Is Happy Hour finally here for the Sabres?

Whatever he asked fans in bars, Ralph Krueger got the answer he needed

Mike Schopp
May 16, 2019 - 10:06 am

My favorite part of Wednesday's news that the Buffalo Sabres have hired Ralph Krueger as their head coach is the story about Krueger bar-hopping in Buffalo last month to learn about the city, the fans, and their views on the team.

I was not one of the locals Krueger sidled up to for questioning, and while I was already familiar with Krueger and his career, there is no way I would have recognized him in that setting. (Bulldog doesn't go out very much anymore but is watching the NHL playoffs on a nightly basis. In contrast, I am out all the time, but not watching any of it. Put together, the two of us would have made a strong candidate.)

Krueger wanted a cross-section of Sabres fans, and presumably he got one. I'll always be curious, what were his questions and what answers did he receive?

Listening to WGR can avail you to one of those cross-sections. Fans from different places calling in to talk hockey. There's no entrance exam and there's no screening process other than to (try to) weed out people calling in to waste the show's time. The caller you hear on the radio can be anyone -- even, as I found out the hard way once, the owner of the team.

But that sampling of fans -- callers -- tend to have one trait in common: They're complaining. (Terry Pegula was calling in to talk about Joe Schmidt. There are exceptions.) Now the Sabres have been bad for years so this isn't a disqualifying trait in this case. Likely Krueger didn't encounter too many fans on his bar tour telling him how thrilled they were with the team.

Maybe Krueger heard the kind of things we often hear from callers, that the Sabres are soft, spoiled, unwilling to work, not competitive enough to succeed. These kind of sweeping generalizations seem popular with people who call us, and to some degree or another, each of those criticisms might be true. Maybe fans told Krueger about sloppy zone coverage, or an inability to "win battles". Doubtful that Krueger heard too many times about expected goals percentages or Corsi. Who knows?

Probably, Krueger learned what he would have already thought to be true: Sabres fans are plentiful, passionate and always ready to embrace a team that earns their respect. It isn't only what he would have heard, it's what he would have seen. Walking into Buffalo bars like that, Krueger would have seen the Sabres' logo all around him.

Once Krueger took up the idea in the first place to bounce around and meet people from our area, he was almost definitely by then ready and willing for this challenge.

I'll take a team that works harder too because when is that ever a bad thing? Mostly I just want a good team, and everybody assumes the good teams collectively work harder. (They probably don't, but whatever.) What I want is a coach that, unlike his predecessor, knows who his good players are. Someone who appreciates, among other things, that statistics are a scoreboard for performance. Someone who knows when to check his ego and accept that performance is the thing, and when his judgment didn't generate the same conclusion as the cold numbers then more time is needed to figure out why not.

To my ears, this is how Krueger seems to be. Apart from his use or respect for statistics, I like that he seems a willing scholar into coaching philosophy. He talked about coaching itself as a team enterprise. In a sense, the fans he met in bars last month became a part of his coaching team, helping to mold his impression of Buffalo and its people if not also his opinions on Sabres players.

I wish I could have been one of those people, but I go out enough as it is.

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