When the search for Phil Housley's replacement as Buffalo Sabres coach began five weeks ago, General Manager Jason Botterill was expected to target candidates with extensive NHL experience.
Botterill went a different route after all.
Ralph Krueger, a 59-year-old who previously coached the Edmonton Oilers and the Swiss National Team, was announced Wednesday morning as the 19th coach in Sabres franchise history.
Despite only coaching the Edmonton Oilers for 48 games during a lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Krueger continues this offseason's trend of teams filling vacancies with candidates who previously held NHL head coaching jobs.
While teams have been criticized for picking retreads, history tells us experience makes a hire more likely to succeed.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, teams have made a total of 128 coaching hires, which includes those who were retained after serving an interim role. Of those coaching changes, 76 had on-the-job experience as a coach in the league and 52 became first-time NHL head coaches.
Among the hires with previous NHL head coaching experience, 48 reached the playoffs at some point during their tenure with the team that hired them, or a rate of 63.1 percent, and six have won at least one Stanley Cup. Quenneville won three in Chicago, while Darryl Sutter and Mike Sullivan won two apiece in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Additionally, 26 of those hires led their team to at least one Eastern or Western Conference final. On the other hand, 26 lasted fewer than three full seasons, including Dan Bylsma, who was fired by the Sabres after only two seasons.
Among the newcomers to the job, 29 led their team to the postseason at least once, or a success rate of 55.7 percent. Of those coaches, seven appeared in at least one conference final and only two won a Stanley Cup during their first coaching tenure in the league: Bylsma (Pittsburgh, 2008-09) and Randy Carlyle (Anaheim, 2006-07).
Last offseason showed the stigma of hiring college coaches is gone and many general managers are open to hiring someone with a fresh approach. Rather than turning to an out-of-work NHL coach, Dallas and the New York Rangers hired Jim Montgomery (University of Denver) and David Quinn (Boston University), respectively.
Montgomery led the Stars to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, while Quinn was lauded for his work with the rebuilding Rangers. Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour had never been an NHL head coach, yet he has the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final during his first season. Brind'Amour had not been a head coach at any level but served the previous seven seasons as an assistant with the team.
While no team has hired a European coach since 2001, most have chosen to fill vacancies with head coaches from the American Hockey League or assistants around the NHL. No matter the candidate's background, general managers have not been as patient with coaches who no previous head coaching experience in the league.
Twenty-six of the 52 first-time coaches lasted fewer than three full seasons, including the Sabres' Phil Housley and Ron Rolston, who was retained for the 2013-14 season after replacing Lindy Ruff midseason. Of those 26 coaches who were previously dismissed, only two are expected to lead other teams next season: Rick Tocchet (Arizona) and Craig Berube (St. Louis).
Berube is the sort of retread that could give fans pause. He led Philadelphia to the playoffs during his first season as an NHL coach in 2013-14, only to be fired the following spring. The 53-year-old spent one season as a head coach in the AHL prior to joining the Blues' staff as an associate coach and was named interim coach upon Mike Yeo's firing in November.
Berube led the Blues to a 38-19-6 record the rest of the season and to the Western Conference final.
San Jose's decision to hire Peter DeBoer in 2015 was criticized by some fans since he had only one playoff appearance in his first seven seasons as a head coach. DeBoer led the Sharks to the Stanley Cup final in his first season and has the team in this year's Western Conference final.
The Sabres will hope for similar growth from Krueger who spent 13 seasons as Switzerland's National Team coach, had only a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season as Edmonton's coach, recording 19 wins in 48 games before he was fired.
A hire's success is often determined by fit and the team's roster.
Bylsma seemed to be an ideal fit for the Sabres because of his success in Pittsburgh, but he did not properly communicate with the young players on Buffalo's roster. Ted Nolan returned to Buffalo in 2013, only to show he failed to adapt to how the sport evolved since his previous coaching stint.
However, experienced coaches have proven more likely to orchestrate a quick turnaround. Of the 26 first-time coaches who reached the postseason in their first NHL tenure, only 10 won a playoff series during their first two seasons. Twenty managed to reach the playoffs during their first season with the team.
Comparatively, 36 retread hires made the playoffs in their first season and 25 won at least one playoff series within their first two seasons, though it is important to note external factors can contribute to the success or failure of a coach.
Though lack of defensive structure was at the root of Housley's firing, he coached a roster that lacked scoring depth, territorial defensemen and a proven starting goaltender. While Botterill's future in Buffalo could be determined by Krueger's fit as the team's coach, the players sitting on the bench often are more important than the coach standing behind them.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres