Mike Harrington's Hot Read: Housley brings credibility, players have to respond - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington's Hot Read: Housley brings credibility, players have to respond

What this comes down to is respect.

Come September when training camp opens, the heat will no longer be white-hot on the general manager. He's new.

It will no longer be last-chance time for the coach either. He's new too.

There will be no waiting on a firing to bring some magic elixir to a troubled franchise.

The pressure will all be squarely on the players. Some of them will be new to the Buffalo Sabres. Many of them will be the same familiar faces, a group of whom were largely responsible for the running out of Dan Bylsma and what turned into the surprising sacking of Tim Murray.

These players didn't respect Bylsma nearly enough, even though he was the fastest coach in history to 250 wins and had a Stanley Cup on his resume.

They didn't like Byslma's communication skills, and his playing career as a fourth-line plugger didn't engender much reverence either.

Now they have a first-time NHL head coach, a guy who was coaching high school hockey four years ago but quickly ascended the ranks to be a key assistant for a Stanley Cup finalist.

But in Phil Housley, they also have a Hall of Famer and one of the legends of the franchise leading the bench. In his own words, Housley was "pumped" to be back as the man in charge of the Blue and Gold 27 years after he was traded to Winnipeg.

Phil Housley ready to coach, build relationships with Sabres' players

There will be no more excuses now. It's time to play. It's time to listen to the coach. It's time to play the way he wants them to play, not the way they want to play.

That goes for all of them.

It doesn't matter if you're a plugger like Zemgus Girgensons, a prospect like Justin Bailey, a veteran like Tyler Ennis, a big money man like Ryan O'Reilly or the anointed one like Jack Eichel.

The coach and the general manager run the team. The players do not. Let's repeat that all summer: The coach and the general manager run the team, the players do not.

This is now Jason Botterill and Phil Housley's show. Anyone wearing the sweater who doesn't want to line up behind them -- not in front of them -- may as well approach Botterill right now and ask out. There are plenty of moves that can be made in advance of the expansion draft.

This franchise let the players run the team last year and it got them a 78-point season that turned them into a scourge in the hockey world. In hindsight, ownership probably did a prudent thing with a clean sweep and it remains to be seen how many of these guys will be around come September. Evander Kane, for one, probably doesn't need to worry about renewing that suite at the HarborCenter Marriott.

Job one for Housley is to get through to Eichel. Bylsma didn't and that was pretty much that for Bylsma in Buffalo. Eichel and his agent pleaded innocence that they had anything to do with the unrest on the team but then had to watch in horror as ownership threw them under the bus with their mass sacking the day after agent Peter Fish made the media rounds saying it wasn't Eichel's fault.

Let's cut to the chase. If Bylsma was liked by Eichel, he would still be the coach.

Now it's Housley's turn. Maybe this is a Steven Stamkos situation. Barry Melrose didn't know what to do with Tampa Bay's star in 2008 and got an early sacking. Rick Tocchet started to get Stamkos in the direction and then Guy Boucher and Jon Cooper turned him into the superstar everyone expected him to be.

Maybe Housley can do that here as well. But he's the coach. It's his team.

Maybe this season, the guys wearing the skates and hitting the ice will remember that.

 

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