Category Archives: Transcript

Ralph Krueger Introductory Press Conference (6/5/19)


Ralph Krueger
Introductory Press Conference (10 a.m.) (23:14)


Opening statement:

Good morning. So, for me, it’s wonderful to be sitting in front of you. I heard some of your voices on the calls, and here we are now face-to-face. We begin a journey together. I had a wonderful morning walking through the building, walking through the spaces that we’re going to be working in in the next months and years. I can tell you that I’m full of energy and ready to begin what should be a journey of growth for everybody, not only for myself as a leader, but for the people and the staff surrounding me. Of course, the most important thing in the end, the players, that we find out what they’re made of as individuals as we build what we find out what we’re made of as a team. I’m excited to do that. Here I’m willing to take questions from you — I think that’s more important than holding a monologue — what’s on the top of your minds and what you’d be interested in hearing.

Q: When did you get into town and as you were touring the building and seeing, whether pictures of Gilbert Perreault or Dominik Hasek, did you get a fuller — not to say that you didn’t know what the background of the franchise is — did you get a fuller appreciation of what the history of this franchise is? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: Well, I think to grow up in Winnipeg, you know all about the history of the Buffalo Sabres. It’s an organization that, coming in in the top 14 teams has left an amazing footprint as far as having personalities come through here. I also have many close friends that have been a part of this organization, whether it’s just recently working with Miroslav Satan, Uwe Krupp, who is a good friend of mine, speaking about his seven years growing up here in Buffalo as a kid and saying that it was the best place that he could be. Whether it’s all the way back to Danny Gare — Tom Renney, a very close friend of mine, is married to Danny’s sister. There’s just been contact to multiple alumni through my life. I’ve always felt the passion for the game here in Buffalo and [I’m] excited to tap into that.

Q: When did you get into town? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: So I got into town yesterday. They’ll be some bouncing around as we go to Vancouver back for development and so on through the summer. But, really, today is the first official day in the office.

Q: Just wondering what your early discussions with players have been like, specifically Jeff Skinner? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: Well, I had the opportunity to communicate with Jeff (Skinner). He was training out of state, so it was a long phone call. For me more than anything, the conversation was about how I as a coach would like to utilize his skillset and his talent. I work on the basis that Jeff Skinner is a Buffalo Sabre, and as a result, that’s how our conversation went. Everything else, Jason has complete control of that process. It’ll happen for what is best for the Sabres in the end. But I enjoyed my conversation with Jeff, I could feel his unbelievable passion for the game and I see a skillset there that is unique and that can still be built upon. Overall, really good conversation.

Q: When we talked to Jason (Botterill) when he announced your hire, a lot was made about your international experience and how you dealt with pressure situations with your teams and how that might translate to the National Hockey League on an 82-game basis. Can you elaborate on how you think that might work moving forward? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I think you know the numbers; I worked 17 World Championships, Olympics, World Cup. Seventeen different tournaments where they were capsules, little capsules of time, compared to a National Hockey League season. The build up to tournaments like that, and then the three weeks within them, those are such intense spaces. It’s playoff hockey, it’s always seventh game best of seven. That’s what your life is about in those tournaments, especially with a country when I was with Switzerland where it was about survival and pushing forward. Just playing meaningful games was really was what my life was about and dealing with that pressure together with the players and finding ways to perform under that pressure. I think that’s what the National Hockey League season is all about, is being able to deal with that for 82 games in a row and to continually push yourself into a mindset that is comfortable there. I spent my leadership life really trying to figure that out. There’s no perfect path, but I feel very comfortable to go right at that feeling off the bat.

Q: During the conference call you said you were going to speak with Jack Eichel and Sam (Reinhart) over at [the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia]. Since then, how did those discussions go and what kind of stood out to you from talking to those guys and getting to know them? (Ted Goldberg – Spectrum News)

A: In a very modern way, it began with a whole string of text messages. It was interesting how strong those conversations were before we actually met. I could feel the passion within both of them. Because they were on separate teams, I kept them apart and met with Jack one evening and Sam the other. I have to say that both of the meetings ended up running much longer than expected. It was very natural. The conversations were strong. They have a very experienced mindset for their young age because of the years they now have under their belts. There was a clear understanding of what needs to be done here, I thought. In the conversations we didn’t just speak about the weather; we spent a lot of time speaking about what needs to happen off ice, on ice and through. Many good things have been done here over the past few years. I really respect how hard everyone has been working to getting the players to where they are now. I’m happy to be stepping into a team that has a foundation and has a basis that I can build on. I can feel that in the conversation in both. I really look forward to going to work. I think all of us came out of the conversations wanting to start playing tomorrow.

Q: A little bit of a unique situation here as you’re hired over in Europe, but from then until this morning, what has been your biggest priority as the new head coach of the Buffalo Sabres? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: Well, more than anything, it’s conversations together with Jason to take our time to build the best possible supporting staff around me — to have a really strong team in place there. I’m all about quality and not quantity, so let’s get it right and take our time doing it properly. Also, getting up to speed on the communication slowly with more and more players. I will go through the whole roster in the next few weeks. I’ll probably have almost half of the players by the end of this week. It’s important that, at the same time parallel to that, I’m getting laptops loaded with NHL games to look a little bit deeper. I’ve been communicating with a lot of NHL coaches over these last five years. Although I haven’t been a head coach myself, it’s given me the opportunity to have a lot of conversations about processes that are going on, the speed of the National Hockey League and how it’s increased, and the flow of the game, how it’s opened up a lot more. I think that’s going to be important. While we’re building, I need to be clear on the way we want to approach the game and what’s best for the final roster that we have and how I can put those pieces into place. So multiple things going on. Of course there’s logistics of I’ve been able to close off my past life, which needed to be done of course, logically, and do it properly. From here on in today I’m 100 percent the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach and I look forward to putting all the pieces together.

Q: We’ve had a lot of players that we’ve talked to that you’ve coached, either with Team Europe or with the Edmonton Oilers, say you’re a different kind of coach. What do you think makes you a different kind of coach compared to what everybody else does when they coach? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: I think every coach — every leader — on the planet is unique. It’s important to be authentic; to be yourself. I’m going to compare myself to anybody, but you’re always just going to get the real deal. There’s not going to be any games or anything, we’re going to speak about the truth. I think that’s what I like to do with the players and the team: have a very open communication in both directions. You’ve probably heard me say this already, but communication is also about listening to your players, to your environment, to your supporting staff and processing all of that, not just speaking. Whether that’s unique or different, I know that’s probably one of my biggest strengths is to create an honest locker room, an honest dressing room, an honest atmosphere and to work within those boundaries. I like to keep that space. I’m conscious of energy and the energy that’s needed through 82 games and how to best put that energy into play, which also means they need to find spaces to gather energy and to help them understand that and do that. I’m big on off-ice fitness. We’ve got excellent people here that are already in the background passionately supporting the process, where we need to be the fitness possible team we can be because the game we’ll be playing is up tempo and high tempo, whether with or without the puck. I like to have an active team on the ice, but we need to be fit to be able to do that consistently game in and game out. Lots of different thoughts of who I am, but I’m not going to be the one to compare myself to anybody else. I don’t think that’s important.

Q: The game and the players have evolved so much over the years — even recently. Players are different now than they were. How have you evolved as a coach or even as a “hockey man” so to speak, even when it comes to analytics? That’s into the game now. Or the eye test compared to analytics. How have you evolved? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I challenge myself to try and get better every day as a leader. You have to have an open mind to do that. As all of this information is flowing to us as coaches, in my experience in England, it was definitely the investment in sports science and analytics was large. The way it was processed was interesting for me to observe. I’m really, really curious on how we can bring it into the front without disrupting the free flow and the talent of our players. That’s one of the things as a coach, is to find that balance of a strong, compact game away from the puck where you can feel that unity, but still allowing the skill, the amazing skill we have on our roster, to be able to be creative and to be able to be free. When we take analytics, when we take videos, when we take all of that information, I think the important thing will be to process it in a way that really, we don’t do it just for doing its sake, but we  do it to really make a difference in the individual players. We’ll see how open certain players are to it, but I’m extremely open to gathering the information and to even GPSing players sometimes in an ice session to check maximum speeds. You could possibly watch for fatigue before it occurs and avoid injuries and so on and so forth. There’s so many examples where it might never get to the player in the end, but we might be able to track in a way that we can keep our man games lost down, as an example. If we can use analytics to do that, let’s find a way. But let’s make sure that in the end we don’t forget that a sport like ice hockey, whether 50 years ago when the Sabres were founded or today, when the puck is dropped the same basic elements will still make a difference on which team wins and which team loses. I’m never going to become over-modern and computerized in a way that we block the way the team plays and flows. I think you can understand what I’m trying to get at. It’s something I’m extremely interested in, but we have to be the best possible leadership team in using it properly.

Q: Have you started working at filling your coaching staff and do you have a deadline that you want to have the staff filled by? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: As I mentioned, we would rather get it right than rush it. We are speaking to the coaches that were here and other candidates and if we could by the end of this month have announced the staff to you, I think it would be ideal. There’s so many strong candidates out there, it’s getting the mix right and making sure that we have a staff that’s really, culturally, a fit. The players will feel that and will build and grow confidence off of that if our staff is extremely strong and our coaching staff is tight. So that’s really important, but at the same time we need to have the skillsets on a different level to help the players grow and develop because of our average age too. But I’d say the end of June.

Q: You mentioned earlier, you’re operating as if Jeff Skinner will be a part of this team. What allows you to feel comfortable to operate that way? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News)

A: His tone and his voice when it came to the past and the future. He was comfortable on that line. I initiated the call in that way and it never went another direction. Jeff had the opportunity to change direction if he wanted to. It was really just the flow of the conversation that made me feel comfortable. I felt he really loved to be here and that he was happy to be here.

Q: To follow up, you said he never changed direction on that conversation. While acting on the belief that Jeff (Skinner) is going to be here beyond July 1, how might you need to adapt if he’s not? If that possibility isn’t? And how much do you have to fill a big void that could be in the lineup? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I don’t spend one minute on a player who is injured, for instance. So if a player is out of our lineup, we will move on with the same courage with the group we have and we won’t spend time there. It’s the reality of sports. So whether a player changes teams or is traded because it’s the best for the Sabres organization, I as a coach will always then look at what the new mix is and work with that. This is all about us maximizing our potential within the framework that we have. Sometimes the movement of players in necessary in different ways. And, again, I compare it to an injury. The Boston Bruins have to deal with their present situation and not spend time on the guys that aren’t in their lineup for Game 5. If they want to win Game 5, they have to do it with the group that’s there.

Q: You talked about, you’ve looked at the franchise, that there’s a foundation that’s been built here. At the same time, since the conference call with you, you’ve had time to assess more in the entirety of what’s transpired here. Where has this franchise, in your opinion, fallen short? What are your plans to correct that gap? How quickly can you restore true competitiveness to the product on the ice? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I’ve mentioned that, I think I mentioned it on the conference call too, I’m not the kind of person that spends a lot of time on the opinions of the past. So whether it was spending my first meeting with Jack Eichel or looking at where the Sabres are today, it’s much more important what is here today, and I need to find out that. Everything else is not the space I need to get into. I need to get into a space where I see what we have, what our potential is, what our present toolbox is filled with and I need to put those pieces into place. I think everybody here knows one thing and that’s that we have an extremely passionate environment. People are treated right in this organization; don’t take that for granted, that’s a really, really special thing to have a foundation of that nature. Now, we need to get the grit and the bite into the group on the ice to stoke the fire that’s here. Why not, in the 50th year of the organization, get that going? I truly mean it that for me now to analyze one year, three years, five years, 10 years, 15 past would be a waste of time in my opinion. It’s more what do we need to do? And I’ll focus on that.

Q: Circling back to your conversation with Jack (Eichel), over the weekend there was a video where he said your first conversation went really well and he kind of expressed that you guys had talked about a true fresh start with this franchise. Knowing he’s still a young leader on this team, what was your message to him that really kind of maybe instilled more confidence in him that this thing can turn around? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: I think he was speaking to me more than I was speaking to him in that meeting. I don’t think I gave him the final solution. What he could feel is what the process will look like. And as I’ve already mentioned to you, that there will be a transparency in the process and that everybody will be involved, and that includes the players, what they think and how they feel. Now, my job as a head coach is to make sure is that all of what maybe the players would like is actually enforced, because they players will know what it takes and then it’s my job to make sure it happens. He understood that. My message more than anything is that his skillset and his ability is tops in the league. Now, the second season as a captain will be — not easier — but it will be more comfortable for him, it’ll be more natural. The first go-round for any captain, especially at that age, will have its challenges because suddenly as a leader you have to take on the responsibility over and above your own self, and I think that Jack is more comfortable with that. We spoke a lot about the leadership and less about hockey, actually, in that meeting. So that was my main message, was how to develop his leadership skills I find are natural, are there. The game, I believe, on the ice will follow.

Q: As far as Rasmus Dahlin goes, have you had a chance to talk with him yet?

A: Yes.

Q: We obviously all know what a unique talent he is, there has to be some excitement to know that he’s going to be part of your blue line. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: To have a world-class defenseman of that caliber in your lineup is always exciting as a coach. For Rasmus, coming into his second season, there’ll be a lot more comfort, I think, with the process. Everything seemed to go a little easy at the start of last year, and then the challenges of the second half of the season allowed him to grow. As we all know, adversity is a good thing if you use it properly. Winners are always born in difficult times, depending on how you react. When I feel his reaction to the second half, he wants to go right back at it. In the conversation with me, he wished the season was going to start tomorrow and that’s a really good sign. He loves being in Buffalo and believes in the future of the club. I understand the Swedish players, I understand the European players very well, as well as the North Americans, so I’ll be tapping into that as best as I can.

Jason Botterill Interview – The Howard Simon Show (5/17/19)

The Howard Simon Show (9:30 a.m.)
WGR 550 (18:05)

Jeremy White: You mentioned in your press conference that Ralph Krueger would meet soon in Slovakia, maybe, with Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] over at the World Championship.

Jason Botterill: Yeah, it’s just going to be a situation where I head back over on Sunday to continue my duties with Team Canada. Obviously, when we get there, just going to sit down with Ralph for about four or five days, go over different things, get things prepared for the summer here. Also, it’ll be a great opportunity to sit down with both Jack and Sam. It would have been Brandon [Montour] also, being over there, but unfortunately, Brandon sustained an injury and had to come back.

JW: You know those players at this point a little bit better than [Krueger] does. Did you have conversations with them before the hire, you know, maybe exit interviews? You’re mentioning those two are going to meet and talk with the coach. Maybe you know what to expect from them. What have they said to you about the state of the franchise, about what maybe needs to be different, that you might expect them to impart on Ralph?

JB: Well we always go through exit meetings at the end of the year, but most of our exit meetings are discussing their own individual play, and what needs to change from their standpoint moving forward, what they felt was good. Both those players, specifically, I thought had outstanding seasons and they did change things last summer in their training and their thought process and preparation for the season, which I thought was outstanding. When we did go through the process of changing the coach, that was more of a management situation. That was a discussion with Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself. But there’s been a little bit of feedback from our players and they’re certainly excited from what they’ve heard from their fellow colleagues throughout the National Hockey League that played under Ralph in Edmonton. I think, as I said in my press conference, from day one, these players are going to realize the passion that Ralph has right off the bat, the enthusiasm he has for the game and just how focused he is on helping their development and our team’s development.

JW: When you think about the job that’s ahead of Ralph Krueger and you, I think there’s something interesting about the way the season played out. Back in the win streak, I think a lot of people knew you guys weren’t as good as that win streak, and down the stretch, when it was going poorly, I think there were a lot of numbers that indicated that you weren’t as bad as that — the save percentage, the PDO — it was so bad that it almost seemed like you couldn’t catch a break. I know things went poorly down the stretch, but did you have a similar evaluation of how it finished? The results were not good, but it was almost the reverse of the win streak. It ended up looking a lot worse than it was.

JB: I think you’re right. We were on a roller coaster through the year. As an organization, we have to have a lot more consistency to our game. I think when things are going really well, we have to continue to improve on different things. I think we got caught up a little bit in the emotion, the excitement of what was going around it, and not working on some of the holes that we did have in our game. Later on in the year, we needed more players, staff members — everyone in the organization needed to find a better way to stand up and when some of the losing streaks were at two or three games, we have to end it there. And we didn’t do a good enough job from that standpoint. As I’ve said before numerous times, winning in the second half in the National Hockey League, it’s a change, and I think we saw that right off the bat. We came out of the All-Star Break, played a game in Columbus, which was fine, but then we played Dallas in our second game and you could just see the physical nature of it. They really went after some of our good, young players in Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt from a physical standpoint. I think it really taught our guys a lesson that this is how you have to win, and these are going to be the type of games you’re going to play in the second half. I think, as disappointed as our players were at the end of the season, they’ve learned a lot from what they went through the entire year, and now it’s important that we don’t make those same mistakes next year.

JW: The answer to this might be “both.” Is it on those players, individually, to bulk up and become more mature, as they might just naturally, or is it about putting together a roster that maybe can withstand that kind of thing a little bit better?

JB: I think it’s a little bit of both, but it’s also…it’s not about size at all, it’s about compete. It’s about battle. You look at the playoffs in the National Hockey League, there are certainly strong, physical players, but it’s about getting to the front of the net. It’s about winning the battles in the front of the net in your own [defensive] zone. We have players that have enough size; it’s now just understanding how do you go into the corner and win battles. I go back to my own experiences being part of teams in Pittsburgh that played in 2008 and 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg would always come out of the corners with pucks. You have to find a way, whether it’s physical strength or using your skill, to win those one-on-one battles, and I think that’s something we have to continue to improve on as a team.

Howard Simon: On that note, what have you identified in terms of areas where you need to improve? You talked about “compete” and “battle.” As you do an overall breakdown of what this roster was, whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, whether it’s speed, whether it’s toughness, or any of the stuff you can go through on the list; what have you identified as areas where, “I need to make this roster better in these particular areas”?

JB: Well I think you just look at our depth scoring that’s been talked a lot about up front; we just relied too much on Jeff [Skinner], Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] for scoring this year. We have to look to bring in more talent from that end, and then we also have to continue to develop our own talent, whether it’s Casey Mittelstadt, whether it’s bringing up [Victor] Olofsson or [Alexander] Nylander. It’s Tage Thompson taking a step in his development. It’s Conor Sheary, who we think there’s more offense that he can provide there. But I think the areas that I mentioned before; in front of the net, we gave up way too many chances in our own defensive end. We have to learn to protect that area better. We have to learn to win our one-on-one battles in there a little bit more. And the same thing in the offensive zone. I thought we didn’t have enough shots right from that “red zone” area right in front of the net. You look at the playoffs, how tight it is, there’s always traffic out there…the goalies are that good. You’re going to have to get players to go there more and have more success there.

HS: Can you convince guys who didn’t do it enough to do it, or do you have to go out and get guys that do that?

JB: I think with young players you can always convince them. I think you see players evolve and learn from their experiences, and understand a little bit what it takes to have success in the league. So yeah, you can certainly teach that trait.

HS: You mentioned Casey Mittelstadt a moment ago. I’d love to get your thoughts; that’s a guy that everybody, I think, we look at and go, “Down the road at some point, hopefully [he’s] a top-two center with Eichel, and ‘boom’ you’re all set on your top two lines.” What did you see from him last season? Do you think he is — I don’t know how to phrase this — can you project him as a number-two [center], or it’s still too early and you’ve got to go find someone else to handle that role?

JB:  We continue to have high expectations for Casey. The great thing is that I know Casey does too. And I think sometimes you come in at the end of a year and you have a little bit of success offensively, like you did the year before, you sort of assume that that’s going to happen and carry over, and then you realize how difficult it is to sustain success over 82 games in the National Hockey League. What I did like a lot about Casey was his compete, his battle. He didn’t shy away from those difficult areas. But I did think he wore down as the season progressed. Especially in back-to-back situations; you look in February, March, April…I think he struggled there. Some of his best hockey, I thought, came after breaks, when there was a day off or something. So I think he still can take his conditioning to another level, and I think he’s focused on that this summer. I think his offensive creativity that he can bring will allow him to eventually go into that top-six role.

JW: The latest on Jeff Skinner; without negotiating in the media, how are you feeling, how should Sabres fans feel about it? And just as a natural off-shoot of that, do you and other people in the front office, as you try to chart the offseason and make plans, is there a contingency plan if he does not want to sign? Do you have a Plan A, do you have a Plan B, knowing there are multiple ways this thing could go?

JB: You always have to have different plans. The way this game operates, you have to have plans. We didn’t expect to have some of our defensemen such as Lawrence Pilut or [Zach] Bogosian to go down with injuries. You have to have different plans in place in case those situations arise. A contract is never done until you get it signed. But our discussions with Jeff have been extremely positive. I think it’s been a relationship that’s worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres and I think it’s a relationship that’s worked out very well for Jeff. Just as we went through the coaching search here, sometimes people get a little impatient, well we wanted to make sure we went through the process correctly. I think what’s going on with Jeff and ourselves right now is there was never going to be an extension announced before the coach was hired. The coach is now hired; we’ll continue our discussions there and get the chance to sit down with Jeff and go over things on how we see him fitting in and how Ralph is going to coach this team and how he’s going to interact with his players and his structure moving forward. And then hopefully we’ll find a way to get a deal done. But from our standpoint, our discussions with both Jeff and Newport Sports have been extremely positive.

HS: I know you said you don’t want to negotiate in the media, but let me ask you this: After he talks to Ralph Krueger and hopefully things go well on that, do you think you could still sign him before free agency or can you tell us at all if they’ve give you an indication, “Hey listen, he still wants to play there, he’s still interested in re-signing, but as long as we’re this close, we would at least like to see what’s going on in the market”?

JB: Look, I can’t mind-read them. All I can say is we’ll sit down with them. I think Ralph getting to know Jeff, and Jeff getting to know Ralph, is going to be an important part of the equation here moving forward.

JW: What about Johan Larsson? There was a conflicting report that he may be leaving. Do you have any update on what’s going on with Johan Larsson?

JB: No, from everything in our discussions with both Johan and his agency, with Newport Sports, there’s nothing to that report last week.

HS: One name who always sparks an interesting debate in Sabres Nation, if you will, is Rasmus Ristolainen. I’m not going to ask you, “Are you going to trade him?” because you wouldn’t answer my question anyway, but give me your evaluation. You’ve had two years to watch him play. Is he a guy that you think, “You know what, guys. He’s a top-two [defenseman]”? Or, “He’s a three-to-four [defenseman]. He’s not a 25-minute guy, he’s a 20-minute guy.” What is your honest evaluation of Rasmus Ristolainen and what you believe his value is to your team at this time?

JB: I think in today’s game, we put too much value on it. You talked a little bit about, “Where do you see Casey moving forward, top-six, top-nine, whatever it is.” I think what we’re trying to create here is a situation where we have four lines that can score. And I think the same thing is, from a defensive standpoint, you’re looking for sort of the top four. Whether they’re top-pairing or second-pairing guys, to me you’re looking for top-four guys that can handle different roles for you and play the bulk of the minutes on the back end. We certainly view [Ristolainen] in that category there. [Ristolainen’s] like anyone else; he has his faults, he has to continue to improve his game, just like so many of our other players. But what we’ve loved seeing him in action is when he’s in that matchup situation. I think about in the end of February, we played back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and Washington. He had the specific role of playing against [Nikita] Kucherov and playing against [Alex] Ovechkin. I think when he has that specific matchup, he does an amazing job with that. You’ve seen in the playoffs how the physical game is escalated. You think of what [Ristolainen] can do over a seven-game series; I think it can be very effective. It’s now our job to surround him with enough talent and enough skill to make sure we get into the playoffs.

HS: A follow-up on [Ristolainen]: You mentioned a moment ago, like every player, he has his flaws. He’s got 424 games in the NHL. When you reach 400-plus games, do you believe a player is who he is, and if he can get better, what do you think Ralph Krueger can do to help Ristolainen?

JB: I think players continually develop. Game played is not the big factor; to me, it’s age. Especially with [Ristolainen] in his mid-20s right now, there’s plenty of development still going on there. You look at — and these are elite defensemen — but you look at Nicklas Lidstrom, you look at Kris Letang, all these defensemen, it’s more in their late-20s, early-30s where they really, I think, come into their prime. There’s always an injury factor that you have to play into, but I think with most young players, there’s always an opportunity for growth, and certainly for defensemen. With Ralph coming into the equation, the biggest thing I think that he needs to continue to work with [Ristolainen] on is picking his sports and when to jump up in the rush, when to move the puck a little bit quicker in different scenarios, because I think at times he plays so many minutes, one of his assets of being able to support the rush and get up there, he just doesn’t have the energy to do it. So I’m going to continue to — as a whole with Ralph coming in, bringing a different structure and hopefully a little bit more of a structure — making it a little bit easier on our reads for some of our defense will hopefully help our entire group [of defensemen].

JW: Finally, before we let you go, are you allowed to tell us who you think is going to win the Cup? Do you have a prediction or just any thought, maybe, on these playoffs? You’ve had all four division winners get knocked out. Some would say it’s wide open, and it’s one of those years; [ESPN’s] Greg Wyshynski [on the Schopp and the Bulldog show] called it “a glitch.” This year’s just a wacky kind of year, so I don’t know if there’s anything you’ve got from the playoffs.

JB: I would just say it just goes to show the importance of finding a way to get in. If you get in, you have an opportunity — you have a chance. Maybe you don’t have the best team on paper, maybe throughout the course of 82 games, you weren’t the better team, but come a seven-game series, you have a chance. You look at a team like Boston, who are now in the Stanley Cup Final after last night, they have a great balance of veteran players and young players. They sustained some injuries on defense and they have the depth and they’re not the “Big Bad Bruins” on defense. They’re the active, mobile defensemen that they have back there. I do think you get to these situations with how physical the games have been, how emotional the games are. I do think the fact that they were able to finish it off in four games and give them a little bit of rest — whereas I do believe that St. Louis-San Jose series is going to go right down to the wire and both of those teams are coming off seven-game series from the previous round — I think a fresh Boston team is going to be very difficult to beat.

HS: The one thing I’m really curious, as a general manager, there have been two high-profile missed calls/apologies in the playoffs. The hand pass last night and the high stick in the San Jose-Vegas series. The next time the general managers get together, do you think there will be — or even should be — an expansion or something with video review to cover what’s happened?

JB: It’s a very, very difficult decision, because I agree you need to get it right. We need to find a way to get it right. Especially with the magnitude of these games — and we’ve talked already about the parity that’s in our league — these little plays have a huge impact on games and series. But you also look at what NCAA hockey did these past couple years with some of the reviews of hits to the head or hits from behind; it really slows down the games.

HS: Frozen Four games were stopping every five minutes, it felt like, at times.

JB: Exactly. I know people have strong opinions right now because of the emotions of the games, and teams’ seasons are ending over some of these calls, but if you go the other way and do everything and have all these delays, one of the best parts of our game is the speed of our game. The pace of our game. We don’t want to lose sight of that. I certainly believe there will be a lot of discussions, but to say that I have, “This is what we need to do moving forward,” I don’t have that perfect answer right now.

Jason Botterill Press Conference – Hiring of Ralph Krueger (5/15/19)

KeyBank Center (11 a.m.)

Jason Botterill Press Conference (20:22)

Opening Statement:

Good morning everyone, thank you very much for coming down. Before we begin, I just want to congratulate our Buffalo Bandits on an outstanding season, and certainly wish them all the best in Game 1 on Saturday night. As was released earlier this morning, we are extremely proud to announce Ralph Krueger as the 19th head coach in Buffalo Sabres history. Ralph is a great communicator and has a history of being a strong leader. He’s had the opportunity to be a head coach in the National Hockey League, World Championships, World Cup and Olympics. I think his past has shown that he has a great ability to interact with players and get the most of a group. As we went through this process, we felt Ralph was going to be a great fit to be the next head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Ralph would like to be here today. Obviously, he’s taking care of a personal matter in Europe right now. He’ll be with me next week when I return to Slovakia for the World Championship and he’ll have the opportunity to sit down and meet with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) over there. And probably after the combine, he’ll be coming in to Buffalo. He’ll be working with me through most of the month of June leading up to the Draft and free agency. Open to taking your questions here right now.

Q: Jason, what, I mean obviously it’s a different kind of experience than maybe what would be viewed as a conventional hire that he brings to the table, and you touched on it a little bit, but what makes him the best fit given his background? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: Well, I think when Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to start going over names on who we wanted to interview, who we wanted to do some background information, sort of checks on, we talked a lot about experience, we talked about NHL experience, but we also wanted to make sure we opened it up. Through this process, maybe it wasn’t always out in the media, but we looked at a lot of coaches that had NHL experience but also up-and-coming young coaches. We wanted to make sure that we just got the right person to come in here. And as we sat down with Ralph, we like what he has from an NHL background. The fact that he worked with Carolina as a consultant for five or six years while he was the head coach with Team Switzerland. We like the fact that he was on the bench for three years in Edmonton. But we also put a lot of stock into his experience at the World Championships, World Cup and at the Olympics. Those are high-pressure situations where you have to make adjustments, you have to make quick decisions. And he got results in those situations. And that’s what’s impressive from our standpoint. And when we did the follow up talking to different players who had worked under Ralph, they felt he was very good communicating with them, so that ability to get the most out of a group and communicate with a group, we felt was a very good fit for our situation here in Buffalo.

Q: In 2016, when you guys hired Phil (Housley), there were reports out there that you guys had talked with Ralph. What led to not going with Ralph then and what makes him the right fit to turn this franchise around now two years later? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: Well, it’s a situation where I did have some conversations with him back when I first got the job, but those conversations didn’t lead very far just because Ralph had the commitment to Southampton. It became evident that it wasn’t a situation where he could leave Southampton at that time. When we made the coaching change here in April, I did reach out to him again, and he remained interested in the situation and that’s where we began our discussions.

Q: Jason, with the experience Ralph’s had with Southampton, you know, being in the upper echelon of an organization, will you lean on him more than maybe you would have other coachea when you and Randy and Steve are making decisions? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Yes and no, Paul. I’m going to lean on him for sure, but I’ve done that as a general manager all the time. Same thing when I worked with Phil. I think the general manager and the coach need to talk about everything that goes on in the organization. There needs to be that communication daily of what are we looking at? What type of players are we looking to bring in to the organization? What players do we need to make adjustments on? To keep that communication going there. And when I sit down with Ralph, going through this process, I felt at ease and that’s part of why I felt very comfortable making him the head coach. I think our level of communication is going to be very strong.

Q: There were reports that Ralph, if he returned to the NHL, he wanted be in management. Did you have to do any convincing? Did you go in knowing that he might not even want to be a coach anymore? How did that work out when you first approached him? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: In all our discussions, it was always about coaching. Certainly with Ralph’s resume, I know he had other opportunities. And that’s what gets us excited is that he wanted to come here. And he wanted to be part of our group here. And as much as he has a unique resume, you look at it, he is a kid from Manitoba who loves the game of hockey. And I think he’ll talk to you a little bit here later, is that he loves coaching. He has a passion about being a teacher.

Q: Ralph has some NHL experience, but he’s probably not a name that the casual hockey fan is super familiar with. What does he bring to the table from a strictly coaching standpoint? What are the things that he does well that made him such an intriguing candidate for you guys? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: I think the ability to get he most out of his group. You look at, going back, I was at the 2006 Olympics in Torino watching my sister actually play, and I was in the building when Team Switzerland knocked off Team Canada. That was a shocking upset. And I think the biggest sign of respect is eight years later, when Team Canada was putting together their 2014 Olympic team, they wanted Ralph to be a part of that. They wanted to utilize him as a resource. You look at the coaches that were on that staff, that’s a very impressive staff. I think that’s a huge sign of respect right there. And I think that’s also going to allow Ralph to make this adjustment back to the National Hockey League that much quicker. Because he’s kept those relationships with all those coaches. You look at that team back in 2014, you look at the coaches that he’s interacted with with Team Europe, he’s kept that dialogue going with them. And sometimes when you’re not working in the National Hockey League, people actually talk to you a lot more and give you more advice. I think Ralph has actually learned a lot from all those interactions over the last couple of years.

Q: Ralph has obviously not been a head coach for an entire 82-game NHL schedule. How do you sort of strike that balance where you like the skill set but how is it going to translate to an NHL season? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: I think the fact that he’s at least been on a staff in Edmonton for a couple of years that have been through an entire 82 games is certainly something that he learned a lot from. And that’s something that he brought up a lot. I also think that it’s important that we surround him with a good coaching staff that can help him out through those processes. But the thing that we kept on coming back to were those high-pressure situations that he’s been involved with and he’s excelled in those environments. Trying to figure out different ways to motivate your team over 82 games, there’s certainly something there. The fact that he can bring a group together, the fact that he can motivate a team in high-pressure situations was very intriguing for us.

Q: How would you describe his style? You mentioned that he gets the most out of players. How does he do that? Because that can be tricky for a lot of coaches with the modern player as the league is now. What does he bring to the table in that regard? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I think you look at what he accomplished in Edmonton there with a young group, trying to play more offensive, he had success implementing a more up-tempo style that’s going to be aggressive all over. And that’s what we’ve talked a lot about, with using our main asset, which is young players who have speed. That’s what we’re going to try to do, whether it’s on the forecheck, backcheck, pressure all over the ice. I brought it up a little bit about his interactions with Team Switzerland, pulling off upsets. I think he also adapts to the group. So once he gets in here, once he relates to players and understands, he has an ability to see, hey, what he can get the most out of, what type of style he can play that’s eventually going to give the best results for the Buffalo Sabres.

Q: You mentioned he’s a great teacher and a great communicator. How pivotal was that knowing that this is still, I guess, relatively a young group age-wise, not necessarily games-wise, that they’ve played, but how pivotal was that to get a guy who could maybe relate to players and communicate maybe a little more effectively with the younger players? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: When Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to sort of put together a list of the qualities of the coach and sort of put together a coaching list, those attributes were right at the very top. We understand that where we want to go as an organization, allowing some of our young players to make that jump from Rochester to Buffalo is going to be key. But as I’ve sat up here before and talked to you, a big part of our success is going to be the development of Rasmus Dahlin. The development of Jack Eichel. The development of Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt. Players who are already at the National Hockey League level. We’re going to expect Ralph to communicate well with them, expect Ralph to help their development to move along here for our organization to get to the next step.

Q: His international experience is pretty well-known. How important was it to have a coach to have that sort of knowledge given the make up of a lot of your organization having guys from all across the world?  (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: I think it helps, but it gets back to the previous question. Our main focus was just trying someone that can communicate with our young players, that can get the most out of our young players moving forward here. Is it an added benefit that he’s been in the international scene a little bit and understands a little bit more, whether it’s his time coaching in Austria, coaching in Switzerland, being in England? Certainly. That’s a benefit that he can maybe get and build a stronger personal relationship with some of our European players. We think that’s an important element to get that relationship with our players no matter whether they’re from Europe or they’re from North America.

Q: Jason, as you move forward this summer, first I’d like to ask you what happened to Brandon Montour and how’s he doing? But in conjunction with that, you’ve got two defensemen who may or may not be ready by opening night, we don’t know. As you now talk trades or as you build this team, do you keep that in mind or are you more focused on the long term, that hey, the trade might help us long term. It may in the month of October hurt us, as we’re getting healthier, so how do you view it as you move forward now and I wanted to ask about Brandon. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Brandon obviously sustained an injury in Team Canada’s last game, which was very disappointing. It was the first time that Brandon had the opportunity to wear the maple leaf and represent his country and I know he had a lot of excitement being over there and a lot of pride. He’s on his way back to Buffalo here actually right now, will see our doctors. We don’t believe it’s long term, but it will be something that we can give you a better idea and a more accurate description later on this week. From the standpoint of (Zach) Bogosian and (Lawrence) Pilut both having offseason surgery, you have to make sure you have a plan to at least start the season off, because it will be important, as any season is, to have a good start. But we’re looking long term here. If something comes up that helps our team throughout the course of the second half next year or even beyond that, we’ll certainly look at that. We like how some of our young defensemen this past year, like a Will Borgen. We have Jacob Bryson and we have Casey Fitzgerald joining our organization. We think that there is a situation where they could possible push for jobs at the start of the year. Does it mean that they’re going to be able to help us over the course of 82 games? That’s a big step for young players. But we certainly think they can help us at the start of the year.

Q: As you mentioned, you talked to quite a few people and interviewed people. When in the process did he really rise to the top? And as you mentioned he communicates well with players. What in your personal communication stood out? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: I went back to two years ago, just the ease that our dialogue went through and how we sort of viewed how the game should be played, how you should go about, how the interaction between the general manager and head coach should be. And how that should then go on to the players. Ralph did come in to Buffalo at the end of April. He actually spent a weekend here and went to a lot of different establishments and I guess was a little bit undercover. I don’t think that will be able to happen as he moves on here. But no, he was very excited about the city, about our dialogues and then also getting to know the Pegulas too. It was a situation where within the last week, just going through a timeframe here, last week we furthered our discussions and we came to sort of a verbal agreement last week. I did notify the other candidates last week too that we were going to go in another direction. And then obviously made the announcement here today.

Q: What traits, specifically, about Ralph, make him a great communicator? You’ve referenced as one of his strongest traits. What specifically makes him a strong communicator? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News)

A: I think you’ll sit down with him and you’ll get a feel for it. There’s an energy to him right off the bat. And I think players are going to feel a comfort with him. I think he does find out, gets to know players on a personal level, understands when a player needs some positive reinforcement and when someone needs a little push. And when we talked to some of the players that had worked under Ralph, some star players in the National Hockey League that have worked under Ralph there, that was some of the things that they talked about, and just, they felt that, whether it was practice drills, looking through video, he was looking for innovative ways to help them improve as players. And there was a real buy-in from the players that this guy cared about them and that this guy wanted the best, not only for them individually, but for the team. And I think when players feel that, it’s a buy-in from both sides.

Q: Jason, the Jeff Skinner situation obviously continues. You guys have done that mostly behind the scenes, but how much of that kind of had to grind to a halt here until you had a coach, and how much now is it imperative for Ralph to quickly build a relationship with him maybe before anyone else on the roster if you want to be able to keep him on this club? (Mike Harrington – Buffalo News)

A: Well, understandably, I think anyone, if you’re going to sign a long-term contract with an organization, you kind of want to know who the head coach is. So we’ve kept in dialogue with Jeff, and certainly made him aware of who we were going to name here as a head coach today, just as we did with a lot of our leadership group. But yeah, just as it’s important next week for Ralph to touch base with Jack and Sam over a the World Championship, it’s going to be very important for him to build the relationship with Jeff and make sure that he feels comfortable of what our plan is moving forward here, both as a team and an organization but where we see Jeff fitting into the mix.

Q: How far back does your relationship date with Ralph, Jason, and I guess how much did that relationship sort of, that familiarity kind of help? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: So there are some unique touch points, but to be honest that we’re long-lost friends or anything, no. Not at all. There’s a private school in Winnipeg, St. John’s Ravenscourt, and my father was a teacher there and I believe was Ralph’s fifth-grade teacher way back in the early ’70s. But over the years, I didn’t know Ralph. There wasn’t that personal relationship there. When I did get the job, obviously I had heard about Ralph’s name, just in the hockey ranks. When I did get this job, Jim Rutherford certainly recommended that I speak with him and spoke very highly of his interaction with Ralph during the time that he was a consultant in Carolina. That sort of led to my initial discussion with him a couple of years ago.

Q: Did you guys ever speak with Joel Quenneville? (Frank Wolf – From the 300 Level)

A: I’m not going to go through individual guys that we went through, just out of sheer respect. What I would like to say just is that we started the process off, Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself, and we tried to go through an extensive list. I really appreciate a lot of teams, that I never had one team that didn’t allow me to speak with their employee. I respect the fact that a lot of these teams kept it very quiet from that aspect, so that’s why I’m not going to get into each individual that we talked to just from that standpoint. But certainly we really appreciate how some teams kept things quiet as we moved forward here.

Q: I just wanted to ask you about Chris Taylor as far as if he’s ready to become maybe an assistant in the NHL? Obviously he’s not your head coach, so he may still need some development coaching. Would you rather see him still be in Rochester developing your youngsters or would you maybe like to see him as an assistant on your big club? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: That’s a good question. I think those are questions we’ll continue to talk to Chris about. I think right now he’s really enjoying being the head coach and getting that experience. And I think that’s probably best for his development moving forward here. He had the opportunity to be an assistant coach in both Rochester and Wilkes Barre for a good period of time and now is really relishing being the head guy down there. We certainly talked about Chris through this process. What we have going on in Rochester right now, what Chris and Randy are developing down there is one of the strengths of our organization. When we hired Chris, we were excited about it and we think he’s done an excellent job down there the last couple of years.

Q: Jason, it’s probably fair to say recent years have tested fans patience around here, and obviously a lot of pieces still have to come into place. Where are you, as general manager, setting the bar in terms of results in the immediate future? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: Look, no team every comes in going we’re going to work hard this year and we’re building towards next year. You always want to win. And in a lot of our exit interviews with our players this year, we realized that. They got a taste of it. Just like our fans got a taste of it in November and December, our players got a taste of it and they want more of it. And that’s what we are right now. You see the parity that’s in the National Hockey League right now, there’s no reason why we cant be in that discussion. We should be in the discussion for playoffs. And once you get in the playoffs, as you see what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, you always have an opportunity. Now, are we there? Certainly not. Our results speak for itself the last couple years. But we believe hiring Ralph, development of some of our young players, the adjustments and changes we’re going to make to the team this summer, will put us in a position where we’re in that discussion next year.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Schopp & The Bulldog (5/15/19)

Schopp & the Bulldog (3:30 p.m.)
WGR 550 (12:09)


Bulldog: It’s interesting to both of us that you were speaking to the fan base in public, not in public like on the radio like you have been today and again with us now, but when you were here a few weeks ago. The first thought I had when hearing about that was what those people are thinking now. Like, if thinking back on it they’re like, “Boy, I think I talked to the new Sabre coach last week.” Tell me about your motivation for wanting to do that and what you were seeking and what you found.

Ralph Krueger: Well, most importantly for me was to feel the heartbeat of the city. I’ve been following the Sabres since I was a kid growing up in Manitoba, and I’ve been to the city a few times when I was with Edmonton coaching, and I understand the passion and the history that’s there. But I wanted to feel a little bit what the market was saying, so I went two nights in a row I had some free time and watched two NHL playoff games in six different locations. So between periods, I’d walk around, sit beside somebody at a bar or in a booth, and chat about the Buffalo Sabres. I just wanted to hear a little bit what the public is saying. But overall, you could feel the passion and you could feel the belief in the core of the team. It was just part of walking up all the way through Allentown and Elmwood and everything and just seeing what the city’s like and the different personalities and the different hot spots. It was good; it was a good feel and I enjoyed the adventure.

Mike Schopp: What stage of your negotiations with the Sabres were you at at that point. Did they know you were doing that?

RK: Yes, they did. I had a meeting with Kim and Terry Pegula one of the mornings after, and Jason [Botterill] and I had a couple of days of meetings and that was near the end of April. It was a good way for me — they gave me some free space and some free time, and you know, walk along the water — just to look at the architecture in the city and some of the history. I love the size of the city. It’s the kind of environment my wife and I feel comfortable in. We’re not — I  mentioned it today to the media already — we’re not really “big city” people. It’s got a good feel and a good size. I like the artsy development that’s going on and the renovations of a lot of the areas. So that’s a side — I think it’s really important as a balancer. The hockey is, of course the number one magnet. The facilities that are in and around KeyBank Center are outstanding and that’s the place where you want to spend your time, but you need to have balance as a coach and you need to know that there’s a good spot for your wife to be in. I feel good about that.

BD: When your name came up two years ago, it seemed like an intriguing idea, but I sort of lost hope about it right away because you sounded — and it read like — you had unfinished business with Southampton. So when it came up again this year, I was thinking of the Pierre LeBrun piece [in The Athletic], where you talked about maybe more of a president-type, an executive-type role, as opposed to coaching. What changed over the course of –I think that interview was from early April — what changed from then to now?

RK: Well Pierre spoke to me about three or four days after I made the decision public to end my time in the Premier League in Southampton. Quite honestly, I really opened up the viewfinder after that. There were opportunities, of course, in Europe of many sorts. There were a few approaches quite quickly out of the National Hockey League, and the one that interested me and intrigued me was the conversations with Jason. And I have to tell you that Jason Botterill very quickly woke the coach in me again. I’ve been a head coach for 25 years on many different platforms. I could feel the passion and probably having been away from being a coach a few years has refreshed me. And truly, I was quite clear. I remember one meal with my wife shortly after where I just said to her, “This is what’s exciting me the most. This is where my heart’s beating the highest.” So I pursued the conversations with Jason and all the boxes were ticked back-to-back-to-back and we have this end result, which I’m looking forward to stepping into that role beginning today.

MS: So the connection between yourself and Jason Botterill and his father became known here in the last few days, and then again it was brought out more today. To what extent did that maybe manifest during the season, or as Botterill is running the Sabres the last two years? Were you in contact with him about the Sabres through that, or is this really more just once the opening came to be that you sort of re-connected with him, which is closer to the reality?

RK: The only context we had was really on a personal level to congratulate each other whenever something good was happening with our teams. Otherwise, the contact did not pick up until Jason had made the decision here to go with a new head coach this season. Then everything just happened organically and naturally after that. Our communication is really open. I can feel the common culture and I can feel the vision that is in the club already and the culture that has been instilled by Jason here, which I embrace and only want to build on. It happened quickly, it’s happened instinctively and naturally, and I think that’s the best way for something like this to happen.

BD: I have a feeling what I’m about to ask is something that you could probably write a long, maybe even a book about; maybe you already have. But as best we can in just a few minutes, as far as coaching goes, there’s motivating, there’s extracting the best out of each member of the team that you’re working with, and then there’s systems, and there’s X’s and O’s and tactics. How much of a balance do you feel you have in that? Do you have a strength in one area versus the other and a weakness?

RK: Well, first of all, I definitely build a coaching team. So the coaches will all have a voice at all times. Ultimately, I have to make the final decisions and I’m fine with that. I love the coaching on the bench and enjoy being spontaneous and adaptable according to the performance of players. But I definitely love to use my staff and strengthen the game that we can offer the players through that personnel. But myself, I believe that every single thing has it’s time and every single thing has its importance, so I believe that motivation and structure of getting the group connected off the ice is first and foremost as we build our tactics, which should then show the same unity on the ice. The physicality is something I’ve learned a lot more about being in the Premier League these last six years, and the sports science that we’ve been doing there, I look forward to bringing more of it into our physical preparation. The technical side of a hockey player needs to be worked on continuously. I don’t think there’s ever a time when a player’s finished with his development. One of the challenges I like to do is spend time on technical development on a daily basis. So it’s every component, really, that I like to focus on, but I will use my personnel to help me in putting it into play. Even the physical fitness guys, the fitness coaches, the physiotherapist will be involved with the pre-activation. More than just the coaches will have a role pre-, post- and within training. I think you’re getting a feel –I can probably write a book — but I don’t believe that any head coach is 100 percent expert on anything. Putting those pieces together in the right balance at the write time is what, in the end, will define you as a winning or a losing coach. My job will be to try my very best to get that right.

MS: Well, I mean, in Western New York you’ve certainly got, in the spirit of these comments, Scotty Bowman, for starters. There are a lot of wins in the area, with him or John Muckler. It’s part of Buffalo’s proud history with hockey. The Sabres have asked us to keep this to 10 minutes and we’re there; I just want to tell you quickly, I was out last night and I ran into Nate Oates, the departing University at Buffalo men’s basketball coach, who lives on Grand Island, where I do. Not because we knew you were about to be hired, but he did just happen to tell me, “My house is for sale.” It’s nice, by the way. It’s about as good as you can do, if that interests you.

RK: [Laughs] I think I’m going to probably end up somewhere in the heart of the city. I’m a walking guy, too. Tell him thanks for the offer.

RK: I look forward to meeting you live and I also send my very best wishes to the fans of the Sabres. I look forward to communicating very openly with them about what we’re all up to and how we’re going to build the team into a squad that they’re going to enjoy looking at.

Ralph Krueger Interview – The Instigators (5/15/19)

The Instigators (11:45 a.m.)
WGR 550 (14:18)

Andrew Peters: Welcome to Buffalo, welcome to The Instigators Mr. Krueger. What’s the first order of business?

Ralph Krueger: The first order of business was to do your program. No, it’s good to hear you and it’s always excellent to begin a coaching job with players on the other end of the phone. That’s a nice start.

Martin Biron: Well one of the players that you coached and you’ve known for a long time is Thomas Vanek and we had him right away at the top of the show and he had nothing but good things to say about you. Tell us a little bit about your experience through your hockey world and coaching and your playing days as well.

RK: Well more than anything I’ve been living in Europe most of my adult life but I began my career in hockey as a three-year-old walking onto an outdoor rink just outside of Winnipeg. Hockey has always remained my love and I’ve just been able to grow and develop as a human being through all different stages of playing as a professional, coaching, even had a player-coaching gig at the beginning for a couple of years. I’ve definitely gone the multiple destination route all over the map in hockey but always staying close to the game and trying to get better every day as a leader and as a coach. I’m excited now to put all that experience into play in Buffalo.

Craig Rivet: How long is it going to take before you start to reach out to the players on the team? I’m sure that they’re extremely excited with a new coach coming aboard. How long before you start reaching out to each guy on the team? 

RK: Well I’ll be meeting with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) in Slovakia next week. Our season just ended in the U.K. last weekend so I have some things to clean up but I’ll be in Slovakia and be able to watch Sam and Jack and speak to them. Sadly, Brandon (Montour) got hurt and won’t be there anymore, but in the weeks that follow I’ll be reaching out to each individual player and begin that process of understanding what their motivations are, how we can maximize their abilities and their potential. That’s going to be my job and I really look forward to picking up with the players in the next few weeks here.

AP: What does that conversation sound like, look like when you talk to players like Jack and Sam?

RK: Well, first of all I’m going to do a lot of listening. Jack is now an experienced National Hockey League player, Sam has been there a few years now too and I think it’s important to listen first and foremost and then to process. I need to make sure that the staff, the coaching staff is ready to go when we blow the whistle for our first training camp practice and we’ve got four months to get all the information that we need to be able to do that. Of course I’ll be letting them know what’s important to me, but I want to feel what’s been working for them. I want to feel where they see our assets as an organization, as a hockey club. And I’ll be tapping into that experience first and foremost before I formulate the final plan that the players will then be feeling when we go to training camp.

MB: How much attention were you paying to the National Hockey League in the last three years here since we saw you last on the bench at the World Cup for Team Europe? How close have you been paying attention and how much work will it take for you to get up to speed with what’s going on around the whole National Hockey league? 

RK: Well the good thing, Marty, is  my experience, especially in the last decade, took me very close to a lot of NHL head coaches and that relationship has stayed on a permanent communication basis. So I’ve got friends all over the league, quite a few actually in our division, which is a good thing. They’ve been quite open with me. I take the example of the Olympic Games in 2014, where we had Babcock leading a group of (Ken) Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff, Claude Julien and myself. The communication that went on there for one year where everybody put everything out on the table and the discussions were really open. Discussions of that nature have stayed on. I had Paul Maurice and Brad Shaw at the World Cup in 2016. We’ve become very close friends and are permanently communicating with each other. So all over the league I’ve got people, Jon Cooper down in Tampa and so on, who really are friends through my experience and it’s been helpful. I have to tell you the truth, even while I was in the Premier League, my startup site, every single morning, was and always watching games, highlights in my free time. So the connection has been tight. My son is a professional hockey player too now, playing in Switzerland. Whether internationally or in the National Hockey League, it’s remained my passion. It’s remained the favorite place for me to go and so my connections have been deep. But that’s a good question and I need to work really hard through the summer to make sure I’m completely up to speed on the personnel of our opposition.

AP: We talk a lot on this show about team identity. Do you have an idea of what kind of identity you want your team to have?

RK: Well, first and foremost, I’m the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres because Jason Botterill has been reaching out to me of late and especially when I made it clear that it was time for me to get back into hockey, our conversations just flowed so naturally and were so strong. The culture that Jason wants his organization, his players, his team to look like completely is in line with what I believe in. And then when I met Terry and Kim Pegula, I have to tell you the Pegulas are really, really clearly the people that finalized my decision to come here when I look at the culture that they want to see in the club. So those things are really important and then my job will be to drive that culture into the dressing room, into the players. And people should feel it when we play Buffalo Sabres hockey that there’s an identity there that people respect and that we are competitive every single night. And I look forward to bringing into the front, that will be my job.

CR: I had the opportunity to play under nine different NHL coaches in my time and when I look back to those coaches, you spoke of Claude Julien, you spoke of Lindy Ruff. I had a lot of other great coaches and one thing I realized is that in each and every coach, those guys were only as good as the guys that they surrounded themselves with. And that’s talking about the assistant coaches and guys that the head coach speaks with and build game plans and environment and everything else. Have you had an opportunity or do you have anybody in mind of who you plan on bringing on to your staff?

RK: I can’t really bring any names on the table. I will be contacting the assistants that were with the Sabres this year and will be reaching out to some candidates that I have had experience with. Again, I’m the type of leader that also likes to surround myself with people that are ready to ask hard questions and challenge me on a daily basis. That’s going to be important as we go forward, that we have a real, honest staff environment where everybody is involved and everybody has a voice. The important thing for me will be to find a group that has different strengths that brings assets to the table that are unique and not just one tone through the coaching staff. So that search will begin and Jason and I will be working very tight on building that team. We’re not in a big rush; I think if we have it set by the development camp it would be a good goal to have, to have your entire coaching staff in place. So we’re going to take our time and get it right rather than get it quick.

AP: You had Steve Smith in Edmonton; how influential was he, if at all, with your decision to come here?

RK: Steve, I’m sure, gave an opinion to Jason which didn’t hurt, because I’m here.

AP: I didn’t know if maybe you had any dialogue with him at all or anything.

RK: No, I’m the kind of person, I didn’t make a lot of calls. I like to make my own impression, to tell you the truth. I didn’t reach out to a lot of people. I came into Buffalo undercover a few weeks ago and walked the streets for five, six hours on one day and three hours the next. I enjoyed the passion of the people. I asked people about hockey, I watched two playoff games. I’m not going to mention the pubs I was in, but it was really interesting. I asked people about the Sabres, I asked them how they were feeling about the potential of the group and what I felt was a passion for the game. I really like the size of the market. I’m more a smaller-city person than a big-city person personally, but also, I know the history of the Sabres. I grew up loving to watch the way they played and I can feel the passion for the fan base and the hunger for something good to happen here. I’d love to see that happening when I think of those people who now won’t be able to talk to me in the pub anymore. It’s certainly the right time to go to a fabulous hockey market.

MB: The last few years here in Buffalo, the fans have been patient. Obviously Jason Botterill has talked about progression and wanting to see this group progress, play meaningful games in March and April. But everything really, it comes down to playoffs. What is your goal, realistically, for this group moving forward right from the first year?

RK: Well it’s a little early to make big promises, but no question that I have taken this job with the belief that we can become a contender very quickly and that we need to be in the mix. I know Jason and I have spoken about that a lot. I was part of a rebuild in Edmonton and this is not a rebuild. This team is ready to go to another level of competitiveness and we need to get into that mode really quickly. I think that my life as a coach really predominately was at World Championships, Olympics, World Cups and I coached over 17 tournaments at that level, 18 actually all together. Every game in those tournaments was like a playoff game, every game was important and mattered and I think that’s what we want to be. A club that very quickly is playing hockey in games that matter right through the season into April and then beyond. I can tell you that a defined goal, it would be too early to speak about, but the general feeling is let’s become competitive quickly and let’s become a contender quickly.