BUFFALO – Just days before Phil Housley’s dismissal, captain Jack Eichel was adamant the Sabres’ woes should be pinned on the players, not the coach.
Eichel’s words, which he repeated this morning, couldn’t save Housley, who was fired Sunday after the Sabres’ sorry finish.
“It’s on us in the room,” Eichel said as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers and held end-of-season-meetings inside KeyBank Center. “We’re the product on the ice. It’s unfortunate that had to happen, because Phil’s not the one playing the game.
“I’ve said this to you guys before, it’s on as players to do better on the ice every night. The product on the ice hasn’t been good enough. That falls on nobody but ourselves.”
Eichel’s teammates agreed with him. Veteran winger Jason Pominville, the oldest Sabre at 36, said Housley’s dismissal after two seasons surprised him.
“Phil is not the guy that plays the game,” Pominville said. “He has a plan, he gives us his plan. I think as players, we should definitely take full responsibility of this happening.”
Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian said: “I don’t think it has anything to do with him as a coach.”
But other than saying they must change and could be more accountable to each other, the Sabres offered few answers for what turned into a dreadful season. Following their torrid 17-6-2 start, they earned the fewest wins (16) and points (40) in the league.
Eichel and others said there was no disconnect between the players and coaches.
“Maybe we were looking for answers,” Eichel said. “When things went bad, I think guys were probably looking for answers. I think we kind of spiraled a bit. I think we were trying to find something, grasp on something that was going on early in the year. We just couldn’t quite find it again. It kind of spiraled a little bit, unfortunately.”
Bogosian said the line of communication stayed open.
“The thing I always liked about Phil was he had an open-door policy,” Bogosian said. “He always had time for you. If you needed to say something or if he felt he needed to say something, it was brought up.”
Here’s something that will be brought up until the Sabres end their eight-year playoff drought: the Sabres’ young core of talent – Eichel, winger Sam Reinhart, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and some others – only knows losing in the NHL.
They’ve missed the playoffs every season, never experiencing any team success other than the Sabres’ 10-game winning streak and brief run earlier this season.
Update: The Sabres sent forwards Alexander Nylander and Victor Olofsson and defenseman Lawrence Pilut back to the Rochester Americans this afternoon. The Sabres also assigned defenseman Matt Tennyson back to the AHL on Saturday.
The Amerks play a road game against the Cleveland Monsters tonight.