At first glance, the question may seem imbecilic, or absurd. After all, Phil Housley has only been Buffalo’s head coach for 21 regular season games.
Not even a full two months into the season and many fans are already shifting their focus toward the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and highly-touted prospect Rasmus Dahlin, a 17-year-old Swedish defenseman.
Don’t look now, but even the Arizona Coyotes are catching up. They’ve played a couple more games than the Sabres, but are just a single point away from putting Buffalo in 31st place.
For any coach coming into their first year with a team, it seems rather unlikely that an organization would actually fire them prior to the end of the season. It would be a terrible look for any team.
Terminating Housley would also set a bad precedent for any future coaches, giving them the knowledge that there is very little breathing room, and no real time to allow the team to adapt to a style of play.
However, the things we have seen over the first quarter of the season may be giving fans good reasons to wonder about the future of Housley’s coaching career.
Every new coach deserves leeway and the benefit of the doubt, and it will take some time for the players to adapt and learn a new system. That’s understandable, but has there been any progress or signs of improvement from game 1 to game 22?
Or, perhaps a better question might be, “Does Housley get a free pass this year regardless of the team’s final record”?
As it stands, the Sabres are on pace to finish the season with 55 points, which would be a 21-point drop from last season. Those are tank-like numbers compared to a few years ago, back when Buffalo finished with 52 and 54 points from 2013-15.
Some may point the finger to the roster and the fact that most of the players are simply not good, and that’s a fair point. The Sabres have dead weight and some players that are pretty much wasting roster spots. Obviously, Housley wasn’t given much to work with, but this isn’t a team that was expected to make the playoffs, even by our own staff.
Regardless of expectations, Housley needs to find ways to get the team to come together and play respectable hockey. They may not be good, but they are underachieving, and at this point, it’s difficult to be much worse. The level of effort from players has been lacking and inconsistent all season long.
The Sabres still don’t have a goal from a defenseman, and have scored just 48 in 21 games. That’s 2.29 per game, which ranks dead last in the NHL. To put that into perspective, the Lightning lead the league with 3.95 per game.
The point isn’t to sit here and bash them and tell you how much they’ve struggled. We all know they’re bad, and there’s no hiding that.
But for the remainder of this season, Housley needs to prove that he deserves to be the head coach for next year and beyond.
It’s important to keep in mind that I’m not saying Housley should be fired, especially not now. What I am saying is that he needs to show me something, and there’s plenty of time (61 games to be exact) to do that.
I’m willing to let Housley have a legitimate shot with this team and finish the season, at the very least. But if the Sabres continue to struggle mightily as they have all year, Housley will start to feel pressure.
Again, he deserves time and patience, but remember that he came to Buffalo without any experience as a head coach. He did serve as an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators for a few years, but his focus was heavily on the defense, and perhaps that could be where he fits best.
I’d love to see Housley succeed and remain behind the Buffalo bench for a long time, but that status will have to be earned, and it starts with proving that this year isn’t just a waste.