, first things first. Ralph Krueger is not a soccer guy. Nor is he a soccer coach. He’s not English.

He’s from Winnipeg. He grew up playing hockey and played professionally in Germany before beginning his hockey coaching career. If anything, he’s a hockey guy who got a job as chairman of a soccer team in the English Premier League.

What that means, at least as I understand it, is that Krueger was in charge of every aspect of business for a team in one of the most famous and wealthy sports leagues on the planet. If your sporting world view hasn’t evolved beyond you hearing the word soccer and immediately imagining mini-vans and coaches handing out orange slices to 12-year-olds, I can’t help you.

That doesn’t mean you have to love this choice. It’s just important to point out that if you’re going to denigrate soccer as some way to be down on this hire, I believe you’re badly missing the mark. There are many reasons why any coach might not succeed. In the case of Krueger being hired by the Buffalo Sabres, his having been in charge of Southampton Football Club the past five years is not going to be one of them. What that means to me, mostly, is that Krueger is an impressive enough individual that the owners of a soccer club with billions of dollars at their disposal turned over their operation to him despite a sports background spent almost entirely in hockey.

So what is there to like?

Above all else, I’d say I’m mostly encouraged by the descriptions of Krueger as a communicator. A coach in the National Hockey League today has to be someone who can get his point across and also listen to what his players are telling him in return. Reading people, getting to know them and helping to draw the best out of them is paramount. You don’t have to like it, but today’s players are different than they were back when (insert whatever time reference you see fit). They’ve been exposed to high level coaching for many years prior to making the NHL. They don’t just want to know what to do and how to do it, they want to know why they’re being told to do it a certain way.

Some might say that’s coddling and I may not argue with you, but it’s just par for the course in the NHL today. Ignoring it for the sake of “showing the players who the boss is” or some such nonsense isn’t going to get you anywhere. Adapt or get out of the way.

I think with this hire, general manager Jason Botterill is adapting and therefore so are the Sabres. It is not a safe hire by any means. If it doesn’t work, critics will be armed and ready to take Botterill down over it. It may have been tempting for the Sabres general manager to hire someone more known to fans and maybe even Sabres ownership. Maybe it didn’t matter either way because Botterill probably needed to nail this hire or face his own demise.

In that way, I’m impressed that Botterill didn’t go conservative with this choice. I highly doubt that there was any shortage of retread candidates that would’ve represented more experience and name recognition. Any notion that Krueger was the only guy that would take their job is silly.

I’m more inclined to give Botterill credit for landing a coach with the background, in and out of sports, that Krueger has than I am to mock him as the “soccer guy”.

Now, is this when we start “Skinner Watch”?

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