Jack Eichel believes players can get things off their chest. ©2018, Hickling Images

Accountability, communication helping Sabres as new season opens

BUFFALO – The open communication among the Sabres and the accountability it has bred is new and welcome.

In the recent past, the team’s problems often festered or worsened over time. Players clearly felt uncomfortable discussing any issues.

Then following last season’s dreadful 31st-place finish, coach Phil Housley challenged the Sabres. He wanted self-reflection. He wanted them to change before the new season, which started this morning with veterans reporting for their training camp physicals.

“In that change, they held each other accountable,” Housley said this morning inside KeyBank Center. “They had to get things out on the table. I give all them the credit, because they have had to put themselves in a vulnerable position at times, they’ve had to listen to feedback and a lot of criticism that I think they might not like to hear.

“But if you are gonna make a difference and you want to change the direction of this franchise, we have to change as people.”

Sabres center Jack Eichel said in his four seasons, the lines of communication – that includes coaches and management – have never been so open.

“You feel like if you have something bothering you, you can get it off your chest, if you think that we have to change something around the room – whatever it may be,” Eichel said. “Phil’s been great for the last few weeks with us, having our input, seeing what we think.

“So I think it’s sort of a bit of a change for us. It’s a good one. That’s how it needs to be. You look at the teams that are successful year after year, it’s that open line, it’s that player-coach relationship instead of battling with them.”

Defenseman Zach Bogosian, one of the longest-tenured Sabres, said the players who have spent the last few years together “broke down some barriers, had some conversations we haven’t had in the past” during the offseason.

Bogosian believes maturity forced the Sabres to change.

“You get more and more experience, you’ve learned what has worked in the past and what hasn’t,” he said. “You’ve got to come together as a group and have those conversations. There’s been a lot of good conversations.”

Check back later for more on the Sabres’ optimism as another season begins.

Some other notes:

– With camp underway – the first on-ice seasons are Friday in HarborCenter – winger Sam Reinhart, the Sabres’ last unsigned restricted free agent, is officially a holdout.

Housley said the Sabres have no injuries, so assuming Reinhart doesn’t ink a new deal in the next 24 hours, 50 players will be on the ice.

– Housley said the vacant captaincy will be evaluated throughout camp.

– As expected, Steve Smith’s arrival as an assistant coach from Carolina means assistant Chris Hajt will move from the bench to the press box this season.

Smith will run the defense from the bench and the penalty killing. Hajt will help him with the PK.

Housley played with Smith, a former defenseman who won three Stanley Cups, in Calgary.

“He’s done a terrific job developing the defensemen down in Carolina,” Housley said. “We just feel, after finishing in 31st place, everything was going to be evaluated and that was me included along with our coaching staff and our players. We felt that if Steve was available, he would be a good asset to our coaching staff. …

“Chris Hajt is just going to be moved upstairs. It’s going to be great for him to develop as a coach up there and being some valuable information between periods.”

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