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.
RASMUS DAHLIN, WE ARE NOT WORTHY 🥵 pic.twitter.com/ea3TePXaOj
— NHL (@NHL) April 8, 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 Misdirection Of Dahlin
One of Krueger’s main tasks after taking over from Phil Housley in 2019 was to advance the development of 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin. In his rookie season as an 18-year-0ld, Dahlin led Sabres defensemen with 44 points but understandably had some growing pains in his own end. Krueger’s tactic was to emphasize defense, which with a more experienced club or one lacking in scoring would make sense, but for a club with weapons like Dahlin, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart, was the wrong way to go.
Dahlin’s offensive totals dipped slightly in his first year under Krueger (44 to 40 points), but more noticeably his goal totals slipped from nine to four. The following year the big Swede seemed confused and unsure of what to do, as the emphasis on taking care of his own end stifled his creativity and his greatest weapon; counterattacking with his high-end skating ability. His struggles were reflected in a horrendous -36 plus/minus rating and concerning offensive totals (5 goals, 18 assists in 56 games).
The renaissance of Dahlin under Granato has been remarkable, mostly because he has stressed accentuating his offensive attributes. In 2021-22, his totals spiked to 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists), and last season he set career-highs in goals (15), assists (58), points (73), and time-on-ice (25:48).
A Failure Of Recognition And Development
Two further examples of Krueger’s inability to adjust his strategies to fit his players was the misuse of Brandon Montour. After showing some offensive potential before being acquired from Anaheim in 2019, the righty Montour was played by Krueger on his off-side, and that in part contributed to his scoring decline (32 points in 92 games over two seasons).
Brandon Montour ties the score 3-3 with 59 seconds left of play in regulation of Game 7 pic.twitter.com/k8StpUUV36
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 1, 2023
Shortly after Krueger’s firing, Montour was dealt to Florida for a third-round pick. In his first full season with the Panthers, the 29-year-old bounced back with 37 points, but last season he exploded with a 73-point campaign and led Florida to an improbable upset of top-seeded Boston and past Toronto and Carolina to reach the Stanley Cup Final.