The Buffalo Sabres have been without a head coach since April 20th when the team dismissed Dan Bylsma of hit duties. The search for his replacement is ongoing and with the field of contestants not shrinking, there are multiple names to consider.
One man who my mind immediately goes to when thinking of our next bench boss is an all-time great of not only the Buffalo Sabres, but the NHL as well. That man is Phil Housley.
Let’s begin with Housley’s playing career. The Buffalo Sabres drafted Housley with the 6th pick in the 1982 draft. Accumulating 1,232 points in 1,495 games, Housley is one of the greatest offensive defensemen in National Hockey League history. In 2015, this was recognized with an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Housley played 77 games as an 18 year old rookie in 1983 with the Sabres, scoring 19 goals and amassing 66 points in the process. In 608 career games with the Sabres Housley collected 558 points. It isn’t crazy to argue that Housley may be the greatest defenseman in team history.
Following his 8 seasons on the Sabres blue line, Housley would play 12 more seasons across the NHL, spending time with the original Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and even a short stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Housley continued producing 30 point seasons into his late 30s, cementing his status as one of the greatest defensive producers of all time.
Housley retired as a player after the 2002-03 season which opened up a new door in his hockey career: coaching.
Housley is most known in the realm of coaching as the man who guided the 2013 USA Men’s World Junior team to a Gold Medal at the IIHF World Junior Championships. Perhaps it was this victory that led to Housley receiving his next coaching gig.
Housley joined the Nashville Predators coaching staff before the 2013-14 season. Nashville has made the playoffs 3 of 4 seasons with him on the staff, including three straight trips to the postseason and four series victories. The 2016-17 season has been the Preds most accomplished yet, as they defeated the the 1st seed Chicago Blackhawks en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance, as well as becoming only the 3rd eight seed to win the Western Conference championship.
With the Hall of Fame defender in the room, the Predators defense has become the most dominant unit in the league and without a doubt game changing. Housley has worked hand in hand with the very best blue liners in the world during his time in Music City, including Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Suter and P.K. Subban.
Why does Housley’s experience as a defender and working with the best defenders matter? Because D is the position that the Sabres need improvement at most. Not only would Housley’s time as a player benefit the players on next year’s squad, but perhaps an even bigger impact he’d have is bringing what he learned from the likes of Weber and Subban to Buffalo.
It’s not easy to craft a defenseman, but if the Sabres can employ a similar system to the Predators and take notes from how they were built then the group has the potential to be lethal.
The pieces needed are here. Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe are equally as talented as they are unheralded. With Brendan Guhle potentially making the jump next year, the Sabres can have their incarnation of Subban. The addition of Viktor Antipin is exciting as well. Another puck moving defender can be beneficial to an always mobile system like the Preds have, a system that can be transferred to Buffalo.
It will be interesting to see who emerges as top contenders in the Sabres coaching race. Housley is undoubtedly my favorite, but there are still candidates deserving of consideration. Stay tuned to the site in the coming weeks-or until a coach is hired-to get to know your coach.