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Sully's Mailbag: Back then, fans had their Phil of Housley

The mailman made a late stop after the Sabres hired Phil Housley as their new head coach. Not surprisingly, there was some skepticism. Many fans have a well-earned wariness about Buffalo's two major pro sports teams.

If Terry Pegula was not moved by nostalgia in making this hire, as Mike Harrington suggests, there is good reason. Housley's career as a player doesn't inspire pangs of nostalgia, but feelings of reflective regret.

It did not go well at the end. In the 1990 playoffs, the first I covered in Buffalo, the Sabres lost to the Canadiens in the first round. The turning point in the series came in Game Five in Buffalo, when Housley backed off and failed to get down to block Stephane Richer's game-winning goal.

Housley was a great talent, but he was seen as symptomatic of the team's shortcomings. He was a soft defenseman who came up small in the playoffs. A month after the series, I called for him to be traded. That June, the Sabres sent him to Winnipeg (along with Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first) for Dale Hawerchuk and a first-round pick that became Brad May.

Watch: Our Team's Takeaway on the Sabres hiring Phil Housley

None of this means Housley won't be a good, or even great, head coach. He paid his dues and deserves his chance in the NHL. But let's not pretend this is some beloved ex-player coming home. I can imagine what fans will say if the Sabres become a speedy, finesse team that's not tough enough in the playoffs.

On to the Mailbag:

Don Stoeckel asks: Big question is, was Housley's success in Nashville as D coach system or players?

Sully: Housley got a lot of justifiable credit for his work with the Nashville defense, which emerged as the most offensively talented and mobile blue line in the league under his tutelage.

That said, it's nice to have great players. P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are two of the best defensemen in hockey. What if the Canadiens hadn't traded Subban to Nashville? What if Pekka Rinne was average in the playoffs? Maybe the Preds don't make a Cup run and Housley doesn't become a hot coaching candidate.

It's generally team success that turns assistants into hot commodities. Both of the Pegulas' new hires came from teams that made a run to the championship -- Sean McDermott with Carolina and Housley with Nashville.

Housley wasn't seen as a white-hot candidate until the Predators swept Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. McDermott wasn't on the radar until the Panthers went to the Super Bowl. Good players lift coaches -- when they're on the way up and after they get that first big job.

Thomas Durlak asks: Why as Sabres/Bills fans are we enamored with former players or coaches? We've won NOTHING move on.

Sully: I don't believe that Housley's history as a Sabre was a determining factor in his hiring. And hiring an ex-player didn't hurt when they hired Lindy Ruff as coach. Ruff never won the big one, but he was highly successful.

The Bills have a reputation for NOT hiring former players. It's long been an issue with the Super Bowl-era guys. They should have done more. Ralph Wilson did make a huge mistake when he brought back Marv Levy as general manager to engender good will at One Bills Drive and in the community.

Jason Botterill was briefly a Sabre, but it's his experience with a winning Penguins culture that made him attractive to the Pegulas. You could argue that Buffalo has been more enamored with Pittsburgh types over the years. Remember Tom Donahoe? Mike Mularkey? Doug Whaley? OK, never mind.

@williamkevin24 asks: Sabres/Bills both go inexperienced HCs. U feel it's the easiest way for Pegs to sell a patience platform to impatient fans?

Sully: Not with the Sabres. In the third year with Jack Eichel, five years removed from the start of the tank, there's pressure to win now. Fans are fed up and have lost patience, and Housley's lack of head coaching experience won't be an excuse.

The Bills are a slightly different matter. They've gone 17 straight years without making the playoffs, but McDermott walked into a tough situation and shouldn't be expected to win right away (though he's kind of middling it). Patience is warranted, which is why McDermott uses the word "process" in every other sentence.

Still, we're talking first-time GMs and head coaches for both teams, so there should be heavy scrutiny. Regardless of record, they'll all be judged on their competence and suitability for the big jobs.

Mike Harrington: With Housley, it comes down to respect

mclennon99 asks: I hear LeBron James is considering leaving Cleveland again. Would he drive a stake through the hearts of Cavs fans a second time? Where might he land, and please don't say the Warriors.

Sully: During the Finals, there was much speculation on Cleveland sports radio about whether James would leave. It probably will happen again. He has a player option after next year and he still harbors resentment over the vicious letter owner Dan Gilbert wrote when he bolted for Miami six year ago.

I could see LeBron going to the Clippers, assuming Chris Paul takes a max deal and stays in LA. Paul has never reached a conference final and is desperate to prove he's a winner. He's close friends with James, who is also 32. It would be a great story if they teamed up for a title run (or two) in their mid-30s.

@LeBronstein asks: LeBron or Magic?

Sully: You're killing me. I've felt for years that Magic Johnson was the best ever, and watching ESPN's 30 For 30 on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry has reminded me what a basketball genius he really was.

But LeBron is slowly winning me over. Think about it. The Warriors won a record 73 games, but had to add Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the world, to beat him. It's a copout, but I need a bit more time.

@Sportsworld716 asks: How bad is Boxing? Goes outside the sport to schedule a fight between a backyard brawler and one of the greatest boxers ever.

Sully: Agreed. Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor, which is scheduled for August 26, is a freak show, like Muhammad Ali taking on wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976. It's an insult to boxing, which is basically admitting it can no longer command the public interest on its own merits.

McGregor is an MMA superstar, but he'll be boxing as a pro for the first time. His sport will benefit from the exposure. Mayweather is looking to get to 50-0, but he has nothing to gain -- except, of course, the millions he'll earn from all the saps who pay to watch this lurid spectacle.

Dan Meyer: Imagine you could watch just one current MLB outfield play for the rest of the season -- hitting, running the bases and fielding. I'd go with Boston (Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts), just ahead of Florida's trio (Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton).

Sully: As a Red Sox fan, I'm tempted. Defensively, they're probably No. 1. Bradley is one of the game's top center fielders. Betts and Benintendi could play center on most teams. Betts is one of the best hitters in baseball and the other two are solid enough.

But right now, the nod goes to the Yankee outfield of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge. Judge leads the AL in OPS. Hicks, who has taken over for Jacoby Ellsbury in center, is fifth. Gardner is 25th and having his best slugging year at 33. They'll all very good defensively.

Does batting practice count? Judge's BP has become a must-see event. He's the greatest spectacle in baseball at the moment.

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