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Krueger talks conversations with players, coaching staff and more

Highlights from the Sabres coach's formal introduction inside KeyBank Center

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Ralph Krueger has kept busy in the weeks since he was named head coach of the Sabres. 

There were the logistics of moving from England to Buffalo, which kept him from being in town at the time of his hiring. He spent time in Slovakia with general manager Jason Botterill at the IIHF World Championship, where he sat down for separate face-to-face meetings with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. He's also had phone discussions with players, including Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner.

Wednesday marked Krueger's first day in the office. He toured KeyBank Center and its surrounding area, making time along the way to converse with everyone from the staff across the street at Bakery 55 to Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville, who were working out at the team facility. 

Krueger then sat down for his formal introduction with the media, during which he spoke about his meetings with the players, his timeline for hiring a coaching staff and his own philosophy, among other topics. Here's a rundown of what he had to say.

Video: Ralph Krueger's 1st Day in Buffalo


On meeting Eichel and Reinhart

Krueger said their discussions began with a string of text messages and continued with individual meetings over dinner, with both conversations running longer than expected.

"They have a very experienced mindset from their young age because of the years they now have under their belt," he said. "There was a clear understanding of what needs to be done here. I thought in the conversations, we didn't just speak about the weather. We spent a lot of time speaking about what needs to happen off ice, on ice and through. 

"Many good things have been done here over the last few years. I really respect how hard everybody's been working at getting the players to where they are now. I'm happy to be stepping into a team that has a foundation, has a basis that I can build on. I could feel that in the conversations with both. I really look forward to going to work with both. I think all of us came out of the conversations wanting to start playing tomorrow."

Asked what hit message for Eichel was, Krueger said he was more focused on listening than speaking.

"I don't think I gave him the final solution. What he could feel is what the process will look like and, as I've already mention to you, that there will be a transparency in the process and that everybody will be involved. That includes the players, what they think and how they feel. 

"… My message more than anything is that his skillset and his ability is tops in the league. Now, the second season as a captain will be - not easier - but it will be more comfortable for him. It will be more natural. The first go-around for any captain, especially at that age, will have its challenges because some days as a leader you have to take on the responsibility over and above your own self. 

"I think that Jack is more comfortable with that. We spoke a lot about the leadership and less about hockey, actually, in that meeting. So that was my main message, was how to develop his leadership skills, which I find are natural, are there. The game, I believe, on the ice will follow."


On his discussion with Skinner

Krueger found Skinner's tone while discussing the future and his role with the Sabres as a cause for optimism. Skinner can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but Botterill said Wednesday that contract talks remain positive with both sides working towards a deal.

"He was comfortable on that line," Krueger said. "I initiated the call in that way and it never went in another direction. Jeff had the opportunity to change the direction if he wanted to do so. It was really the flow of the conversation that made me feel comfortable. I mean, I felt he really loved to be here."

Read more of what Botterill and Krueger had to say regarding Skinner here

Video: Ralph Krueger Introductory Press Conference


On the timeline for assembling a coaching staff

Krueger said it would be ideal to have a staff in place by the end of the month but emphasized that he would rather make the right decisions than rush the process. Members of last year's staff will be interviewed along with new candidates. 

"It's getting the mix right, making sure we have a staff that is really culturally a fit," he said. "The players will feel that and will build and grow confidence off of that if our staff is extremely strong and our coaching staff is tight. That's really important, but at the same time we need to have the skill sets on a different level to be able to help the players grow and develop."

On the use of analytics

Krueger reiterated what he said during his introductory conference call last month, emphasizing the importance of utilizing all data available without allowing it to overwhelm players.

"I challenge myself to try to get better every day as a leader," he said. "You have to have an open mind to do that. So, as all of this information is flowing to us as coaches, I know in my experience in England [as chairman of Southampton Football Club] definitely the investment in sports science and analytics was large. And the way it was processed was interesting for me to observe."

"I'm really, really curious of how exactly we can bring it into the front without disrupting the free flow and the talent of our players. That's one of the things as a coach is to find that balance of a strong compact game away from the puck, where you can feel that unity, but still allowing the amazing skill that we have on our roster to be able to be creative and to be able to be free."

He offered injury prevention as an example of one way to utilize sports science.

"I'm extremely open to gathering the information and even [tracking] players sometimes in an ice session to check maximum speeds. You can possibly watch for fatigue before it occurs and avoid injuries and so on and so forth.

"There's so many examples where it might never get to the player in the end, but we might be able to track in a way that we can keep our man-games lost down as an example. So, if we can use analytics to do that, let's find a way." 

On his coaching style 

Video: 1-on-1 with Ralph Krueger

Krueger once again stressed transparency and communication as defining characteristics of his leadership style. (Check out his sit-down interview with Brian Duff in the video above for plenty on his evolution as a coach.)

"You're always just going to get the real deal; there's not going to be any games or anything," he said. "We're going to speak about the truth, and I think that's what I like to do about the players and the team, have a very open communication in both directions.

"I think you've probably heard me say this already, but communication is also about listening to your players, to your environment, to your supporting staff and processing all of that, not just speaking. Whether that's unique or different, I think that's probably one of my biggest strengths is to create an honest locker room and an honest dressing room and an honest atmosphere and to work within those boundaries. I like to keep that space."

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