Phil Housley paid the price for another lost season when he was fired Sunday, but Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel reiterated Monday the deposed coach shouldn't take the blame for the team's second-half collapse.
"It's on us in the room. We're the product on the ice," Eichel said in KeyBank Center as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers and held exit meetings. "It's unfortunate that had to happen because Phil is not the one playing the games and I've said this to you guys before. It's on us as players to be better on the ice every night. It hasn't been good enough. The product on the ice hasn't been good enough. It falls on nobody but ourselves."
Eichel said he didn't sense a disconnect between the players and Housley, even as the Sabres fell apart to the worst record in the league after Dec. 1.
"I think maybe we were looking for answers," he said. "When things went bad, guys were probably looking for answers and it spiraled a little bit. It was hard. I think we were trying to find something, grasp on something and we couldn't find it again. That spiraled unfortunately."
Eichel demurred when asked what kind of qualities he wanted to see in a new coach.
"That's tough. We just moved on from our coach yesterday. It's a tough question for sure," he said. "We just want to get the most out of every player. That's the big thing. I'm sure (General Manager Jason Botterill) has an idea of somebody he wants to work with who he thinks will be good for this group. We'll let him do his thing there. As a group, we should just be worried about our play on the ice. We should worry about being better for next season."
The Sabres have now missed the playoffs for an NHL-high eight straight years. Eichel is 0 for 4 in his career. The captain said the team's long-suffering fan base has to get rewarded soon.
"It's a city that loves us and they care so much," he said. "They have such a positive outlook on our team even through the tough times and I think it says so much about the people here. ... First and foremost we want to do it for ourselves because it's been a while here and it's been such a tough go. But of course we want to do it for the fans. They deserve it. You talk to guys who have been here during the successful years and they talk about how great it was. As a group, we want to capture that."