Housley wants to get off to a good start this season

September 13, 2018 - 6:07 pm

After finishing last season with a 25-45-12 record and a last place finish in the National Hockey League standings, Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley is gearing up for a fresh start in his second year as the bench boss in Buffalo.

While last season was, arguably, an evaluation year for Housley, along with general manager Jason Botterill, the season got off to a rough start for the Sabres. Buffalo opened the 2017-18 season with five straight losses, and only managed to come away with three wins in the 12 games played in October. By Christmas, the Sabres were out of playoff contention, sitting at an abysmal 9-20-6 through 35 games.

Heading into the 2018-19 season with a new cast of players in front of him, Housley knows that his team will need to have a better start than in years past.

"It's crucial. It sets you up for the season, but there will be times that we will be faced with adversity," Housley said in his first meeting with the media this season. "Hopefully we don't have to face that right at the start, but I feel that we can only control what we do tomorrow, how we work the next day, how we work in our exhibition games. When we get to that point and when we have to face that adversity, we can change it right away. We don't continue to bleed. We can make our adjustments as a coaching staff and as a team, and try to plug the hole, if you will, that we can turn that thing around right away."

"You look around at all 31 teams, they all want to get off to a good start. It's imperative that you set yourself up for success. In saying that, we do have a young team, we're going to face some adversity. I'm really confident that our leadership is going to handle it the right way, and we'll be able to make that adjustment."

Overall last season, the Sabres finished with a league-worst 62 points in the standings, while also finishing last in goals per-game, and being one of the worst teams in terms of goals-against average. With all of the challenges that the Sabres faced last season, Housley feels that it will leave his team better off for any challenges to come at them next. 

"To go what we went through last year, we learned a lot about ourselves, and we learned a lot about ourselves as coaches," Housley said. "There were some tough times, and being able to face those adverse situations I think can only help us moving forward. What we need to do and change, and the adjustments we need to make, that I know there's going to be one constant - what can we control. That's our work ethic and our conditioning and compete. I feel that we're going to focus on that in training camp starting tomorrow, and hopefully that will get us through camp in a good spot."

With the Sabres finishing dead last in the NHL standings, it was only a matter of time before changes started to occur. The Sabres then went to work this offseason, letting go of 10 of their players from last season while bringing in nine new additions that could impact the NHL roster right away. While it seems unlikely that the Sabres can be a legitimate playoff contender this upcoming season, the changes made this offseason give Housley and his staff promise of a bright future in Buffalo.

"I think guys are excited," Housley said. "I think our management has done a terrific job of addressing the change and our acquisitions, and just the whole new mentality and mindset of our players coming into this camp. There's an excitement. Obviously, we haven't been tested. We have a lot of work to do, and there's going to be adversity. It's gonna be interesting to see how we handle that. I know last year it really affected us, but I think that there's good vibe going on in that room with all of the players. There's going to be a lot of competition, which will be healthy for us."

With the new group of players in town now, and with a new leadership group being set in place for the future, Housley is confident that his can can overcome anything that gets in their way of future success.

"Even speaking for myself, after going through it one year as a coach and just being in a day-to-day operation, it's just different. I had to face a lot of adversity, and I think our players are going to be ready for that. I think they're going to handle it differently because, let's face it, we're a young team and we're going to face adversity. But I think our group is a tight-knit group, our leadership group's been tight, and they're going to handle it in the right way."

This past weekend, Houlsey got the first chance to get an up and close look at some of the potential future pieces to the puzzle at the Sabres Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter. Housley was very impressed with what he saw from some of the players coming up in the Sabres organization.

"In particular, I liked a lot of players that played. You look at Rasmus Asplund, [Victor] Olofsson, I thought that Will Borgen had a terrific Prospects Challenge bringing his physicality. Overall, you look at Casey [Mittelstadt], you look at Rasmus [Dahlin], and you look at Alex Nylander to name a few, I thought they competed and they worked very hard. Just for those group of guys and the guys that were all a part of the Prospects Challenge, I give them credit because they brought it."

In addition to the young players, Buffalo did bring in a number of players via trade or free agency that will help this team grow and become more of a complete lineup from top to bottom. The Sabres brought in players like Jeff Skinner, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson and Conor Sheary to add some more scoring to the mix, as well as help shake things up with what wasn't working in Buffalo in the years before.

With a player like Sheary, the 26-year-old comes in after winning two Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. Housley has always been in favor of bringing in a veteran presence to help a team with the experience of playing in those big situation games.

"I think it's invaluable," Housley said. "Any time we can acquire anybody that has won a Cup and share those experiences with our players is only going to be beneficial for our team."

Aside from the young guns looking to make an impact on the roster, it will be the fourth year that Jack Eichel is in town for Housley and the Sabres. The 21-year-old is also excited to get the season in full swing after, what seemed like to be, one of the longest summers between the action on the ice.

This season, Housley is getting a different sense from Eichel when talking with him. He believes that Eichel has grown up and now possesses the skills and mindset of a potential future captain of the organization.

"I just feel a different vibe," Housley said. "I see a maturity in Jack, and with our leadership group being able to speak their hearts to each other and open up and feel vulnerable and not have all of these defensive mechanisms come up. That's part of the change. It's good to see Jack in a good spot. I think he's excited, along with our leadership group, our coaching staff with myself included. We're excited for this training camp and getting things going and getting back on the ice. Enough with the meetings. It's time to get out and get to work, but I really like where Jack is and our leadership group as far as their approach this year."

As for the captaincy, Housley is not ready to make a decision there just yet.

"We're just going to evaluate that through training camp and see where it plays out.

09-13 Phil Housley

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