BUFFALO – Phil Housley laughed and sounded nostalgic recalling his memories of winger Dave Andreychuk and their eight seasons together as Sabres teammates.
The Sabres coach knows the 1980s aren’t regarded as the franchise’s golden era. Housley and Andreychuk advanced past the first round of the playoffs only once, as rookies in 1982-83. The decade is mostly known for its disappointment.
Still, the Sabres possessed some of hockey’s all-time greatest talent under legendary coach and general manger Scotty Bowman. With Andreychuk, a 640-goal scorer, getting inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, the perception of the 1980s Sabres might be changing, Housley said.
Those underachieving teams – Housley clearly had a blast playing on them – might finally be earning some respect.
Housley was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015 as one of the highest-scoring defensemen ever. Bowman and center Gilbert Perreault were inducted long ago. Tom Barrasso was one of the NHL’s best goalies, winning the Calder Trophy and Vezina Trophy as an 18-year-old rookie in 1983-84. Later in the decade, center Pierre Turgeon became one of the league’s best scorers.
Bowman, of course, was fired in 1986. He would eventually win three more Stanley Cups as a coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings.
“Scotty never really got to see it through,” Housley said Thursday inside KeyBank Center. “It was a young team and Pierre Turgeon came and that (1989-90) team was really good (third overall). … I think they made some changes because we didn’t have any success.
“But I would’ve liked to see it really play through with Tommy Barrasso and the players we had at the time.”
The Sabres traded Housley after another first-round exit in 1989-90. Andreychuk lasted until 1992-93, when they dealt him halfway through his first 50-goal season.
But their individual runs were often spectacular.
The 54-year-old Andreychuk ranks 14th all-time in goals, which had been the highest total of any player not in the Hall of Fame. His 274 power-play goals are the most in NHL history. His 1,338 points rank 29th and his 1,639 games rank seventh.
Andreychuk had two stints with the Sabres, returning for a season in 2000-01 before captaining the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He ranks second in Sabres history with 368 goals, trailing only Perreault and Martin. Andreychuk ranks second with 406 assists and 804 points, trailing only Perreault.
Incredibly, Bowman drafted Housley (sixth overall) and Andreychuk (16th) in the first round in 1982.
“Scotty must’ve known something, right?” Housley said. “It’s great, you get to come together as two teenagers and play together for eight years, really enjoyed playing with (Andreychuk). He was one of the true net-front guys back in those days beside Tim Kerr in Philly. Really hard to move, really made a living down there in front of the net.”
So why, after nine years of waiting, did Andreychuk finally get the call in 2017?
“It’s maybe time,” Housley said. “You look at the players that have played in the 80s and 90s, there’s a lot of great players that really had a big impact on the game, and sometimes you just wait your turn. I’m really happy to see him. Obviously, his stats speak for themselves. It’s been a long time coming for him.”
Housley knows the magnitude of Andreychuk’s induction won’t hit him until he arrives in Toronto.
“Until you drive up and you have your first meeting at the hall and you see your picture in the Hall of Fame on the outside, it really hits you now you’re going to part of something special,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is right when you step on the podium, right before you got to deliver your speech, that’s when it really hits you, and I think that’s why you see a lot of guys that are really emotional, it just hits you like a hammer, the emotion part of it.”
The community’s emotional response to Craig Lehner’s death has moved Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who honored the Buffalo K-9 Officer on Friday by wearing his name and radio number on a special Military Appreciation Night jersey.
The camouflage warm-up jersey had 43 and “C. Lehner” on the back. Craig Lehner, who died in a dive training exercise last month in the Niagara River, also served in the Army National Guard. The two have no relation.
“It’s been a huge presence here,” Robin Lehner said prior to Friday’s tilt against the Florida Panthers. “You really felt the loss in Buffalo the last week. I have a few friends that told me a lot about him that served with. There’s kind of been a lot of fans on social media, too, send me some messages.
“It just feels right, what they do for the country, him being in the Army and being a police officer. (It’s) not just him, it’s for everyone he represents, and especially in the City of Buffalo, it’s a big presence, they take a lot of pride in it.”
Lehner tried to use the radio number on his game jersey, although with the regular blue sweater being worn, it was too difficult to switch.
Craig Lehner would’ve turned 35 years old Friday. His family attended the game.
Notes: The Sabres made one lineup change, inserting defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, who missed seven games with an upper-body injury. Meanwhile, defenseman Josh Gorges (lower body) is also close to returning, Housley said. … Sabres winger Justin Bailey (lower body) and defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen (upper body) and Matt Tennyson (ankle) were scratched.