Category Archives: Transcript

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/11/19)

December 11, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.) (14:33)

Jeremy White: Ralph, good morning. It’s Jeremy and Sal Capaccio in for Howard. How are you this morning?

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, good morning. I’m very good. I like snow, so it’s a beautiful day in Buffalo.

JW: Do you have anywhere to go today? I mean, hopefully you’re not driving too far. It can get rough out there.

RK: No, no I live in the core of the city so I have a similar drive no matter rain or shine, snow or sleet, so it’s fine. My movements are easy. We’re here at rink early this morning, the coaches, and we’re back at it.

JW: So what’s on the docket on things you have to work on? I mean, last night’s game was, I think, a fairly strong performance from your group. Fairly happy overall?

RK: Yeah, we’re keeping on the plan, which is to look for growth again today. Keep out picture small. Get ready for Nashville. But more than anything, we need to take with what we did yesterday and how we closed out that game after the 3-2 goal. We had our best 15 minutes of hockey this season, finishing a game and controlling the scoreboard and understanding what it takes to bring those kind of games home against the very heavy, hard-playing St. Louis. I was proud of our finish and so a lot more to confirm yesterday than to learn from, so that’s always nice.

JW: Do you have individual plays? You’re talking about your best 15 minutes. Will you take the video, go over it with the players? What kind of, I guess, drills and or video sessions, or whatever you might do with the players, will you use to highlight exactly what about those 15 minutes you liked so much?

RK: So what happens on a practice day like today is, first of all, we need to know what’s coming up, which is — again, we continue on a torrid pace here with two games in the next three days coming up, so we won’t practice that long. It’ll be short and high quality, low quantity and then off the ice we generally will take some clips from the game yesterday that we liked and also some that we didn’t. There’s always things we can improve on, and work again in a compact form. The guys are still recovering a little bit from our Western Canada trip, so we take it easy on the information, but maybe a 10-minute meeting about the things we liked and about the things we can work on and then we’ll break off and my supporting coaches will do some individual work with players and that’s kind of how our day looks today. We just go right back at it and try to get better for the game against Nashville tomorrow.

JW: You managed to do something that it seems like doesn’t happen often, which is win the first game back from a Western trip. That’s always supposed to be a kiss-of-death kind of game. It’s always difficult for a team that comes back from the West to win their first home game. Did you do anything different about preparation? We’ve talked load management before. Is there anything that you’ve found to be a bit of a trick in coming back from the Western Conference?

RK: Well we almost did nothing, which was probably the trick. We didn’t even see the players; we left them alone on the day we came back at five in the morning there on Sunday night to Monday morning. And then yesterday, we did about a 12- or 13-minute skate in the morning to activate a little bit the hands and bodies. We kept it light as far as video and then brought them in, reeled them in in the evening. But it was actually leaving them alone, making sure they got a lot of sleep and recovery time and that seemed to work. You just need to feel what the group is capable of taking on and I think the momentum out of the Edmonton game, which was really an excellent performance, helped us a lot to get back here in the East and to perform like we did last night.

JW: Linus Ullmark has been just tremendous for you guys of late and last night was not out of the ordinary for him.

RK: No, Linus is really taking a step here this season. Mike Bales, our goalie coach, is doing an excellent job with him psychologically and physically. He worked hard this summer to become more athletic and we can see it in his game, but more than anything it’s his mind and how he’s able to hold a more consistent, aggressive style right through the games and it’s improving. He’s a big part of what’s going on here since — I would say about 11 games now, we’re about 11 games into a stretch where we’ve been pretty consistent with our game. We had that lull of about 10, 11 games after our hot start where we were wandering in and out of our game, but we’re quite pleased with the consistency of performance here. We’re still going to have our off moments, and we’re still going to have times where we need to improve on, but more than anything, Linus is kind of developing like the group in general into a more consistent pattern, which we like and gives us a chance to win every night.

JW: You’re probably going to need both goaltenders down the stretch if you’re going to stay in a playoff race, right now in second in the division. Is your goalie schedule or your percentage of starts per guy, do you have an idea going in? Or is it very much fluid week-to-week? Is it kind of a feeling out process for you being that it’s your first year with both of these guys?

RK: Well no [Carter Hutton] has had some tough breaks of late and he’s such a strong character and he’s an excellent leader in the room and a good voice even as he’s trying to get his confidence and momentum back. We will definitely continue to go game-by-game, whether it’s the forwards, whether it’s the D, you can see we’re making scratches once in a while where we are truly trying to do what’s best for the group for the next game and not thinking much beyond that. So there’s no real long-term plan here, guys; we’re just going to continue to try to put the group together that we think will give us the best chance to stay in the race, and that’s what we need to do against Nashville again tomorrow.

JW: With regard to your defense when doing that, Ralph, you’ve got a rotation, whether it’s Colin Miller in the box one night or Marco Scandella in the box one night. When you’re picking the six that are going to play — six or seven in some cases that are going to dress — how do you go about that? Are you looking at numbers? Are you looking at pairings? Whether or not a pair is meshing? If a pair is meshing, is a guy more likely to stay in and not be bounced out by the rotation? I’m wondering exactly how you’re arriving at each decision that these six are the best on the given night.

RK: Well the complication there has really been that the group has performed it exactly as that: as a group. Nobody has fallen off the map completely. It’s been extremely difficult because we feel there’s a lot of parity there on the D right now and almost any combination will give us a chance. We’re trying to make sure we keep the spirits in the right place, and the rotations have been taken well by the D, whether we play seven — which is never a lot of fun for defensemen in the National Hockey League — or we sit somebody out, they’re all in with the guys. They work out that much harder in the practices if they don’t have a game. Thus far, what we do this morning, we get up early, we come in, our coach’s talk begins with the roster, begins with how we want to come together for Nashville, what group we’re going to pick. There is some stomach behind all of that, some gut decisions that are made. But again, we’re happy with the group, we’re happy with the internal competition, it pushes everybody to look for their A-game every day. And like most things we’re doing here, we really make those decisions on the day.

Sal Capaccio: I know you’re really big into communication and relationships, so how do you approach that with the guys? Because no one wants to sit, obviously. How do you go about a daily conversation with the guys and how all that’s going to play out?

RK: Well Donnie Granato with the forwards and Steve Smith with the D help me in that process so we are always communicating openly with the players before we announce the roster and the lineup and we let the player know that he’s out, if he is, and give him the opportunity to discuss with us the situation; possibly the whys and what could he work on if he has a practice or he’s watching a game instead of playing it. I want to say that the assistant coaches play a huge role there because my day after practice, I run into the media, there’s lots of other group things that I take care of and, individually, I’ve got unbelievable support here in my coaching staff and they communicate very openly. We just lay all the cards on the table. We’re very honest with the guys, we let them know the truth, and we can only hope that they take it the right way — and they have so far — and that they grow from that and they push themselves to be better and make it more difficult for us to take them out next time.

JW: Ralph, how about for Casey Mittelstadt? Had a game up in the press box to kind of look things over. He’s kind of had his struggles this year. You’re talking about you being honest with the guys, what’s your message to Casey and his development at this point?

RK: Well we have to understand when players are 20 or under how much they are learning every single day and how far away they still are from their potential. Casey’s potential is so exciting. His skill and ability as it develops here is a lot of fun to work with. Sometimes taking a breath and sitting out and watching from afar and having a lesser role can be what that player needs for a few days or could be a few games or only one game. It’s all an attitude thing: How do you take that as a player? Do you point fingers all over the place and blame other people or do you look inside and try to get better yourself and learn from it? Casey is looking at what he needs to work on, what he needs to get better on. Donnie Granato is spending a lot of time with him as he grows here day to day. He’s come a long way since the beginning of training camp to understand what it takes to be a centerman in the National Hockey League. He’s spending some time on the wing here and there. There’s a lot coming at you here at a very quick speed. The level of play in the National Hockey League is going up every week right now as everybody is finding their rhythm, finding their games; the challenge is harder and more difficult and so it is for Casey. I just love his attitude. I love his willingness to work and to understand what it’s going to take. Again, it’s just part of the process here. We’ve got a good group of guys and different people will be sitting out on different nights and that’s just a sign of a team evolving in the right direction.

JW: One last (question) before we let you go. I think one good sign about players can grow and become an even better version of what they were is probably Jack Eichel, who continues to club to new heights. This has been a great year for him. He’s got 20 goals already, on pace for over 100 points, which would be a career high for him by quite a bit. I would say Jack Eichel’s a shining example of still getting more out of a player even though he’s been in the league a couple of years.

RK: Jack has 100 percent bought into everything we’re doing here and he’s an example, every shift he works has as anybody. He plays as strongly within the framework that we want to play in here and he’s profiting from it as an individual player, which is interesting him much less than the team success. Off ice, on ice, just an outstanding leader and [I’m] so excited that he’s having personal success, but again, nobody’s really speaking about that. He certainly isn’t. It’s all about the team here. It’s all about us learning how to compete here and to continue to stay in the mix, to stay in the race and to be in the right position in the new year. So that’s the great thing about Jack. It’s a lot of fun working with him. He’s trying to get better still every day, which has got to excite us all. And you can see the minutes he’s playing and the work ethic that he has; it’s definitely paying off for him. But nobody’s giving him this. He’s earning everything. He’s working for everything, and his skill along with that work ethic is an exciting thing to be a part of.

JW: Alright Ralph, best of luck tomorrow against Nashville.

SC: It’s Aud Night.

JW: It’s Aud Night.

SC: I know your playing career and your coaching career wouldn’t have really taken you to the Aud, but do you remember anything about the Aud?

RK: Well I’ll tell you right now that I do not remember anything about the Aud, but I can only tell you that one of my good friends from Europe, Uwe Krupp is here from the ’80s and he’s hanging out with us here for a few days. He coaches over in Prague right now and he’s been a coaching colleague in Europe for decades. He’s one of the biggest fans Buffalo has, I have to tell you. He was one of my first calls when I was offered the job here. It’s good to have Uwe around and all the ’80s guys at the game tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/4/19)

December 4, 2019


Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (12:59)


Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show sir.

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, listeners.


HS: Let’s — quick injury update. [Evan] Rodrigues [is] back at practice, so would he be playing on this trip then? Is he cleared to play and would he play on this road trip?

RK: Yeah, Rodrigues is definitely back up to speed and it was good to see him in the group yesterday, but it was his first skate so we’ll be integrating him gradually. But he should be available. We’re going to do one more practice again today, which is a beautiful thing — two practices in two days. We’ll know more after today, for sure, but he’s very close.


HS: And what is the latest on Kyle Okposo?

RK: We’ll we’re so happy to see Kyle back on the ice yesterday. I mean, we all know how much was on the line here with another head injury. We’re pleased to see him back. He felt good yesterday in practice. We’ll be taking it slower with Kyle for sure, but he’s very close, which is good. I mean, these are experienced guys who help in the maturity of the process that we’re in right now. We were all happy to see Kyle on the ice yesterday practicing with us.


HS: And with Rasmus Dahlin, is there a timeline with him? Is he even going on the trip?

RK: Rasmus is not going on the trip. That’s one, also, where we need to be careful on. We’re happy with the progress that he’s making and we’re optimistic that we’ll have him back soon, but we’re going to leave him here for rehab one more week and hopefully he can reintegrate next week.


Jeremy White: Ralph, when it comes to your defense pairings, how do you decide who’s going to go together? Do you have a rhyme or reason? Is it a feeling-out process for you being a coach that’s still just on the job for a few months?

RK: Well when you look at us playing seven (forwards) and 11 (defensemen), which is very rare in the National Hockey League, we’ve had a lot of success with that in this past week. For your listeners, that would mean seven defensemen rotating in seven different pairs. So each player actually has two partners that he goes with, so you can get a seven-pair rotation, if that makes any sense. It’s worked really well for us. It’s kept the group energized. We played an NHL-record five games in seven nights last week and I think that that was testing our fitness and our ability to adjust to that. Getting points right through the week was an extremely positive sign for where we’re at. But it’s definitely, looking at the, you know, right [and] left sticks, but also mixing the offensive and defensive components in those pairs as they come together. The 11 forwards has been interesting too. It’s difficult to match against us because we have a line with [Rasmus] Asplund and [Zemgus] Girgensons that’ll have anybody injected in there. Jack [Eichel] will play with them or you’ll have [Jeff Skinner] in there or other players. So the opposition coach has a little bit of trouble reading us. On the road this week we might stick with that strategy, but we’ll just keep in in the pocket for now.


JW: Yeah, it’s like load management’s a big-time buzz phrase in the sports world, and we’ve talked about it with you about morning skates. You feel like this 7-11, while it might be rare and maybe not ideal or maybe it ends up working out, could it be something that you do employ if it continues to work? Could the NHL largely move this way? There’s some talk about positionless games, where defensemen move around a little bit and the evolution of the game. I just — I wonder about the load management because, as you mentioned, the numbers, the minutes for each of your defenseman has come down.

RK: Well you’ve nailed it right on the head there because the game is evolving in a way where if you watch us play, we work in a group of five all the time and if a defenseman does get ahead of the forwards, [the forward has] got to cover for [the defenseman] and take his spot, and vice versa. A forward could be the first one back in the D-zone and the D-man has to cover up. I think that’s what’s making so exciting right now and so dynamic. It’s brought a lot more speed into the game. In the old days, the D weren’t allowed to go down below the top of the circles and the forwards wouldn’t come back. The wingers would never come back and play down low in their own end, and that’s all off the map now. It’s part of the beauty of the game and it never stops evolving. We need to evolve with it now. The only team that’s used that 7-11 quite a bit, that was Tampa Bay last year, actually, and they ended up with a record season. Watching that example in how Jon Cooper was doing it was one of the things that I thought was interesting. And I’m glad to see it’s one of the tools we have in our box now. We’ll definitely have many games of six (defensemen), 12 (forwards), but dropping back to that depending on injuries and depending on the need and the pace of the games, we can do both, which is good to have different looks going, especially on the road.


HS: It’s interesting, because in years past, Ralph, when it comes to D-pairings, right, we always would be told or hear, “Well you want to be able to lock those guys in. They get to know each other. Communication is better.” All these different things. And yet, when you play seven, I was saying, I haven’t tracked it. Are you — you’re rotating all seven guys? You’re not taking one pairing and saying, “Okay, you two are going to stay together.” What happened to the whole, “Hey, it’s good for these guys to play together”? You’re constantly changing up the pairings in the game. 

RK: Each player only has two partners, right? It’s not as complex as it might sound. But in the end it’s about playing within our principles and within our desired structure. We’ve been speaking weekly now right through the season and we’ve had some ups early on, we had some downs, we’ve kind of settled into a consistent game now. Over the last seven games we feel we’ve been playing quite consistent compared to the first 21, which is a good feeling to have. But a lot of it has to do with when you do have different beside you, your fallback is what the team needs and what the principles and concepts of the team are. I think that this variety at the moment is actually helping us to play more of a team game and eventually you do look for synergies. Now Eichel, [Sam] Reinhart and [Victor] Olofsson have been playing almost the whole season together as a forward line, so we are looking for synergy in other areas or on the power play, which struggled quite a bit lately and is starting to find its legs again. We have been moving bodies in and out. But you’re right, over time you will end up with pairs and lines that have that synergy. But at the moment in our evolution, I think it’s a good thing to be doing.


JW: You mentioned that top line, Ralph. Your patience paid off — Victor Olofsson scoring at even strength. Have you seen anything different in his game that has led to that or did you really think that if everything stayed the same, it would just come eventually?

RK: Yeah, it was just the habits he has are outstanding and he is extremely responsible defensively, too. And what that does is he often is above the puck. When it becomes available to us, Jack and Sam are so good at puck possession, Victor’s outstanding at finding the holes. His shot is a lethal weapon that we’re seeing more and more. It’s his first season in the National Hockey League and we all know that that takes time before you reach your peak, and his peak is still a long way to go so we’ve all — everybody in Buffalo’s got to be really excited about that.


JW: The driver of that line, Jack Eichel, I think a lot of people have noticed this year might be his best year defensively. Maybe buying in a little bit more, doing a little bit more of a 200-foot game. Is there anything specific that you did with him or your conversations with him brought about this change and this, perhaps this next level in that part of his game?

RK: Well, I would go beyond a little bit more; I’d say a lot more. He just really is maturing quickly and understanding what we need in the game. And his offense actually is profiting from it. He’s so well positioned defensively. He’s as quick back into our own end as anybody on the team and understands what his responsibilities are. A lot of our offense comes out of the good defense that we’re playing at times and we can explode the other way with the defense involved, and Jack is just as, again, as strong and as quick as anybody in the league. He uses that now on both sides of the puck and he’s having a lot of fun with it, so we’re really pleased. He’s a leader off the ice, but he’s definitely also an example and a leader on the ice. It’s hard sometimes to believe that he’s only 23 years of age.


HS: You referenced the power play a moment ago. You got a goal the other night, but it had been at, like, a 1-for-37 or something funk. What have the coaches — what have you been telling the power-play units in terms of, is there anything you want to see them do differently to try and get it going again?

RK: What you actually have to stop talking about is scoring because then they squeeze the sticks and think about the end product versus the process to get there and the habits that we need. We got away from some of the habits that are fundamentally important for a good power play and we’re concentrating on those. In the end, it all begins with hard work. If we have struggles in any area of our game, we need to work hard at it, we’re doing video, we’re doing on-ice, we did a couple of practice sessions in the last two practices. We had one goal in the last game that fell two seconds after a PK ended. The power play got some confidence back last game for sure. It always comes back to the fundamentals, guys. It’s about working on those and keeping those in check. We drifted a little bit away from that, but I feel confident that the power play will have a good run here in Canada this week.


JW: One last question for me, Ralph: The sport’s kind of going through a bit of a reckoning when it comes to coaches. I saw the NHL Coaches Association issued a statement about respecting players and maintaining a healthy environment.

HS: And it sounds like the Board of Governors is going to address this Monday at their meeting.

JW: If I may, I would say all that we hear about players that play for you is how much they enjoy playing for you. I just wonder what your feeling is on the culture of the sport, on what it’s like to be a coach, whether it’s a generational change or if it’s the style of person that becomes a coach changes or any of that regarding what the NHL is kind of going through right now.

RK: Well what it’s going to definitely do is influence coaches from here forward and in the future; the accountability will be high. I can only say from my side, I have said a clear statement that I don’t know the facts or the individuals that well, having not been in the NHL over the last few years, so I’m not in a position to judge. All I can do is try and hope that coaches — especially that are coaching kids in and around the Buffalo region — in any sport think about the importance of, number one, respecting the individuals that we’re leading and the importance and understanding of the influence we have on them. I think everybody should be out there trying to catch players doing things right. Whether it’s male or female athletes that we’re leading, let’s try to catch them doing things right. Let’s inspire them to be better. And when we criticize them, let’s make sure it’s part of a sandwich. Let’s give them examples of how they should do things and in between you might make some corrections and then give them support morally again because in the end, I think, treating people right is the most important thing that leaders need to have. If this whole situation now leads to more of that happening, especially with children or with younger athletes, then even this adversity that we’re going through right now will end up being a good thing. We try to create an environment of respect here. Everything’s on the table. We tell the truth, which isn’t always friendly. We don’t just sit in our locker room and tell the players everything is right all the time, and it’s the way we do it that counts in the end. We will continue to work for that environment here in Buffalo with all our hearts in the coaching room.

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (11/27/19)

November 27, 2019

Jason Botterill
Schopp & Bulldog (5:30 p.m.) (16:37)

Mike Schopp: You’re home. I think last year maybe was the same? I don’t know. But you’re home so maybe you’ll get to enjoy tomorrow with family and stuff.

Jason Botterill: Little bit of family, watch a little Bills action. Should be a good day.

MS: What do you think about [the Bills] right now? They’re interesting right now, Bills. I don’t mean your family. They might be too.

JB: Well, you look at over the next four games, it’s certainly going to be a challenge for them and I think, especially coming off such a short week, traveling down to Dallas will be very interesting for them. Obviously, a little drama in Dallas too after their tough loss against the Pats. But to me, it’s been great. It’s been fun watching. They continue to improve, especially on offense. I think they’re going to have a great effort tomorrow.

MS: What was playing hockey in Dallas like? Pretty anonymous?

JB: It was anonymous, but there was an excitement around there. They were passionate. And it was at that time, when I played, it was at the old Reunion Arena. Played on some excellent teams, obviously, there that were battling for Stanley Cups and they were exciting. Players like Mike Modano, [Sergei] Zubov, who just went into the Hall of Fame. They had a great crowd, great atmosphere. They weren’t exactly the most knowledgeable hockey fans at that time, but they were passionate. They wanted to cheer on their team. I think you take a step back, players are now coming out of Dallas and stuff, like what the Stars did a great job [of] when they moved from Minnesota there is they built up youth hockey. They did a great job with their high school program, their youth program and they really developed hockey families.

Chris Parker: There’s a lot going on with your team. There’s a lot going on in the league. There’s a lot going on with your opponent tonight, so there’s a lot to unpack here. I’d like to start here if we could with you on the play [Rasmus] Dahlin is injured on. You’ve spent your life in the sport, you came up in the sport when it was a very different game; physically, retribution, things like that. I wonder how you see how it’s changed and as a manager watching your team and seeing no one really take charge of the situation when Dahlin got hit with a cheap shot. How do you balance that? Because I know the game has changed, right? And I like the changes for the most part. But at the same time there’s a frustration when your 19-year-old superstar’s laying in the ice bleeding and you sort of want a little, you want a little payback. How do you deal with that?

JB: Well I think, first of all, you’re extremely disappointed about the actual action and the fact that one of our top players is down with an injury. I think what Ralph [Krueger] alluded to in his press conference this morning, you look at both at what happened to [Vladimir] Sobotka and also with what happened to Dahlin, it’s a situation where there is a little bit of uncertainty right off the bat. I’ve liked our response when people know what’s going on, when people truly understand. You look at the game in Anaheim earlier this year, Victor Olofsson got hit from behind [and] went into the boards, there was five of our guys in there for the scrum right away and I think that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a team toughness element and you want to make sure that when there’s something everyone sees and everything’s on the ice, they’re there and they’re battling.

CP: So was it conspicuous that that didn’t happen either in the moment when the hit was made and you got a competitive game, 3-2 and then you’re on the power play, I think anyone can understand not wanting to sacrifice that. You might have been expecting another penalty because Dahlin is on his knees bleeding. It didn’t come. Later in the game, nothing happened. Is that disappointing at all to you?

JB: No, I think it’s the game. I guess my question to you is, so what do you want from the response?

CP: I suppose someone going and challenging [Erik] Cernak and letting him know that that’s not okay that you just elbowed Rasmus Dahlin in the face.

JB: I like where our team’s at from a camaraderie standpoint about respecting each other, about protecting each other. I can’t tell you sitting here right now why something didn’t happen, but I know that there was certain concern for Rasmus. There’s certainly a lot of respect for Rasmus and I appreciate where our toughness on our team has been. I think our guys have protected each other from that standpoint. It’s something that we’ll continue to look at and work out.

MS: Just as a P.S. I guess, I’m thinking of [Brandon] Montour’s comment after [Jack] Eichel’s fight. How he was surprised or disappointed, did he say disappointed? Maybe he didn’t. He noted that there was little or no reaction to that on his team. Is that mean anything to you that comment?

JB: In what regards to the comment?

MS: That he felt that the bench didn’t react to Eichel’s fight, which game was that?

JB: That was against Minnesota.

CP: A week ago Tuesday.

JB: And that’s where there should’ve been, we should have gotten more of a jump off of that without a doubt. When guys are stepping up and doing things sort of outside their realm, trying to ignite the team, there needs to be a bigger reaction.

MS: It’s kind of the point, right?

JB: Yeah, it’s kind of the point that it’s something Jack’s not usually comfortable. You saw when Jimmy [Vesey] scored in the Tampa Bay game, the excitement from the bench, the reaction, that’s great to see. You’ve seen it when we’ve done well early in the year on the penalty kill with a blocked shot type of thing. There’s that challenge, they’re bringing something. That’s where we have to do a better job. I don’t have an answer for on what happened in the Minnesota game. Overall it wasn’t a very good game from our part. If you look back on the last month or so, it was certainly one of the more disappointing games. Our captain tried to lead us in that result. We should’ve had a better response following that.

MS: Okay, we’ve talked about a particular area here for a few minutes. What do you think your team is missing or needs right now, you know? Like you’re in the middle of the standings, it’s not like anything’s over yet. What does it need that it doesn’t have, more than anything else, would you say?

JB: Well right now our special teams is certainly hurting us at times. You look at the game against Tampa Bay — overall I really like the way we played. Even go back to the game against Boston, I thought we played extremely well there too. But special teams is hurting us. I think at the start of the year, especially our power play, gave us a lift and when your power-play guys aren’t clicking, they take that frustration over to even strength and don’t have that same confidence in and around the net. You look at the game against Tampa Bay, second period, we have an opportunity, we actually had a good power play, went 2-1 that could’ve made it 3-1. We don’t score. They go back on the power play and score a goal to make it 2-2, bit momentum change in the game. So I think our power play and our penalty kill has to improve on. I think having Zach Bogosian back in the lineup, he’s one of our better penalty killers, I think that’ll certainly help us out. I think having Marcus Johansson come back to help out either the second (power play) unit or first unit just with his zone entries will certainly help our group, and that’s what we have to find a better chemistry up there.

CP: How many things schematically can, like, there’s only so much room on the ice and so many people, just how creative can you get about trying to change that up? Because we’ve all seen the triangle of Dahlin and Jack on his off wing and Victor on his off wing and that was really clicking when the season began and you guys were cruising at like a 45 percent conversion rate, which is, of course, unrealistic to maintain, but still it was great. It seems like teams like when, “Oh, yeah, this Olofsson guy can shoot the lights out. Let’s try to take that away.” So you’ve got to find another way in.

JB: I think you look at the players that we have on the unit, they have hockey sticks, they have creativity and they have to just continue to utilize that more. Teams are taking away Olofsson a little bit more, that should leave other guys open for the opportunity. You look at whether Jack’s on it, we all know where Jack likes to be, but he has that versatility. Sam [Reinhart’s] versatility, to me he’s the new-age sort of net-front guy. The guy who has the size to be the screen but also the hands to make plays in and around the net. We have to utilize those guys more.

MS: Jason, fans, are just sort of waiting for a trade here, I think a lot of fans are. Bulldog and I, if I may, are both kind of shocked, maybe, that there wasn’t something else to come in the summer with all the defensemen you had and this idea of a defenseman for a forward — that if, I’m sure, is easier said than done. What would it take — I recognize, too, there are not trade in the league, you know? What would it take? I mean, would you need to see a certain number of games without moving up the standings or a losing streak or just like what? I think I speak for many, many Sabres fans just wondering what the thing would need to have — what would need to be to get something like that to occur?

JB: Well, I think we always look at, we’re always looking to improve our team. And people always ask me that question and look: I have to have an answer. I have to talk to him about, hey, what discussions we have going on. Bottom line is, I don’t feel really comfortable about it until we get a deal done and there’s something there. I’ve been asked: ‘Do you feel close on something?’ Doesn’t matter if you’re close on something. You get a deal done and you move on. Look, we knew that we were having some injuries, even right now, we have a player coming back in Zach Bogosian. I think he has done an excellent job through two games. But coming off major hip surgery, you don’t know how he’s going to respond. We wanted to — we’ve had so many questions on our defense over the last couple years, we wanted to make sure we added some depth there. We’ve been, I’ve been open to it. We’re looking to help our forward group right now with injuries that we’ve sustained, we’re trying to find help there. And if something materializes there, we’ll certainly jump on it.

MS: Yeah, I don’t want to ask you if you’re close because I agree, I sort of feel that way, I understand. And you know, Bulldog and I and everybody out here, never gets to know what is being talked about. Sometimes we’ll see these little stories on Twitter, like, ‘so and so is rumored to be available in a trade,’ any sport. Like, well, I think, why is that even news? Why wouldn’t every team be open to trading anybody? You want to be open to ideas.

JB: Yep, you want to be open to ideas. And that’s certainly where there’s general managers in the league that you trust and communicate with and you’re open to different ideas. Hey, you may think you’re close on something, then a game happens and that team loses two forwards or that team loses two defensemen, and it doesn’t materialize. Second part of it, right now you’re dealing with, is on any given day you look at it, you have 12 — anywhere from 10 to 12 teams — in LTI, long-term injury. So there’s just not the cap space to make that as flexible. And we made a trade, I won’t tell you which one, but we made a trade in the past year, that literally took 14 months to consummate. So, we’ve been talking to the team for over 14 months to get something done and it wasn’t a fit until it finally materialized. So, look, we’re trying to, we see adding more depth at our forward group, add more to our mix there, to either help our offense or help our PK would certainly help out our group and we’re continuing to try and find a solution.

CP: Not to get hung up on one word you just said there, but trust, you mentioned ‘trust other GMs.’ I wonder, if, do you worry that if you are talking too many people about too many guys that stuff will get out? That like, all of the sudden the big-name reporters are going to be saying, ‘Jason Botterill is shopping so-and-so?’

JB: Well, look, there’s always that worry. You always wish that all of your conversations become, are confidential. To me, that’s how you get a deal done eventually. You’re throwing out different ideas out that you may not be comfortable with, but you’re at least seeing if there’s a fit from that standpoint. And I think there’s just some general managers, you feel a little bit more of a trust from that standpoint, and that’s where as a younger general manager in the league, I’m trying to build those relationships with different guys who have been here longer than myself.

MS: Yeah, I think that’s a thing, like, right? You don’t, nobody, everybody is sort of in the same place there, I would think, as a GM. We don’t want —  I’m going to tell you I have a guy that I’m looking to move, but we’re never going to speak about this again, and like we don’t want anybody knowing it, that kind of thing. There’s certainly a lot to talk about here and there’d be more, but I want to ask about the thing with [Calgary head coach] Bill Peters. And I think the question being asked in hockey right now is, is this the beginning of something, where people who know, and have had experiences over the years, are going to feel empowered to speak, I think is the essence of this maybe, or where we might be headed. What do you see coming?

JB: Well, I can’t predict that, all I can know right now is talking within people in the Calgary Flames organization, they’re certainly taking it very serious. I think you’re seeing it how with their actions over the last 48 hours and as Ralph [Krueger] talked about, we don’t have the information to know exactly what materialized, but you have to look internally in your own situation and making sure that we’re trying to have an environment where players, there is respect and players feel open to communicate with myself, with Ralph and with our staff. And, hey, we’re not going to sit on that pedestal saying, ‘Oh, we’re perfect’ by any means. But that’s what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re trying to make sure that your environment where people understand that as a coach you’re going to challenge players at certain times and try to get the most out of players. But also, in an environment where the players feel very comfortable talking to the management staff and the coaching staff.

MS: I think if I asked you, or maybe anybody who has been in the game for as long, ‘Jason, is it a lot different now coaching than it used to be, or playing for a coach than it used to be?’ I would think they would almost all laugh, like of course it’s different. Things that might have seemed just like, this is motivation, now might border on abuse. And you’ve had that life.

JB: And look, the stakes are so much higher now. You look at the salaries, what’s happened in the last decade to two decades, there’s a lot riding on players becoming National Hockey League players and having successful careers. You’re also looking at every player that seems to come in, they have their own group, they have their own team. They have skill coaches, development coaches, each individual player has a mental skills coach, an agent, family members talking to them. So there’s a lot going on with these different players and, you know, it’s just a situation where coaches sit down, talk to players and go there. They want to know why. They want to know how it fits into the whole group of things. So, I think you see players in the summer, you know, 20-30 years ago, guys just are working out. They’re now working on their game every day. They’re looking for information and knowledge to improve themselves and that’s what they’re looking for from the coaching staff, too.

CP: The story is still relatively young, I mean, we’ll see what sorts of twists and turns it takes. I’m wondering, as you’re talking and replying to Mike’s question there, if it’s the sort of thing that has the potential to have you go through your organization and ask all the people that are working for you, like ‘Is there anything I need to know that might have happened in Peoria,’ or in wherever that could pop up so you could be ready for something, if it should come?

JB: Well, look, we feel we do a very good job of that before, before we bring people into our organization. We hope that — it’s not as if we sit down, talk with them and hey, we’re offering you a job and bringing you in. We feel we do a lot from a background check and making sure that the people that we’re bringing in to interact with our players, to interact with our employees, certainly have a high standard. Now, hey, can we continue to improve on that? Without a doubt. And how I interact with my coaches, my training staff, how I interact with people within my office, you always have to look and re-evaluate the situation.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (11/27/19)

November 27, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (6:53)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, how are you?

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, gents. It’s good to be back in Buffalo.

HS: So what’s your Thanksgiving plan? What are you doing for tomorrow?

RK: Well you have to remember my life has been predominantly in Europe over the last decades and I grew up before that in Canada, so it’s my first Thanksgiving on U.S. soil while being here so I’ll probably be watching and seeing what everybody does here in America during Thanksgiving.

HS: Well you get to experience watching a Bills game on Thanksgiving, it doesn’t happen that often, but you’ll have to do that tomorrow. 

RK: Yeah, that’ll be a lot of fun. Always enjoy watching the Bills, and I’m really happy how they’re performing and the city’s embracing that. Sean McDermott’s doing a hell of a job there.

HS: Injury update; is there any time frame on Rasmus Dahlin at this point?

RK: No. We’ve had a bit of a grind of late and adding Rasmus to the list is quite disappointing, but again, it’s truly — when you’re dealing with concussions, it’s a day-to-day issue. We’re not expecting him for the next days, but we hope it’s a quick recovery, but again, it’s difficult to guess the timelines on an injury like that.

HS: What was your reaction when you heard that [Erik] Cernak got two games?

RK: We would have rather had a five-minute major within the game because that kind of suspension really does us no good; we don’t see Tampa Bay for a while. But at least it’s confirmation that it was what we thought it was. The player has received a reprimand for that, which is important because that’s the kind of hitting we don’t want to see in the National Hockey League.

HS: Did the refs tell you they just didn’t see it? They missed it?

RK: Yeah.

HS: With Marcus Johansson, Ralph, what’s the update on his return date?

RK: Yeah, I mean we’re going to take a look at him today. He stayed back here in Buffalo. We worked together with him with our rehab team in Buffalo and it looks like it’s progressed positively. We hope that the pre-game skate goes well today. He’s still a question mark for tonight, but I would say more on the positive side of seeing him in the lineup.

HS: And weirdly, that — I’m trying to think, is there anybody else getting close to a return or that’s pretty much it?

RK: No, that’s it right now. Other than that, you know — it would be very good to have him back. He’s an excellent leader for us and a strong influence on the confidence of the group. I think getting him back will be a good thing for all.

HS: How did you think your team played overall on the three-game trip you just had through Boston and Florida?

RK: Well we can’t accept the results because of how we played. I thought Boston was one of our best games of the season right through from start to finish. The management of the score and just understanding what it takes to create more net pressure is something we’re working hard at. I thought in Florida we actually had our weakest of the three and we got the win, so who’s to say what the best way is to approach a game. In Tampa, I think everybody watched the scoring chances and shot clock of the first few periods, we come out down 3-2 and it was quite disappointing when we look at our game management. Our 4-on-4 situation where we allow a goal against and then a shorthander to actually close the game out is quite frustrating when you see the effort to set up an opportunity to get points in Tampa Bay. So we need to take the pain that we’re feeling right now and the adversity we’re under right now as an opportunity to just continue to build our game in the right way and turn those results. I’m sure we’re going to get a strong effort tonight as a reaction to the frustration of coming only back with two points. But again, there is some confirmation on how we need to play, what we need to do to be successful against the top teams in the league. Carrying those habits forward is going to be really important here today.

Jeremy White: Ralph, one thing that can push you guys through is the power play, which started the season red hot and, you know, I would imagine you expect peaks and valleys, it kid of flows a little bit here and there, it’s just the way it generally works, it’s cyclical. Are you seeing teams doing anything differently than they were at the start of the season that maybe you as a coaching staff and as a team have to make adjustments to?

RK: Yeah, I mean, I think everybody knows that we had a hot power play off the hop and Victor Olofsson on the back side was a bit of a surprise. So that’s being eliminated. We need to be better at finding options. We can’t be happy with our power-play production at all with the skill that we have. It will be a major focal point of the game today again. We are self-critical on it and the guys are digging deep and it’s more, we need to bring in more deception. We need to be less readable on where we’re going to attack and how we’re going to attack. We have had scoring chances again on the power play and not finishing our opportunities is probably our biggest weakness at the moment. But our power play will decide where our game goes. It is our motor offensively and it needs to get going here quickly, that’s clear and evident for all.

JW: It seems that some teams that struggle, struggle to get it in the zone. Sometimes you just don’t have the finish there. I would say for your team, the entries seem to be pretty good. Would you consider it a good sign that at least you’re getting into the zone, so you would expect things to kind uptick the other way at some point.

RK: Yeah, no, we’re definitely getting entry. We’re showing strong control in the O-zone. But creating that net pressure we’d like to have possibly similar to our 5-on-5 game, it’s an opportunity for us and we need to fix that very quickly because we need to show more desperation on our power play in the O-zone. And again, we are working on that for tonight.

HS: I know we pulled you out of a game-day meeting, so we’ll let you get you back to work. Appreciate your time and good luck tonight against Calgary.

RK: Thank you, gentleman, and thanks for the positive support and we will do all to make the Thanksgiving celebrations — to set the celebrations off on the right track and I’ll make sure I find a place to have turkey tomorrow night.

HS: You won’t have trouble finding it. Alright, good luck. Thank you, Ralph.

RK: Thank you, have a good day.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (11/20/19)

November 20, 2019


Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (13:22)


Howard Simon: Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger with us right now on the West Herr Hotline. Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. Thanks for coming on with us today. I understand your voice is not where it usually is, so we’ll do our best to get you on and off.

Ralph Krueger: Yeah, no, I’m fine, I’m fine. Just a little bit deeper today, that’s all. How are you guys?

HS: Good, good, good.


HS: Look, a lot of issues we want to try and get to in the time we have you. The 8-1-1 start has now turned into 2-7-2 since then. As you look at trying to identify the problems, the issues, what’s changed from the first 10 games to the last 11 games with the record noticeably down?

RK: I think it’s primarily — there’s always multiple things you can look at. When you had the winning streak going, there were things that we were working on, we weren’t happy with and we tried to change. Now, the things we’re not happy with, we’re working on, we’re trying to change or magnify. But it comes down to details. There’s little moments in games where we’re giving up what we were good at, slight changes on the way we’re forechecking and defending. Also, especially in the offense, we’re frustrated right now on the power play, which has gone quite cold and we’re just not creating the offense that we did. So again, we knew it was a project, we know we had a lot of details to work on to make them into habits. We’re at a frustrating point right now, but nobody’s got their heads down, the guys have their heads up. They’re working hard and we believe we’ll find a way out of this.

Jeremy White: One thing, Ralph, I heard from last night, I think I heard you mention it, I think I heard Jack Eichel mention it: the idea that we’re not talking about last year. Is that a message that this organization wants to send that it’s not related at all to last year?

RK: Well I’m not using that language at all because I can’t use it, because I wasn’t here. It’s for everybody else to compare to last year, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever, it’s not really relevant to our story that we’re building this year. What we’re building is a story with a new group of players, some returning, some that we’ve just acquired through the summer. And I think that it’s about developing the best possible version of the Sabres this season. We feel there’s a lot of good things happening. We feel there’s an upside to the group. We’re going to get some bodies back here in the next few day; some key injuries, that are not an excuse, but it’ll be good to have them back and it’ll help solidify the game we need to play again. But right now, we’re working on now, we’re working on today, what can we improve to get better for Boston tomorrow and that’s it.


HS: You weren’t here last season, of course, but the majority of the roster was. Do you believe, you know, whether it’s, “Oh God, here we go again,” or, you mentioned something last night about maybe some fear creeping after a goal against. There are some issues or some things we see from the team that all are similar to what happened last season. So, while you weren’t here, these guys were. Is that a problem?

RK: Well it’s a problem if everybody keeps talking about it, but we’re not talking about it in the room. They’re being asked, obviously like I am here this morning. The only way you can make things better now is by taking care of things that are manageable and what’s in your control. And what’s in our control is to improve on our game again and to get back to the very best version of ourselves. We’ve drifted slightly. It’s only percentage points in this league. We’ve been in every one of these games. There was a couple that got away maybe midway through, but most of them went down the stretch. We need to turn this on our own, we need to work hard; that’s what I know what to do in this situation is to continue to work hard and stay focused. And again, the language from outside, any noise that’s trying to distract us from this, we need to leave it outside and inside the room we need to focus we can control and change and that’s our next challenge, which is Boston.


HS: Rasmus Dahlin was benched for the entire third period against Ottawa and he just doesn’t look like the same player from his rookie year. Is he lacking confidence? What do you see are maybe issues in his game that led you to sit him for the entire third period against the Senators?

RK: Well, you have to remember that that’s about six or seven shifts that he didn’t play and everybody’s making quite a big deal of it. Rasmus didn’t make a big deal of it. We had excellent meetings. We thought he’s responded extremely well. It was not against him, it was for the score and for the players we thought were going to bring the game home on the day, and we’ll continue to do that in the future. It can hit anybody. Important is how he came out of that and his game in Chicago and last night against Minnesota was strong. His play was improved over the game before and I thought it was a process of accountability that he responded well to, and that’s what we like to see. He’s going to continue to improve every day and the Sabres fans have to be very excited about what we have in Rasmus Dahlin.


JW: You dressed seven defensemen, you had a defenseman playing up on the wing as well. You clearly have an overflow of defensemen in the organization. How much — and Jason Botterill spoke yesterday about the need to look for a forward. He’s actively making calls trying to acquire a forward to improve the team — how often are you and Jason talking about what this team does need and what can be done to help things?

RK: Well we’re speaking every single day since I signed, which is an excellent process. Jason and I are strongly connected and in the end it doesn’t affect what I do when I go into the rink and that’s work with the players that are healthy, work with the players that are there and work with the lineup that we have and do the best with this group. The big picture is being run by Jason and his management team, and I’ve got a coaching staff dealing on the day-to-day. But we are strongly connected. Through training camp, all the way through the season. Every day we’re speaking about where this organization wants to go and how we can get there and which players can do it for us. That’s part of the league that, again, he’s dealing with that and I’m dealing with getting players ready on the day.


HS: Do you expect to get [Marcus] Johansson back for tomorrow, Ralph? Or another forward available for tomorrow? Or would you still be in the 11 forward, seven defensemen lineup?

RK: So Johansson and [Johan] Larsson are both day-to-day and are both possible for Boston. Again, we’re doing evaluation this morning and we’ll decide this as the day progresses. Whether they join us in Boston or whether they enter in Florida, but we’re expecting both of them back quite soon.


JW: Ralph, as you struggle to score I’ll probably ask this question every time we talk until it happens — and that doesn’t mean that it ever has to happen — have you given more thought to Jack Eichel with Jeff Skinner on the top line?

RK: Well they’ve played quite a few minutes together on the power play. To spread out our scoring over two lines or three lines is definitely important in the National Hockey League. Everybody is set up that way. The Eichel, [Sam] Reinhart, [Victor] Olofsson line has been the most productive over the last five, six games. Prior to that, the Johansson, Skinner, [Vladimir] Sobotka line was our most productive line in 5-on-5 play. So we had two lines going through a period there. So Sobotka and Johansson out had changed that mix. But Skinner gets quite a few shifts or a lot of minutes with Jack in primary minutes. Yesterday we made some switches on the power play, but that hasn’t been an option for us yet.

JW: When you say it’s not been an option. It’s an option, you just still want to keep the balance.

RK: Yeah, I mean, Jeff he sees the odd shift there with the end of periods. Again, it’s about trying to create two lines of power, which any team competing in the National Hockey League needs to have.


Brayton Wilson: Ralph, Jason talked a little bit during the offseason about Sam Reinhart and how he has the potential to be able to carry play on his own line even when he’s playing on the wing. Have you and Jason talked about that at all with having Reinhart, splitting up Eichel with Reinhart and giving him his own line, and maybe spreading out the production a little bit?

RK: Yeah, I mean, it is what we’re doing, spreading out production. Sam and Jack are just, for us, like twins the way they synergize and the way they communicate and the way they operate offensively, defensively, supporting each other. I’m a coach that generally works in pairs. We had the Johansson-Skinner pair for a while. You had, then, others playing with both of those pairs. So it’s an option, of course, moving forward, but at the moment, we need to find ways over the power play to get things going. That’s going to be the key to our offense against Boston and on the weekend and then in Florida. I know that our power play’s our motor, our engine offensively. We get that going and our 5-on-5 game will follow.


JW: Ralph, two quick ones here. Jack Eichel gets in a fight last night, do you feel like the team should’ve done more to respond?

RK: I mean, he responded, they responded. Anybody that was in the building last night felt, you could feel the fans behind us through the last 30 minutes. There was an attempt to get ourselves back into the game. We tried taking different ways, but when you get down three goals in the National Hockey League it’s not easy to come back. It was our lack of being able to score on the opportunities we had early is really, really what burdened us through the end. Jack responded and we felt we responded in the third, it just wasn’t enough to turn the game and when we did score it was too late to actually make a difference.


JW: And then one other thing I’ve got for you, which is, you know, this team didn’t go through a lot of big changes in the offseason. I would venture to say that you are the biggest change. So for Sabres fans that are watching and as we started the conversation talking about, we’re not talking about last year. Sabres fans are talking about last year, because while you weren’t here, they were and they’ve been here for a long time. We’ve been here for a long time. So you’re the difference. And I think it’s a little bit of pressure on you from the fan base because we’re looking for anything, to be frank, anything that’s going to turn things around and that it’s not going to mirror last year and be just a drift to the finish because we’ve seen that a few times. So I guess what I’m asking is, I don’t know what I’m asking. I’m asking what’s your plan? How are you going to fix this? What have you got in the bag of tricks? What club do you play? What do you do to make sure that this doesn’t go the way that too many teams here have gone?

RK: Well there are things happening internally that aren’t public knowledge that don’t need to be spoken about. The way we operate on the day-to-day basis, some things have to stay inside. But we’re very open in our discussions with the public and with the media and we tell things straight up, whether it’s the players or myself. The most important thing is everybody needs to know that the room is working hard and is connected. Like I started the call, it’s about details. It’s about some breaking old habits, which doesn’t happen overnight and you have to grind yourself through certain processes. The players are doing this together. The coaching staff is connected well with the players. There is a lot of communication going on and there is hard work going around trying to turn this. Games come at you quickly here and if you get a negative run it’s hard to break it and if you have a positive run it’s sometimes easy to carry it. We need to get a positive run going, that’s all I can say. There’s no magic here, it’s roll up your sleeves and do what we can on a daily basis. Get back to outworking the opposition and having our fans feel that kind of a fighting spirit is what we need to do. That’s where we’re at right now.


HS: Ralph, thanks for the time as always. Good luck tomorrow night against Boston and we’ll catch up with you again next week.

RK: Thank you very much. Enjoy your day and I’ll try and find my voice here for the next call.

HS: Feel better.