The Buffalo Sabres System.. if it exists

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports


I ramble on about system a lot. I know. It's kind of a nebulous term, right? Hockey's a game of speed, reactions, individual skill. All true. But IMO, system's one of the most important aspects of a successful team. Either you have a ton of high-level talent, or you have a team 100% locked in on their system. Sometimes you have both (the repeat-Pens, for example).

In Buffalo, we cheered when Phil Housley came in talking about a fast-paced, attacking 5-man transition game. But over the course of the season, we grew disappointed as the Sabres lapsed into a slightly-looser version of Disco Dan Bylsma's rigid, dull 'defend the castle' system. Some of that was due to injuries, some due to a lack of smarts, some due to a lack of talent. But to revert to that after you had the fandom envisioning high-octane offense unleashing Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and company left a bad taste in a lot of mouths. To the average fan, choosing between losing 7-4 or 4-1 is easy - the former is more fun thanks to all the scoring (and when your opponent scores 7, you can leave early and beat the traffic!). But I suspect Housley simplified his system more and more throughout the year because he realized he had a team that a) wasn't smart enough to handle more advanced concepts, b) wasn't fast enough to execute a more fast-paced system, c) could not be relied upon to play within the system, d) all of the above.

This is why the system, to me, is so important. A good system with 100% buy-in from the players can make lesser players look better. San Jose is a very system-oriented, disciplined team. So is Boston. Vegas. Playing within the system inspires confidence in teammates that Player X will be at the right spot at the right time. You don't have to look, you don't have to think. You are confronted with a situation and react to it by following the system. Turnovers are minimized. Opportunities are increased, as when everything is equal, the offense always has a bit of an advantage because the D is reacting to them.

The Sabres, unfortunately, do not have that discipline. You can see and hear it from coaches and players in their post-game comments. Following the 'game plan', or the system, seems to be beyond some of them for whatever reason. Sure, it sounds rote, but it is more than a meaningless comment to get the press off their backs. When players are not confident their teammates will be where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, they hesitate. The puck hangs on their stick a half-second longer. They stop to think. They take things into their own hands. It results in breakdowns, it results in turnovers, which result in goals against. It takes away the offense's advantage when they have the puck, and gives the offense an added advantage when the Sabres are on D.

So on that topic, I came across this on Ben Mathewson's site 'The Screen'. While I don't agree with all his conclusions, he did a heckuva a job putting this together. I wish I had the technical know-how to do something like this. But since I'm a Luddite generally, I'll do the second-best to someone who does!

Sabres System Series: Part 1 - Neutral Zone Defense

Sabres System Series: Part 2 - Defensive Zone Structure & Breakouts

I thought DBTB might find this useful as we discuss things like systems going forward. And give Ben a follow...he's obviously a very smart cookie.

This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.