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COMMENTARY

After Zach Bogosian's snit, Ralph Krueger issues reminder about who's in charge

Mike Harrington

The Sabres have too many defensemen and not enough forwards. That's Jason Botterill's problem.

With eight healthy players on the blueline, at least one is sitting every night. Sometimes two. It was Zach Bogosian's turn Thursday night against Nashville. Based on his recent play, it was probably two or three games later than he should have sat.

But Bogosian went into a snit and has apparently demanded a trade. That's his problem.

When somebody leaked to TSN just before faceoff Thursday that Bogosian told the team he wanted out, you should have seen the eyes rolling around the press box and across social media.

Marco Scandella didn't turn things into an incident when he was a healthy scratch. Neither did Jake McCabe – who is wearing a letter as an alternate captain – and nor did seven-time scratchee Colin Miller.

And Miller, remember, is 18 months removed from playing in the Stanley Cup final and thought he was locked in Vegas long term before the Golden Knights' cap crunch sent him packing when he didn't want to go.

Bogosian is admittedly a guy who has gone through a lot. Multiple hip surgeries are nothing to sneer at. Forget about hockey for a minute because they can have life consequences too. But he needs to have a little awareness in this situation. All the time out of the lineup the last five years for a variety of reasons doesn't give Bogosian a lot of goodwill to work with.

When reporters convened at his locker Friday in KeyBank Center, Bogosian wasn't offering much.

"I'm going to let any conversation between myself, Jason and my agent stay (among them)," Bogosian said cryptically. "Me personally, I'm not going to say anything. I'm going to let everything stay in house."

Of course, somebody already let the cat out of the house but Bogosian took the easy way out.

Ralph Krueger obviously knew he was going to have to deal with this situation at length Friday. And the new coach was more than prepared for it.

"It's about building a culture here in Buffalo where everybody on the roster is all in on the plan that we have," Krueger said. "And they are pushing to make everybody around them better and helping to make the club better."

Culture is an important buzzword to Krueger. So is principle. And synergy. They are his versions of Sean McDermott's process. Krueger knows there are going to multiple challenges in a season, pointing out that taking the Sabres from the depths of last March to the playoff contention they're at now won't always be a straight line.

"I have no fear or no sleepless nights because of minor conflicts within the group," Krueger said. "What we need to do is react to them. Our character is tested in conflict and our personality actually grows and develops in these kinds of situations, so that's what we'll do."

Krueger then got on a roll and didn't stop. It was as impressive a display of leadership we've seen from a Sabres coach since the last glory days of Lindy Ruff in 2010. And it was important.

Ralph Krueger is helping Sabres connect across their eras

Many of these players – Bogosian near the front of the line –- ran Dan Bylsma out of town in 2017. Phil Housley didn't get much support in the dressing room last year either. Krueger wasn't going to let the blame-the-coach charade get any momentum.

Asked if it was hard to scratch Bogosian, a veteran who has been in the league since 2008 and used to wear a letter here, Krueger made it clear who's in charge of the dressing room. Memo to those who have been around: Krueger has no past connection to any of you.

"I'm a leader that's not here to be popular at all. It doesn't interest me on the day," Krueger said. "The past is not the present. It is the past. And we will work with the present and what you're doing today. What you're giving the team today will decide where your role is, what your minutes are and how much you are playing a part in our process.

"It's not that I'm cold. I'm doing what I know I need to do as a leader to get the most out of this group and to find the potential of the Buffalo Sabres and that's what I move to do every day."

Bravo. Just absolute bravo.

Then Krueger tackled Bogosian head-on. This is, remember, a player who didn't take part in training camp and didn't play a game until just before Thanksgiving. A guy who hasn't played more than 65 games in a season since getting to Buffalo in 2015.

"I believe we haven't seen the best Zach Bogosian and my job is to find the best Zach Bogosian for our team so we'll continue to do that," Krueger said. "And after 10 games for him to slip a bit after such a long break and to need some breathing time to take another step up, that opportunity is there. The players decide what their ice time and their roles are as a team. Not I."

To close his point, Krueger had a reality check to deliver to Bogosian as well.

Said Krueger: "I think a player that hasn't gone through training camp needs to also be patient before he expects to play his 'A' game."

Frankly, this is a tough spot for the Sabres and Botterill. Bogosian's cap hit of more than $5.1 million makes any deal a tough one. Maybe old boss Jim Rutherford in Pittsburgh will take Bogosian off Botterill's hands for similarly pending free agent Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million).

Aside from that, hard to see how the Sabres handle this. Krueger wouldn't say who would be in the lineup Saturday in Long Island, but it would be no shock if Bogosian's crabbing wrote him a permanent ticket to the press box like Nathan Beaulieu earned last season until a deal can be worked out.

"I'm just focused on getting back in the lineup," Bogosian said. "There's not much I can really do other than just work hard, show up and put a smile on my face like I always do."

For the record, Bogosian wasn't grinning when he said that. It seems like Botterill can get the smile back on Bogosian's face pretty quickly by taking care of a long-overdue move.

Get Bogosian out of here. Right now.

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