No one likes to be near the bottom looking up.
Right now, though, the Sabres are among the five longest shots to win the 2019-2020 Stanley Cup – but “right now” isn’t forever.
In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sports culture, there are few circumstances that conjure lasting positivity and hope – as both a fan and a player – when you’re coming off another disappointing season. But, among the few, a coaching change is always a unique one because a critical (and quite public) component for success lies in the balance: the chemistry between coach and team. This balance could be a game-changer, with Ralph Krueger leading the charge.
At times, in the data-driven world of sports in 2019, we get locked in on statistics and metrics: the “hard facts” of a team’s (and a coach’s) performance. Such data is no doubt necessary, but with the depth and complexity of data out there, it can become easy to write off “external factors” when we predict a team’s potential on the ice. In truth, success in today’s NHL requires a healthy consideration of data analysis and metrics, but it also requires being able to see the broader picture.
While it can be overestimated in some situations, the degree to which players connect with, respect, and “buy into” Krueger’s system will inevitably influence the trajectory of their season. At first, this sounds like an overgeneralization: what team wouldn’t be affected by their relationship with a new coach? What’s noteworthy here is the timing of the change and its potential effect on the younger players.
After missing the playoffs for the better part of a decade, not only are seasons lost but hopes are sometimes tossed in the fire (even when we don’t want to admit it). This feeling is only exacerbated when thinking about the potential of another (likely mediocre) season with the same coach. New coach, new life – or at least the possibility of new life.
No more could this be true than in Buffalo.
Regardless of your views on Phil Housley, it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that the long-term outlook for the Sabres wasn’t much better under his tenure.
Now though, with Krueger’s experience and development expertise, it’s clear that he could capitalize on the dynamics of the roster – particularly when coaching and grooming the team’s younger players. As ESPN recently highlighted, Krueger has a reputation as “an innovator in hockey strategies, developing young talent and being a motivator.” For Sabres fans who are ready to see some life breathed back into the organization, this is remarkable news.
Aside from their potential since Ralph Krueger’s arrival, the Sabres have also made some valuable moves to solidify the roster for next season. As Kevin Freiheit noted about the roster, the young prospects the Sabres have acquired bring renewed ambition, talent, and refreshed energy (and style) to the team. The Sabres have re-signed team leader, Jeff Skinner, as well as Girgensons and Larrson. And they’ve added Johansson and Vesey to the roster. Regardless of which move was “most significant,” the culmination of these moves is calculated and will likely be effective rather quickly.
Krueger has a fair collection of young, talented (and new) players. If he lives up to his reputation in player development, the Sabres can expect more consistency, sharper team play, and hungry, young players ready to step up in big moments.
Fans can also expect an electric locker room culture more in-tune with its growth and its potential for improvement. The newly acquired draft picks and free agents know that they can be at the forefront of an organizational change in the making. This makes the Sabres’ situation – the coaching change, offseason drafting and signing – distinct from its regime changes in the past. They have a new coach (with an extensive international record) who’s eager to show his ability as an NHL coach; they have a young roster primed for success, ready to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully, this equates to a chip on the Sabres’ shoulder and a mutual fire between Krueger and team that prompts them to set a higher bar.
The Sabres look to exceed the lowly expectations oddsmakers seem to place on them for 2020, though it’s no encouragement to see your name near the bottom. Despite the stormy outlook for actually winning the Stanley Cup, Sabres fans should be encouraged. With both the team dynamic in place and all the ingredients in place, there’s lots of reason for hope.