Housley expects to be back as coach
But Sabres have decision to make after another season without a postseason spot
DETROIT – The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up a lost season Saturday night in Little Caesars Arena with a 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Now the focus shifts to fixing the mess of their eighth straight non-playoff campaign, and deciding if Phil Housley will get a third year as coach.
A couple of hours prior to the season finale against the Wings, the Sabres finalized plans for their end-of-season interviews. The team is scheduled to be off Sunday and announced players will be in KeyBank Center on Monday for exit meetings with Housley and General Manager Jason Botterill. The players will also meet the media starting at 9 a.m.
The team then announced that Housley will have a session with reporters Monday at 2:30 and Botterill will have one Monday at 3.
The fact that Housley is scheduled for a session could mean the team is not planning on a coaching change. It also could mean nothing. The team could hold Housley’s session and certainly make a move later in the week or, frankly, at any point in the offseason.
Botterill, of course, was strongly in Housley’s corner when he last spoke to reporters in February in Tampa. And owner Terry Pegula offered support when he met the media last month at the NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix.
Saturday’s win gave the Sabres two straight for the first time since December. They played strong in the final three games, wins over
Ottawa and Detroit and Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Central Division champion Nashville.
That said, it’s unlikely those results will influence Housley’s status one way or the other.
“It’s a good way to end it,” Housley said after the game. “It’s not where we want to be as a group unfortunately but I hand it to the guys. They finished it off the right way. It could have easily turned another direction but they fought against Nashville, we had a big win against Ottawa. Right up and down the lineup, everybody played well.”
After the morning skate, Housley was asked point-blank if he expects to be the coach of the Sabres next season, He calmly answered, “Yes, I do.”
The numbers are not in Housley’s favor. The Sabres finished 33-39-10 after going 25-45-12 last year, Housley’s rookie season as an NHL head coach. His overall mark of 58-84-22 gives him a points percentage of just .421. After finishing 31st overall last year, the Sabres ended this one at 27th – after sitting at No. 1 through 25 games.
The Sabres were just 1-13-2 in their previous 16 games until beating Ottawa Thursday night. They went just 2-12-2 in March. Until winning Saturday, they had not won two in a row since December.
“The consistency within our game (has been missing),” Housley said. “But I am pleased the guys have stuck through this difficult March and come into April and they continue to find things to play for and play with pride.”
Housley cracked some smiles after the game, but he was grim in the morning. Whereas he has often joked with reporters before his sessions, there has been none of that in recent days. He has just taken his position and waited for questions to be asked.
When his status came up, Housley was vague on whether he’s broached the topic much with Botterill.
“We talk on a day to day basis and that hasn’t changed,” Housley said. “Those things will be addressed tomorrow and Monday and we’re just going to be focused on playing the game tonight. We’re just going day to day business right now, just focusing on my job and what we have to do to get ready to play Detroit.”
Housley admitted it has been difficult to have his first NHL head coaching job turn into a massive struggle and a daily breakdown of his job status. The Sabres, of course, were 176-2 and first overall on Nov. 28, with Housley a prime candidate for the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year.
All of that collapsed over the last four months, leaving the organization again in turmoil with a high slot in Tuesday’s NHL Draft Lottery and thoughts of a fourth coaching change since longtime bench boss Lindy Ruff was replaced by Ron Rolston in 2013.
“It’s definitely not where I want to be, right?” Housley admitted. “As far as where this organization is and the things that have happened in the past, those things I can’t focus on right now. Those things we have to look at and evaluate after the season. But it has been not the direction we wanted to take.”