If Phil Housley and Rick Tocchet handed in their résumés with no names attached, it would be tough to tell them apart.
They’re both 53 years old. Each played more than 1,000 NHL games, including the 1996-97 season with the Washington Capitals. They’ve earned their keep as assistant coaches who connect with players. They’ve had individual and team success.
It’s no wonder the Sabres waited for them before moving ahead with their coaching search.
Buffalo was in a holding pattern as Pittsburgh and Nashville competed for the Stanley Cup. Now that Tocchet and the Penguins have defeated Housley and the Predators, the interview process can begin again.
Here’s a look at the Sabres’ top candidates.
The start of Housley’s journey is well-known to Buffalo fans. The Sabres used the sixth pick in the 1982 NHL Draft on the swift-skating defenseman from St. Paul, Minn. He wasted no time rewarding them with an electrifying rookie season, part of an eight-year run with Buffalo. He ranks fifth in franchise history with 558 points in 608 games and holds every single-season record for defensemen.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame after playing 21 seasons, recording 338 goals and 1,292 points in 1,495 games.
A year after hanging up his skates, Housley began his coaching career in his home state of Minnesota. He took over Stillwater High School in 2004 and spent nine seasons on its bench. The Ponies were 49-118-7 in the seven years prior to Housley’s arrival, and he guided them to a 109-109-21 record while creating a more difficult nonconference schedule.
USA Hockey noticed. Housley was an assistant coach on the world junior teams in 2007 and 2011. He was head coach in 2013 and won the gold medal with Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe as his captain.
Housley was also an assistant coach for the U.S. world championship team in 2011, 2013 and 2014, winning a bronze medal in his second year.
Housley has already coached one game in Buffalo, standing behind the bench for the All-American Prospects Game in 2012.
Nashville hired Housley in 2013, shortly after he won his gold and bronze medals, and he worked as an assistant under Barry Trotz. The Predators cleaned house after the season, and only one assistant survived the transition to coach Peter Laviolette: Housley.
After four seasons as an NHL assistant coach, Housley is eager to take the top job.
The native of Scarborough, Ont., began his playing career as an underdog. Tocchet was passed over in the 1982 draft, then was a sixth-round selection by Philadelphia in 1983. He grew into a three-time 40-goal scorer who dropped the gloves more than 150 times, according to HockeyFights.com.
Tocchet played 19 seasons in the NHL, recording 440 goals and 952 points in 1,144 games. He won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991-92.
After retiring in 2002, Tocchet began his coaching career with Colorado midway through the 2002-03 season. He spent 1½ years as an assistant for Tony Granato.
The Coyotes hired Tocchet as Wayne Gretzky’s assistant for the 2005-06 season. It was a year that will forever accompany Tocchet, who took a leave of absence in February 2006 after being connected to a gambling ring. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to promote gambling and promoting gambling in May 2007 and received probation for two years.
Tocchet was out of the NHL for exactly two years and rejoined the Coyotes in February 2008. He finished the season in Arizona, then joined Tampa Bay as an associate coach for 2008-09. He quickly assumed the top role.
The Lightning fired Barry Melrose just one month into the season, and Tocchet took over. He went 19-33-14 in his first year and 34-36-12 in his second, amassing a 53-69-26 record. The Lightning fired him after the 2009-10 season and promptly went to the Eastern Conference finals under Guy Boucher.
Tocchet joined the Penguins as an assistant coach in 2014-15, ending a four-year hiatus from an NHL bench. During his three seasons with the Penguins, they’ve won two Stanley Cups.
The 45-year-old has already interviewed for the Sabres’ coaching position. Like Tocchet, he has ties to Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill through their days together in Pittsburgh.
The Illinois native played professionally for 13 years, including 183 games in the NHL. He began his coaching career in 2008-09 as an assistant for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. He took over as head coach late in the season when Pittsburgh promoted Dan Bylsma.
After leading Wilkes-Barre into the playoffs in 2009-10, Reirden joined Bylsma’s staff in Pittsburgh. He spent four years with the Penguins.
Reirden has worked in Washington for the past three seasons. The Capitals promoted him to associate coach under Trotz this year. Reirden is in charge of the Capitals’ defensemen and power play, which tied for third after being fifth and first the previous two seasons.
Botterill could move quickly, saying it’s possible the Sabres name a coach this week. His goal from Day One with Buffalo was to have someone in place by the draft June 23.