Hockey Tactics 2023 covers the major strategies all 32 NHL teams use, including the Buffalo Sabres. Using detailed diagrams that explain each tactic, Han shows how they employ these methods to score goals and win games. He even includes specific tactics that worked, such as a station-to-station one-timer Buffalo used successfully against the Calgary Flames.
While he’s studied every NHL franchise, Han feels current Sabres coach Don Granato prefers a fast, aggressive playing style that caters to the young team’s energy. It’s a huge contrast to the timid, conservative approach previous coaches used, he said.
“If you look at the overall idea behind the Buffalo system sheets... the team wants to play an offense-minded, aggressive style of play that caters itself to players who can really skate, read the game and play with the puck…If you look... back to a few years ago, whether it’s under (Dan) Bylsma…or Ralph Krueger, it was a lot more about dumping and chasing, mitigating risk, maybe putting players in a certain box where their contributions weren’t as valued as their ability to prevent from making mistakes.”
Han noted the D-recovery route in the offensive zone. It’s a great example of how the Sabres create offense, play off the pass and possess the puck. This method plays into the idea that D-men should have an offensive mindset. Offensive-minded defenseman including Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power are perfect examples of this, Han pointed out.
“What’s helping this team become better and better is having defenseman who can play on both sides of the puck and also…kill plays up ice as opposed to...staying at home and blocking a ton of shots… Obviously Dahlin’s having a fantastic season, Owen Power is really coming on strong.”
Han believes fellow defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, Jacob Bryson and Henri Jokiharu are also very skilled at making plays and blocking opponents’ moves.
“Samuelsson is maybe not the most offensive-minded player, but he’s a big guy who can skate and who can gap up and kill plays up ice. Jacob Bryson is undersized, but he’s really good at using his feet and his positioning and his stick to break up plays. And Jokiharju as well. More of an offensive-minded defenseman, but the way that he’s most effective defending is when he gets up ice and he’s able to almost kind of be an extension to the forecheck as opposed to always playing in front of his zone. “
On offense, Buffalo has top scoring centers such as Tage Thompson, one of the NHL’s best forwards this season. Han said the Sabres still need to improve in net, but overall, the team is headed in the right direction. One of the biggest problems he sees is patience. Buffalo is on the rise, but it’s hard to tell fans that have suffered through a 12-year long playoff drought to be patient if the Blue and Gold miss the postseason this spring.
“If they’re patient and they build on their style of play and stay the course and maybe find some ways to add some better players, as soon as the Bruins, the Leafs and the Lightning kind of fall off and their stars get older, I think Buffalo can be right there. The big challenge in this market is obviously we’ve been patient for a long time now waiting for a playoff team. But can we not freak out if the next step doesn’t happen right away?”
Han feels the Sabres will make the playoffs next season, even if they’re eliminated this year. Buffalo’s coaches and staff are very oriented toward player development and compared to past seasons, the Sabres are far better five-on-five.
One missing ingredient among fans and players is optimism. It’s difficult for a team and fanbase that never won a Stanley Cup or even made the postseason since 2011 to adopt a hopeful attitude, but Han thinks it’s crucial.
“Buffalo is going to be a playoff team as soon as next season. But for them to really go deep and…really do things that have never been done in the city, they’ve got to have this mindset of ‘why not us or why can’t we get lucky?’ They’ve got to be optimistic even when things don’t go well. Because honestly, that’s the only thing that I think could be missing from this group.”
The Covid-19 pandemic eliminated hockey games for a time and like many people, Han was forced to change careers. The former AHL Toronto Marlies assistant coach thought of everything he learned in hockey he wished more people knew about and wrote his first six-chapter e-book, which was very well-received. That edition led to the current book covering all 32 NHL franchises.
Readers can get value from Hockey Tactics, because it shows the range of schemes teams bring into play. Once readers understand how the game really works, Han hopes his audience will think about hockey on a deeper level and in a more nuanced way.
At the end of the day, Han believes there’s no magic key that unlocks hockey greatness. Luck and optimism play a big part. However, Hockey Tactics helps hardcore fans understand the tactics and strategies teams use to win. Once they do, what was a mystery starts to become much easier to understand.
“I don’t think there are any big secrets and if you take the time, you take the effort to learn more, you’ll find that, what you thought were secrets, they’ll actually start revealing themselves to you. “
Author’s Note: Recently, after Die By the Blade Managing Editor Melissa Burgess broke the sad news that Vox Media, DBTB’s parent company, would no longer support this site, she reached out to editors at other affected blogs. Author, consultant for hockey teams ZSC Zurich Lions, PHF Connecticut Whale and Habs Eyes on the Prize contributor Jack Han, agreed to partner with Die By the Blade.
For each new purchase of Hockey Tactics 2023 readers make through our affiliate link, Han will donate $10 to DBTB to help us transition to a new site, pay writers and editors and defray other costs. Many thanks to Han for not only agreeing to partner with us, but also talk to me about his new book.