Phil Housley wasn’t contacted by the Buffalo Sabres after Lindy Ruff was fired after 16 years as coach, but the ex-NHL defenseman could emerge as a candidate somewhere this summer, if not sooner.
Housley, who coached the United States to the gold medal at the world junior championships, said being behind the bench in the NHL is his goal.
“I haven’t really pursued anything at this point,” Housley said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Sometimes you can’t just pick where you want to go. It’s the opportunity.”
Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier announced that Ron Rolston was replacing Ruff on an interim basis. Rolston, who was the coach of the Rochester Americans, follows a pattern of guys going from minor league affiliate to the NHL, including Bruce Boudreau with the Washington Capitals in 2007 and Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
Housley is the head coach at Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota, and the world junior tournament is his most significant experience.
“I really enjoyed it,” Housley said, pointing to everything from camp to the tournament itself. “Once you have a chance to reflect, you realize what a great accomplishment that was.”
Housley hasn’t had any contact with Buffalo, the team for which he played his first eight NHL seasons. But that’s not all that surprising, he said, given that during a season most teams are enthralled with their own organizations.
But recent midseason coach firings have led to external replacements, like Dale Hunter in 2011 for the Caps and Kirk Muller that same day for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Housley never played for Ruff, but he did play against him while with Washington in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals. It wasn’t Ruff’s longevity that impressed Housley but instead the quality of teams he coached.
“There was a reason why he was there for such a long time: Their players were always competitive,” Housley said. “They had some great runs throughout the years, a goal away from winning the Stanley Cup.”
That was in 1999, when the Dallas Stars won on Brett Hull’s controversial overtime goal. Buffalo made the playoffs eight out of Ruff’s 15 full seasons as coach; the Sabres made more conference final appearances in that time than the Caps have in their 37 seasons of existence (three to two).
Housley said he was just sorry to hear about Ruff’s situation, fired after the Sabres’ 6-10-1 start to the season.
“I think he contributed so much to the Sabres’ organization as a head coach,” he said. “Just sorry to hear the news.”
It’s possible Rolston has the same kind of success as Bylsma or Boudreau and becomes Buffalo’s coach for the long term. But it’s also possible Regier or a new general manager will be undertaking a coaching search this summer.
Undoubtedly other teams will too, and at that point Housley could become an attractive candidate for teams looking for a fresh approach.
“I wouldn’t say if an opportunity came, one way or another, what I would do,” Housley said.