A five-week long exhaustive coaching search that began with the firing of Phil Housley has led Buffalo Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill to a man with perhaps one of the most unique resumes in professional hockey.
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.
Though Krueger was behind the Oilers' bench for only 48 games during a lockout-shortened 2012-13 seasons, he spent two years as an assistant with the team and led Switzerland at 15 international tournaments during a 13-year span. Krueger has not been behind the bench in any role since 2016, when he led Team Europe on a remarkable run to the World Cup of Hockey final.
Botterill will speak to reporters during a news conference at 11 a.m.
"Throughout his career, Ralph has shown the ability to adapt to a variety of high-pressure environments while leading some of the world's elite players," Botterill said in a news release. "His strong communication skills, leadership and diverse background make him a uniquely qualified candidate to lead our team going forward."
Instead, he has served as chairman of English Premier League's Southampton F.C. since March 2014 and was dismissed by the team last month. The expectation was any return to hockey likely would be in a similar management position, but Botterill has seemingly lured Krueger back into coaching.
Krueger's exit from the NHL six years ago is likely more surprising than his return.
During his one season as head coach, the Oilers went 19-22-7 with a roster that included nine players under the age of 24. Under Krueger's guidance, winger Taylor Hall finished ninth in the league with 50 points. Additionally, Edmonton's power play and penalty kill ranked seventh and ninth, respectively.
Krueger, who was born in Winnipeg to two German immigrants, joined the Oilers' coaching staff as an assistant in 2010 and helped their power play improve from 27th to third in the league during his second season under Tom Renney.
Krueger had long been recognized as an innovative strategist and received his first NHL opportunity because of the winning culture he built with Switzerland. His one-year audition showed an ability to motivate young players and teach them to compete within a defensive structure.
However, the team's general manager at the time, Craig MacTavish, fired Krueger during a Skype call and promptly hired Dallas Eakins, who was regarded as one of the sport's top up-and-coming candidates. Eakins lasted less than two seasons, posting a 36-63-14 record.
Krueger joined Team Canada as a consultant for the 2014 Winter Olympics, helping a team led by current Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock win a gold medal.
Krueger had long been a target of NHL teams for his work with Switzerland from 1997 through the 2010 Olympic Games. He led the team to appearances at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympic Games and was coach for 12 trips to the World Championship.
Krueger also served as a scouting consultant for the Carolina Hurricanes, who were then led by General Manager Jim Rutherford, Botterill's former boss in Pittsburgh, and coached VEU Feldkirch to five straight championships in Austria from 1994-98.
Krueger authored a best-selling book in German on leadership and motivational skills titled, "Teamlife: Over Setbacks to Success." He has served as a core member of the World Economic Forum's council on new models of leadership.
Krueger played professionally for 11 seasons in Germany, including one year as a player-coach, prior to becoming head coach of VEU Feldkirch in 1991-92.
Despite his unique experience, Krueger's name was not attached to any of the seven NHL vacancies until he spoke with the Sabres. There were a few connections between the two sides.
Steve Smith, who served as an assistant coach under Housley last season, was an assistant alongside Krueger for two seasons in Edmonton and remained on the coaching staff once Krueger was promoted. Additionally, Botterill and Krueger have a relationship that can be traced back decades. Krueger played under Botterill's father, Cal, at St. John's-Ravenscourt preparatory school in Winnipeg.
Krueger will try to build the winning culture the Sabres have lacked since Lindy Ruff's departure in 2013. The franchise has an NHL-worst eight-season playoff drought and each of the previous two coaches were fired after only two seasons, including former Stanley Cup winner Dan Bylsma.
Krueger is the fifth coach since Ruff was fired in February 2013 and inherits a roster much like the one he coached in Edmonton, though the Sabres are better equipped for a quick turnaround. Though Buffalo lacks scoring depth, the roster is expected to include Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin.
The team also could re-sign 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner and is projected to have $23 million of cap space while owning the seventh overall pick in next month's draft. Yet, Krueger will have to address all that ailed the team during its second-half collapse this season.
The Sabres won 10 games in a row in November to take over first in the NHL standings, only to finish 27th after going 16-33-8 in the season's final 57 games. Prior to winning the season finale, the Sabres had not won back-to-back games since Dec. 13, and were winless in 14 consecutive road games. Buffalo was shut out five times in 12 games from March 9-31, including three in a row, and won only two games during the month.
Though Krueger has never been head coach of a team for the duration of an 82-game regular season schedule, his reputation as a teacher and motivator allowed him to emerge from a pool of experienced candidates that included Jacques Martin and Dave Tippett.
"I am excited and honored to join the Buffalo Sabres family and will strive to maximize the potential that lies within this team," Krueger said in a news release. "I look forward to building on the many positives that have been established within the organization and I am especially eager to get behind the bench and represent this passionate hockey city."
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres