The process of finding the next coach of the Buffalo Sabres has already begun, general manager Jason Botterill said during his end-of-season press conference at KeyBank Center on Sunday.
Botterill made the decision to relieve Phil Housley of his coaching duties on Sunday morning, a conclusion he said was based on the Sabres' disappointing results in the second half of the season.
"I really enjoyed working with Phil the last couple years," Botterill said. "Phil is a great man. He put a tremendous amount of time and effort into helping this organization. I wish him and his family all the best moving forward. Today certainly wasn't an easy day. But the results in the second half were just not there. We were very inconsistent.
"Our fans expect more, we expect more. In the end, I thought this decision had to be made for our organization to move forward. We are all responsible for the success and failures of this organization. We are certainly not pleased where we're at and where our results have been this year. We all need to be accountable and not make excuses."
The Sabres went 58-84-22 in two seasons under Housley. They showed a 14-point improvement from last season to this season, but it was largely the result of early-season success that included a memorable 10-game win streak in November.
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Buffalo had not won two games in a row since mid-December before ending the season with victories over Ottawa and Detroit. The latter game marked the team's first win on the road since Jan. 29 at Columbus.
While strides were made in terms of the communication between players and coaches and the culture inside the dressing room, Botterill felt the results ultimately warranted a change. He presented his recommendation to owners Terry and Kim Pegula on Sunday morning.
"We appreciate Phil Housley's effort over the past two seasons," the Pegulas said in a statement. "He will always be a respected member of the Sabres organization, and we wish him and his family all the best moving forward. We support the decision made by Jason today.
"It wasn't an easy decision, but we know Jason is operating in the best interests of the organization both short- and long-term. We are confident we share the same vision of bringing winning hockey back to Buffalo, which remains our expectation."
Botterill said that repeated defensive lapses played a part in his decision. He said the choice was made without input from players, with exit meetings set to begin Monday.
"It's mainly just our results in the second half," he said. "I think we had, unfortunately, the same lapses, defensively, in our structure, and especially when you come back after the All-Star break and play in those tight games, tight situations, some of those same mistakes were continually showing up. And, at the end of the day, this is a result-driven business. We didn't get the results."
Botterill affirmed that there was blame to be shared on his behalf and took responsibility for the current makeup of the roster, saying he felt they relied too heavily on the production of forwards Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
"I think it's imperative for us moving forward that we continue to develop skill, to add skill to our forward group," he said. "We have to continue to develop the young players in our organization, both in Rochester and Buffalo. And we also have to continue to look to find depth scoring.
"I think that the way the games are, especially in the second half, some of our top players were down a little bit. We have to have more scoring from different lines."
The Sabres added Brandon Montour at the trade deadline to bolster their defense corps, but Botterill said that there is work to be done on that end as well.
"The other element is, I just think we still have a lot to improve on defensively," he said. "It's why we went out to get a Brandon Montour. There's things we need to work on from a structural standpoint defensively, but I still think we need to move pucks out of our D-zone quicker and spend less time in our own D-zone."
Botterill said he expects to keep his options open in terms of the type of coach the Sabres will hire next. The process will be conducted with input from assistant general managers Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton. Whoever is hired will make a decision on the remainder of the coaching staff.
"We have some very talented, young stars on our team," he said. "When I was hired two years ago, my job was to create a winner here. Not just get to the playoffs one year, but to get to the playoffs on a consistent basis. It's going to be crucial to find the right coach who can help us through that process."
Here are more highlights from Botterill's press conference on Sunday:
On whether the Sabres can still sign Skinner, a free agent this summer …
"One-hundred percent. Both sides have continued to focus on, how do we get a deal done? I can understand where fans are coming from. He's a fun player. He's an entertaining player. You love watching Jeff Skinner out there. I think the relationship for both sides, for the player and for the team, has been a positive one. That's why we're trying to find a resolution."
On helping manage Team Canada at the World Championships in May …
"I view it as a big advantage right now. The communication with other general managers, finding out more information about different players, Canadian players throughout the league, and then just interacting with Hockey Canada on different coaches, not only for this team but past coaches that have worked with World Championships, getting feedback from them. I'm a proud Canadian. I'm certainly going to try and help out Hockey Canada whenever I have the opportunity and I also feel from a personal growth [standpoint] as a general manager, this is a great opportunity."
On the selling point for free agents to join the Sabres …
"I think you just have to look at the start of the year, the first half of the year. You saw what this team could be in the future. And then even in the second half, unfortunately it was just in glimpses. It was a game here, a period there. But it's evident, the skill that we have on our team and the young skill on our team, whether it's a Rasmus Dahlin having one of the best 18-year-old [seasons] ever for a defenseman in the National Hockey League. Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, the development of Casey Mittelstadt.
"I think players also realize and saw just the excitement of this city and, whether it was around Thanksgiving or all the way through Christmas, the energy that was in the building. So, I think we have work to be done here. No one's saying that we are a finished product, by any means. But I think that the hockey world also realizes there are a lot of positive attributes here."