Buffalo Sabres: Night and day between Bylsma and Housley

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: Phil Housley of the Buffalo Sabres looks on prior to the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: Phil Housley of the Buffalo Sabres looks on prior to the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Buffalo Sabres players are feeling a refreshed sense of optimism under Phil Housley, in stark contrast to last season, when Dan Bylsma was coach.

The Buffalo Sabres approached the 2016/17 campaign with high hopes, having finished strong the season before; the first under Dan Bylsma. However, Jack Eichel suffered a severe high ankle sprain before the regular season even started, which turned out to be a prelude for what lay ahead.

By the end of the season, the Sabres had regressed from the previous campaign. The team was in disarray, with speculation Bylsma had fallen out with numerous players, including Eichel.

In fact, there were even reports the 2015 second overall draft pick would not sign a contract extension, if Bylsma remained as head coach. Although this rumor was never proven, the 47-year-old was fired and replaced by Phil Housley two months later.

It’s still early days, but it is evident the chance has been good for the organisation. Many of the players seem to be approaching practice and games with a fresh sense of optimism.

Essentially, the difference between Housley and Bylsma is like night and day. The vibe is entirely different, with a renewed vigour and determination.

But don’t take our word for it; listen to what the players themselves have to say. Speaking to John Vogl of The Buffalo News and other members of the media, Sam Reinhart said:

"“Look at the things that have changed. It’s just a different mentality when new guys come in, when new philosophies are put out. Just coming to the rink every day, it’s a different feel.“We’re having fun putting the work in. I like what they’re preaching.”"

Whether the criticism of Byslma was fair or not, a change was obviously needed. At the same time, if the team continues to underperform the players will face more questions, with less room for excuses.

In that respect, Robin Lehner knows they all have to step up and take more responsibility. As reported by Vogl, the goaltender said:

"“We as players need to hold each other accountable and show up every day – that’s everyone, me, too. That’s what I think everyone is on board about. We all talked, and we know what we need to change.”"

The Buffalo Sabres have a talented team, especially up front. And yet, the forwards will be the first to admit they underachieved last season.

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Yes, the blue line needs to improve and Lehner needs to be more consistent. However, they also need more goals.

The silver lining in this respect is that Eichel, Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo are all fit and raring to go. All three missed significant playing time last season, with 21, 12 and 17 games respectively.

Of course, we appreciate hockey is a physically demanding game and injuries are unavoidable. Regardless, if the Sabres can avoid the ridiculous amount of injuries they suffered last season, the team will benefit, especially on offense.

Certainly, the team is confident they can deliver if they remain healthy. As Okposo told Vogl:

"“It goes without saying that we have some offensively talented players on our team. It’s going to be a really exciting brand of hockey.”"

Next: More pressure on Ristolainen this season?

Do you get the sense the Buffalo Sabres will perform better for Housley? If so, how do you perceive him differently from Blysma? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.