Hous­ley didn’t get any re­ac­tion when he called team soft



our or­ga­ni­za­tion to move for­ward. We are all re­spon­si­ble for the suc­cess and fail­ures.”

Credit to Bot­ter­ill for putting the tar­get squarely on him­self when he said, “We didn’t put the proper ros­ter out there. We didn’t give Phil enough play­ers, enough tools to have suc­cess out there.”

Bot­ter­ill was clearly hold­ing back his emo­tions at the start of his re­marks about Hous­ley. This was a dif­fi­cult choice to ad­mit his first coach­ing hire as an NHL GM failed, but he felt it had to be done.

The Sabres are just still too far from the post­sea­son. It took 98 points for Colum­bus to claim the last play­off spot in the East this sea­son and here’s some per­spec­tive on that: The Sabres haven’t even got­ten to 90 since their last post­sea­son run in 2011.

When Hous­ley cor­rectly called his play­ers “soft” af­ter a dread­ful Fe­bru­ary loss to the New York Rangers, they didn’t re­spond to the jab. It was the be­gin­ning of the end. They tur­tled through a ter­ri­ble game two nights later in New Jer­sey and were never heard from again af­ter a hor­ri­ble 2-12-2 March. Shame on them.

Hous­ley could have used some re­ac­tion from his team, but he didn’t get any and that’s on the play­ers.

This was a soft team, which Bot­ter­ill has to ad­dress. They flat-out quit last week on Long Is­land and Bot­ter­ill was seen fum­ing out­side the Nas­sau Coli­seum locker room. In hind­sight, he prob­a­bly had his mind made up then.

The play­ers weren’t con­sulted and some will be un­happy at the change be­cause there was some re­spect for Hous­ley’s Hall of Fame ca­reer in the dress­ing room. But they didn’t pro­duce in the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

If you’re look­ing for a sore spot with play­ers, con­stant line-jug­gling was a big one. You can do all the tin­ker­ing you want at prac­tice but when you get into a game, play­ers want you to keep the lines run­ning to­gether for at least a game or two to see if chem­istry de­vel­ops. Too of­ten, Hous­ley would have new trios and they would be gone by the sec­ond pe­riod.

There was con­stant be­hind-thescenes snip­ing about Bylsma that you never heard with Hous­ley, ex­cept when it came to the line-jug­gling.

Bot­ter­ill makes the ros­ter and gives Hous­ley the team to work with, which is why Tage Thomp­son was forced upon the coach when a bet­ter choice much ear­lier in the sec­ond half of the sea­son would have been Vic­tor Olof­s­son. But it was Hous­ley who mostly chose who played and where they were de­ployed. He was a fail­ure in those ar­eas.

Was Hous­ley cater­ing to the GM with his bizarre over-reliance on Thomp­son and Vladimir Sobotka, two pieces that came back from the hor­ri­ble Ryan O’Reilly trade? Why was Marco Scan­della on the ice ev­ery night while Lawrence Pi­lut played lim­ited min­utes and was even­tu­ally shipped back to Rochester?

Bot­ter­ill again de­fended the O’Reilly trade, point­ing out that it gave cap flex­i­bil­ity that al­lowed the Sabres to sign Jeff Skin­ner. That’s not all that ac­cu­rate, with the real flex­i­bil­ity only com­ing in De­cem­ber when Pa­trik Ber­glund quit the team and saved the Sabres a $3.8 mil­lion cap hit. And the ar­gu­ment be­comes moot if the Sabres fail to re-sign Skin­ner, which is be­com­ing a loom­ing ques­tion ev­ery day.

The Sabres still seem overly fix­ated on the fu­ture at the ex­pense of the present, a no­tion of which Bot­ter­ill didn’t agree.

“You can keep that dia­logue go­ing or you can look at it that we traded for Jeff Skin­ner, that we traded for Bran­don Mon­tour,” he said. “It’s al­ways go­ing to be a bal­ance here and it’s al­ways go­ing to be bal­ance un­til we get the right mix.”

For his part, Hous­ley overused vet­er­ans like Scan­della and Sobotka, who shouldn’t have been on the ice and, like Bylsma be­fore him, com­pletely overused Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen. It got to the point that the big Finn’s sea­son cratered to the tune of a mi­nus-41 rat­ing. That num­ber, by the way, tied the fran­chise record and is the sec­ond-worst by any NHL player since the 2005 lock­out.

Hous­ley didn’t get nearly enough good goal­tend­ing in his two sea­sons, and some of that has to lie on the shoul­ders of goalie coach An­drew Allen. Robin Lehner and Chad John­son strug­gled last sea­son, with Carter Hutton and Li­nus Ull­mark too of­ten let­ting in bad goals this sea­son.

But while the goalies, par­tic­u­larly Ull­mark, needed to be bet­ter tech­ni­cally, Hous­ley never seemed to al­low them to get much rhythm. Team re­sults of­ten dic­tated the starter, with Hous­ley yank­ing one goalie and go­ing to the other too much on the ba­sis of, say, a 3-1 loss.

Hous­ley’s sys­tem was de­signed for his team to at­tack as a five-man unit but in the end, it fos­tered an en­vi­ron­ment where for­wards lol­ly­gagged back to the de­fen­sive zone and cov­er­age near the net seemed op­tional, which was a nightly is­sue for Scan­della, even though Hous­ley kept run­ning him out there.

The goals-against to­tals in Hous­ley’s two sea­sons were 280 and 271. The num­bers in Buf­falo’s two tank sea­sons of 2013-14 and 2014-15 were 248 and 274. That’s just un­ac­cept­able.

It may sim­ply be a case of the Wade Phillips Syn­drome, that Hous­ley is a good man bet­ter suited to be an as­sis­tant rather than a head coach.

The Sabres’ coach­ing carousel, once non-ex­is­tent as Lindy Ruff spent 17 sea­sons in charge, con­tin­ues to spin. Since Buf­falo’s all-time vic­to­ries leader was fired in 2013, Hous­ley is the fourth to fail, join­ing a list that in­cludes Ron Rol­ston, Ted Nolan Ver­sion II and Bylsma.

Who­ever Bot­ter­ill brings in next needs to be handed a bet­ter ros­ter. And fast. The At­lantic Divi­sion is bru­tal, with Tampa Bay, Bos­ton and Toronto on top, Mon­treal on the rise and Florida on the verge of hir­ing Joel Quen­neville to be its coach.

The GM is on the clock now too, get­ting the sec­ond chance at a coach­ing hire that Mur­ray never got. The new coach is go­ing to in­herit the or­ga­ni­za­tional al­ba­tross of hav­ing the long­est play­off drought in the NHL, and we all saw how dif­fi­cult it was for the Bills to deal with that tag over the years.

This is an or­ga­ni­za­tion try­ing to spread an il­lu­sion that it knows what it’s do­ing by set­ting up to win games in Rochester. That nar­ra­tive gets crushed if the Amerks have an­other early play­off exit.

Af­ter eight straight non-play­off sea­sons in Buf­falo, pa­tience is run­ning low among the fan base. Own­er­ship is try­ing to stay calm, but Kim Peg­ula ad­mit­ted last month in Phoenix that it has been dif­fi­cult.

If this team doesn’t make the play­offs in 2020, Bot­ter­ill might be toast, too.

Harry Scull Jr./News file photo

Buf­falo Sabres GM Ja­son Bot­ter­ill, left, had lit­tle choice but to fire his first head coach, Phil Hous­ley.

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