Ralph Krueger was hired as coach of the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.
The 59-year-old replaces Phil Housley, who was fired April 7 after his second season as Sabres coach. Buffalo (33-39-10) missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth straight season and finished 13th in the Eastern Conference, 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card.
Krueger said his first task will be to help develop a winning culture in Buffalo.
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"First and foremost, we want to earn respect and be difficult to play against every night," he said. "I think that Buffalo is a market -- first of all, its passion and the history are clear to me -- but it's a market that respects hard work and the unity that I will be working on putting together, not only off but on the ice.
"The most important communication early on here will just be listening, to communicate with the players, the staff and to learn about what has been going on and where the opportunity lies ... I'd definitely like to keep those lines of communication open all the time, they never get shut down in good times or bad. Let's make sure we're continuing to strive for an environment where everybody knows what the expectations are … be clear about what we expect from each and what we expect from the way we want to play eventually on the ice. The only way that works is we permanently work on clearing those paths. I find that's certainly one of the strengths I have bringing to this job."
Krueger, who was chairman of the Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League for five years before leaving the job April 12, was coach of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13. The Oilers finished that shortened season 19-22-7 and did not qualify for the playoffs.
Krueger has a reputation of being a solid communicator who is particularly adept in relating to younger players.
"When we talked to some of the players that had worked under Ralph, some star players in the National Hockey League that had worked under Ralph [in Edmonton], that was some of things they had talked about," Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. "They felt whether it was practice drills, looking through video, he was looking for innovative ways to help improve his players. There was a real buy-in from the players that this guy cared about them and this guy wanted the best, not only for them individually but for the team. I think when players feel that, it's a buy-in from both sides.
"We understand that where we want to go as an organization, allowing some of our young players to make that jump from Rochester (of the American Hockey League) to Buffalo is going to be key. A big part of our success if going to be the development of (rookie defenseman) Rasmus Dahlin, the development of (22-year-old center) Jack Eichel, the development of (23-year-old center) Sam Reinhart, (20-year-old center) Casey Mittelstadt -- players who are already at the National Hockey League level. The fact that we're going to expect Ralph to communicate well with them, expect Ralph to help their development to move along here for our organization to get to the next step."
Krueger also coached Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, when it lost the championship game to Team Canada.
Despite having not coached in the NHL since 2013, Krueger said he kept tabs on the League from afar.
"I believe that I'm very fresh," he said. "I stayed very close to the game. All the relationships I built over the years are warm. I've been in contact with multiple head coaches over these last years. It's always been my start-up site, NHL.com. Watching games and observing the way the League is operating has always been important to me. ... I know there's going to be some hard work ahead, but I personally look for opportunities where I'm going to be challenged and continue to grow as a leader. I know this will be one of those and I will build a team around me to help in the process."
Krueger said the Sabres core, including Eichel, Reinhart, Dahlin and pending unrestricted free agent forward Jeff Skinner, is one he is looking forward to working with and getting the best out of.
"I think that above all, this group is ready to become a contender and to compete with anybody on any given night," he said. "I'm confident that we can become that kind of a team quite quickly. I like the way Jason has been putting this group together and the way he thinks. He understands the necessity of being strong with and without the puck and developing a team game that's dynamic and allows this core group of players to develop and show their skill, but at the same time find the discipline as a group to defend properly."
To get a feel for Buffalo, Krueger took a novel approach of speaking with Sabres fans at bars in the city and watching Stanley Cup Playoff games without telling them who he was.
"When I went for my walk [through downtown Buffalo], I was able to tap in," he said. "I watched two NHL playoff games a few weeks ago and I changed bars every period, so I didn't stay too long. But it was quite interesting. I'd sit beside Sabres fans and have conversations that I won't be able to have with them now, but it was very enlightening.
"I certainly could feel the spirit of the city. ... I can feel it's a hard-working community ... Of course, above all, the environment that I'll be working in will be a match to what I was looking for."
NHL.com correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report