We have no idea if Ralph Krueger is going to be a good coach for the Buffalo Sabres. As someone who enjoys being a knower of things I find this extremely frustrating but also somewhat intriguing and maybe even a little exciting.
The conversation around coaching is often vague and clichéd with little basis in fact because it’s extremely hard to properly evaluate what value coaches actually bring to a team. I think we have a decent handle on coaches that do a poor job based on their results and basic statistics. If teams you coach never posses the puck and regularly give up more expected goals against than are generated for, regardless of the personnel from year to year, you’re likely providing negative value to your team (ex. Randy Carlyle).
But how do we know the so called good coaches are good or even provide positive value? Was Scotty Bowman actually a great coach or did he have the good fortune of coaching Hall Of Fame players in Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Detroit? He was probably a good coach but what can we point to to actually prove it? I wish I had the answer.
I’m struggling to have an opinion on Ralph Krueger. He’s clearly an engaging person who has put a lot of work into developing himself as a leader. That is an extremely good quality for a coach who will be managing a large group of players and coaches from the NHL down to the ECHL. He’s clearly a well rounded and intelligent man and I see his experience in Soccer and involvement with the World Economic Forum, in addition to his decades of activity in hockey, as evidence of this.
I also think the Sabres have continued to fall behind the rest of the league in regards to embracing new information and methods to be successful in the NHL. Will he embrace analytics, sports science, and smarter player usage? I have no idea but I sure hope so. I’d like to think someone as well rounded as Ralph Krueger would recognize the value of the information available to him.
During this coaching search I’ve been making an effort to check my own biases and preferences when it comes to coaching. I find I prefer an analytical tactician type and believe that style can be successful, but I also know I tend to discount the “leader of men” aspect that is certainly required of a head coach. I’ve been coaching high school and youth hockey for a couple of years and while I pride myself on my ability to teach and implement strategy, I know I’m woefully insufficient when it comes to the motivational “rallying of the troops” that is needed and have made an effort to work with coaches who posses that skill. Will Krueger make an effort to find smart assistants to fill in any strategic or analytical gaps he may have, if he does in fact have them? Again, I have no idea.
It’s possible a smart person like Krueger that has a talent for bringing a group together and leading an organization would have the ability to hire assistants that can lead the tactical efforts of the team while he works to get the players to buy in. I just get nervous because coaches like Ted Nolan were also sold as motivational guys that players liked playing for, so you need to be sure Krueger is receptive to new ideas and methods since he is the final decision maker.
I appreciate the non conventional hire by Botterill and I imagine the players are going to enjoy playing for Krueger, but being different and outside the box isn’t a good enough reason to hire someone. Krueger needs to prove he is capable of putting players in a position to succeed and is willing to recognize and adapt when it’s clear a player is or isn’t performing well, something Housley managed to struggle with during his time as Sabres head coach.
We have no idea if Ralph Krueger is going to be a good coach for the Buffalo Sabres. As of today I feel it’s reasonable to be hopeful he could be, but who knows?