The Buffalo Sabres recent upward track can be attributed to many things, but the biggest factor was firing head coach Ralph Krueger in March 2021 in favor of Don Granato.
Jeff Skinner wins the game in Overtime and immediately points at the other end of the ice at 21 year old goalie Devon Levi. It’s Levi’s first NHL win. 32nd goal for Skinner. pic.twitter.com/GDQu1Okl37
— BucciOT.Com (@Buccigross) April 1, 2023
The former Edmonton bench boss came in with much fanfare in 2019 after leading Team Europe to the finals of the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, but in nearly two years as head coach of the Sabres, there is not one area where his choices on players were positive or constructive.
The Mishandling Of Jeff Skinner
The usage of Jeff Skinner is the most stark example of this. The speedy winger scored 40 goals in the year under Phil Housley playing on the top line with Jack Eichel, but next season Krueger chose to break up his top line and move Skinner down to the second line with Marcus Johansson. His goal total dropped to 14.
The following year, after Krueger advocated for the signing of former Oiler Taylor Hall on a one-year, $8 million deal to play in the top six and to trade Johansson for an aging Eric Staal, Krueger chose to demote the offensively-skilled Skinner making $9 million a season to the fourth line.
Since the firing, Skinner playing under Granato has returned to his scoring ways, with 33 and 35 goals playing in the top six the last two seasons.
A Good Eye For Talent?
Hall scored two goals in 37 games for the Sabres before being traded to Boston, and Staal scored just three times in 32 games before being dealt to Montreal at the deadline. Hall magically regained his scoring touch with the Bruins (eight goals in 16 games), and Staal reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Cinderella Canadiens.
Tage Thompson, everybody. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/CeXKOCx2mR
— NHL (@NHL) January 4, 2023
The emergence of Tage Thompson can partially be attributed to his shaking off injury issues, but under Krueger, the big forward was being played out of position on the wing instead of his natural center position.