Ralph Krueger’s ability to communicate with his players might be his greatest strength as a coach, so the idea of holding team meetings through Zoom or another video program doesn’t appeal much to him.
“Believe it or not, this is maybe how the odd team meeting will be happening this season,” Krueger said on a Zoom call Tuesday to discuss training camp, which opens Thursday when players report for testing and physicals.
In normal times, the affable Krueger, who’s beginning his second season as Sabres coach, said he tries to have direct contact with each of his players every day. But the numerous challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents will severely impact how every NHL team operates this season.
Krueger can’t even be around his players until Thursday.
“So just imagine that,” he said. “I came last year, we had about three weeks of small chats as they were coming into town. One guy here for a coffee and over there have a meal together. So it’s personal contact that we will not be allowed to have that is difficult for me.”
Krueger doesn’t know when he will see his players other than on the ice during practice.
“Where we’re also supposed to keep distance, right?” he said. “So it’s gonna be complicated but we will deal with it to the best of our ability.”
Krueger said he expects he and his staff will need “to be really creative to get the messages across, to motivate the players” and teach them.
“It will not be normal for us to do it,” he said. “And the players will also have to go beyond the norm to get information into their minds. So overall a challenge, but I love adventures and we’re all going on one, that’s for sure.”
The Sabres, having last played March 9, have been waiting more than nine months for their next adventure. On a Zoom call Tuesday before Krueger, general manager Kevyn Adams, who was hired June 16, couldn’t hide his excitement.
After talking about center Riley Sheahan, a veteran the Sabres signed to a professional tryout agreement earlier in the day, Adams suddenly veered off topic.
“I’m just excited to get my eyes on the practices and just watch our players compete,” a smiling Adams said. “And as I’m looking at the screen here, it’s the 29th, so we’re almost there.”
This season, of course, will be unlike any other in NHL history. The Sabres have been temporarily shifted to the new East Division, a group of eight teams the league grouped together because it must limit travel during the pandemic.
The Sabres, of course, own an embarrassing nine-year playoff drought. Now, they will face the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals eight times each this season.
Six of those teams made the postseason or qualifying round last season. The Bruins, despite having 12 games canceled, still earned a whopping 100 points.
This season, the top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs.
Adams believes the NHL and NHL Players’ Association made the best of a difficult situation.
“It’s easy to look at the divisions and say, ‘Oh man, if we were over there, if we were over there,’” he said. “You know what? We’re where we are. We understand geography and we’re excited about it. I think it’s a challenging division, certainly.
“It’s a unique year. I think the more of a mindset that we go into this season with embracing the challenge, embracing the unique opportunity we have in front of us, the better.”
Adams said he doesn’t “wake up every day thinking about the past.”
“I don’t think about the nine years,” he said. “I wasn’t in this role, but what I do have an understanding of is asking questions about maybe why didn’t things work out a certain way before, what decisions were made that we can learn from.
“So I’m trying to over these last six months do a bit of deep dive and maybe post-mortem into certain areas over the last numbers of years and what we can learn and how we can improve.”