Responsibility to turn Sabres around falls on Botterill
What’s wrong with the Sabres? Was Phil Housley a bad choice? Is Jason Botterill in over his head? Is Jack Eichel a bust?
The correct answer is so simple and staring Sabres Nation right in the face, yet too many people are quick to overlook it.
First of all, regarding the above, in order: I don’t think so, no and you’ve got to be kidding.
What’s transpired over the past few seasons should make it abundantly clear that no head coach — not Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley, Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake or any legend you want to toss in there — can or could win without talent. Go ahead and scream from the rooftops about systems. They don’t matter if you don’t have good enough players to run them.
Can you name any coach on the planet who could make a team with only two capable defensemen and a small handful of contributing forwards into a winner? Is it a coaching error when Robin Lehner lets a puck bounce off his stick right to a Dallas forward to slam it home? Would the mere presence of Bowman behind the bench make Matt Moulson or Jordan Nolan skate faster, or make Matt Tennyson more aware in his own zone?
Of course not, but it should be a moot question anyway. Those players shouldn’t be on an NHL roster right now.
Botterill admittedly was handed a bit of a mess, but he signed up for it and it’s time to accelerate the process of cleaning it up.
Because when you look past all the excuses that some folks make for the players — stuck in a bad system, matched with the wrong linemates, playing center when they should be on Eichel’s wing, or whatever else people can dream up — the truth is that none of these suggested fixes are going to turn bad players into good ones.
Eichel gets some unwarranted criticism because he can’t carry the entire team on his back without help. Housley, only 14 games into his career as a head coach, is already getting some eye rolls. But these guys aren’t the problem. It shouldn’t be so difficult to realize that there isn’t enough overall talent around Eichel to get any great results, regardless of who coaches them.
Look at what the Sabres have. A very good top line featuring Eichel and Evander Kane. A good second-line center and shutdown guy in Ryan O’Reilly. A couple of quality defensemen in Marco Scandella and Rasmus Ristolainen.
What else is there? What do you see, after these five players, that screams ‘playoff contender’? Jason Pominville has been good on the top line, and Sam Reinhart is a smart player who still has some upside. But that’s really about it.
Housley’s attempt to turn the Sabres into an aggressive forechecking and attacking team confirmed what we already knew. The team constructed by Tim Murray is too slow.
Take a quick glance at the Sabres who were supposed to be the Big Six in the scoring department — Eichel, Evander Kane, O’Reilly, Pominville, Kyle Okposo and Reinhart — and you should notice that only the first two on the list are dangerous enough to burn you with their speed.
Ask scouts and experts in the game what separates NHL players from minor leaguers with equal hockey skills, and the answer you’ll get most often is skating ability.
How in the world can you expect a team to be a consistent winner when they have the built-in disadvantage of facing speedier opponents game after game? It’s just too much to ask, and it’s not fair to anyone coaching this group of players to expect the implementation of some magical system to overcome it. Such a system doesn’t exist.
So, go ahead and question Housley’s lineup decisions or Eichel’s upcoming mega-contract if you want. But it’s all just a waste of time if the general manager can’t start turning water into wine pretty quickly.
Botterill is going to have to roll the dice with a shakeup of this roster. It’s time for him to step up and put his stamp on this team. The trade that brought Scandella and Pominville here was a good start. Is there any reason he shouldn’t be interested in Matt Duchene? Has he expressed serious interest to Carolina about their excess of defensemen?
Sitting around and waiting for the next wave of prospects to come in and save the day isn’t going to cut it for a fan base that’s been suffering for so long. Anyone besides Eichel should be in play.