BUFFALO (AP) — Rather than focus on what went wrong in the past, new Sabres coach Ralph Krueger arrived in Buffalo intent on building a better future with the underperforming team he inherited.
Most important, Krueger expressed confidence that leading scorer Jeff Skinner will be part of that future based on a lengthy phone conversation he had with the unsigned forward who is about three weeks away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
“I work on the basis that Jeff Skinner is a Buffalo Sabre and as a result that’s how our conversation went,” Krueger said Wednesday during his introductory news conference.
“It was really just the flow of the conversation that made me feel comfortable,” he added. “I felt he really loved to be here and that he was happy to be here.”
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As for getting Skinner re-signed, Krueger said he was leaving that to general manager Jason Botterill.
For his part, Botterill said nothing has happened during negotiations to change his expectations regarding Skinner’s return.
“I would say discussions continue to go very well, but you never have a deal completely done until there’s a signature,” he said. “We’ve clearly shown that this is a priority to try and get something done. Hopefully, we can find a way to get that materialize.”
Botterill said the sides are negotiating with the intention of getting a deal done before the NHL’s free-agency signing period opens July 1. In saying Skinner has earned the right to test the market, Botterill added that at no point has that possibility been broached by the player’s agency.
“There’s always that option for the player,” he said. “But in my dialogue with Newport Sports, it’s been to try to find a solution before then.”
The just-turned 27-year-old Skinner completed his ninth NHL season, and first in Buffalo after being acquired in a trade with Carolina in August. In leading Buffalo with 40 goals, he topped 30 goals for the fourth time in his career.
The Sabres maintain an edge in re-signing Skinner because under league rules they can offer him an eight-year contract. He would be limited to signing a seven-year deal in free agency.
Skinner’s uncertain status overshadowed Krueger’s introduction, which came some three weeks after he was hired .
He arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday after spending time in Europe where he met with several players, including captain Jack Eichel, competing at the World Championships in Slovakia. Krueger also had personal issues to deal with in preparing to move back to North America after spending the past five years serving as chairman of soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.
Fully focused on being the Sabres coach, Krueger said he has little interest in reflecting on what’s gone wrong with a team in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought — the NHL’s longest active streak — and now on its fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013.
“I’m not the kind of person who spends a lot of time on the opinions of the past,” he said. “For me to analyze one year, three years, five years, 10 years, 15 years past would be a waste of time in my opinion. It’s more, what do we need to be. And I’ll focus on that.”
At 59, Krueger returns to the NHL, where he fired after one year as the Edmonton Oilers coach following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Krueger, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, established his reputation as a hockey innovator and motivator internationally while coaching the Swiss national team and leading Team Europe to a second-place finish at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Krueger has much on his plate. He will be attending the NHL draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, in two weeks, immediately followed by the Sabres’ annual rookie development camp, and hopes to have a staff in place by the end of the month. He already has spoken to half the players on the Sabres’ roster and hopes to reach out to the remaining ones over the next week.
Krueger characterized his conversations with Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart at the world championships as productive.
“There was a clear understanding of what needs to be done here I thought in their conversations. We didn’t just speak about the weather,” he said. “We spent a lot of time speaking about what needs to happen off ice, on ice and through.”