Phil Housley returned to the city where his NHL career started when he was hired as coach of the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
The hiring capped a whirlwind week for Housley, who as an assistant under coach Peter Laviolette helped the Nashville Predators get to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. After four seasons with Nashville, he's coming to a team that hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2011 and finished last in the Atlantic Division this season at 33-37-12.
Housley vowed to bring the passion back to Buffalo.
"This week has been incredible for me," Housley said. "This is a very exciting time for me in my life, for a lot of reasons."
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Thursday also was his 32nd wedding anniversary. Though, as he admitted, he forgot to get his wife a card, he did give her the gift of a new job and a return to the place where they lived for eight years and had two children.
"I'm very proud and excited to be part of this organization," Housley said. "Looking back 35 years to being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, I didn't realize how passionate the people are here. ... I feel that I'd like to try to get that passion back as a head coach."
Ahead of Housley is a challenge: creating a situation in which Buffalo's talented young players such as center Jack Eichel can succeed, likely using a system that worked in Nashville but that lacks the same level of talent on defense.
The relationship between Eichel and former coach Dan Bylsma appeared to break down this season, and Bylsma was fired on April 20 along with general manager Tim Murray. Housley said he believes he can avoid a similar problem.
Video: Phil Housley on becoming new Sabres coach
"I think the key right there is building a relationship and getting to know him," said Housley, who was taken No. 6 in the 1982 NHL Draft by Buffalo and played 21 seasons in the NHL, the first eight with the Sabres, earning induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. "I can only draw from past experiences. You look at the guys that we had in Nashville. I thought P.K. Subban was a tremendous personality. I think I can use that experience trying to get to Jack.
"I think it's about creating a relationship and getting to know the player and what he's about and what he brings to the team. I think he's a terrific talent, and I'd like to get the most out of him."
The idea will be to create those relationships with the entire team, building a culture in Buffalo that might not have been there previously. But it's also about building a system and a style of play that will bring the Sabres success on the ice.
"I really believe in development," Housley said. "Especially with a young team. [We'll have] highly skilled practices. But I think the brand of hockey is just being an attacking mindset, playing with speed, playing with pace, playing fast. That includes a five-man attack, so our defense are going to be very involved in the play.
"We have to play good defense, obviously, but I think if we can get five guys up in the play, whether it's on a breakout, through the neutral zone or in the offensive zone, I think it gets the odds in your favor. So it's going to be fast."
During his four seasons with Nashville, Housley coached a group that became one of the best defenses in the NHL and was a major reason the Predators advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since entering the League in 1998.
Video: Phil Housley 1-on-1 (6/15/17)
New general manager Jason Botterill said he was impressed by Housley's organizational skills, his communication skills and his track record, especially in terms of getting the most out of his players, particularly young ones. That will be useful on one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
"I think those traits really resonated in our due process," Botterill said, "and I feel very comfortable that he's the right man for the job."
Housley, whose 1,232 points (338 goals, 894 assists) rank third among U.S.-born players and fourth among defensemen in NHL history, believes that as well. He also believes he has the players to make it all work.
"It's amazing when you look at this roster how many good pieces there are," Housley said. "There's a lot of intriguing pieces about this hockey club."
Lead photo courtesy of: Bill Wippert/Buffalo Sabres