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The Buffalo Sabres have hired Ralph Krueger as their next head coach in hopes of ending an eight-year playoff drought, the team announced Wednesday.
The 59-year-old Krueger coached the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL’s lockout-shortened season in 2012-13. He was fired by the team via Skype after the youth-laden Oilers finished 19-22-7.
Krueger has vast coaching experience, including overseeing Switzerland’s national team to Olympic Winter Games appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
“Throughout his career, Ralph has shown the ability to adapt to a variety of high-pressure environments while leading some of the world’s elite players,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said in a statement. “His strong communication skills, leadership and diverse background make him a uniquely qualified candidate to lead our team going forward.”
Krueger returns to the NHL after spending the past five years as chairman of soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League. Krueger was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and played hockey professionally in Germany from 1979 to 1991.
He replaces Phil Housley, who was fired after two seasons. Last season, Buffalo won just 16 of its final 57 games following a 10-game winning streak in November.
In finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres joined the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers as the only teams in NHL history to miss the playoffs in a season in which they won at least 10 straight games.
The Sabres’ playoff drought stands as the NHL’s longest active streak.
Krueger said he will “strive to maximize the potential” of the Sabres and is “eager to get behind the bench and represent this passionate hockey city.”
The hiring came as Botterill returned to Buffalo for a number of scouting meetings this week. He had been in Slovakia working as a management member of Canada’s national team competing at the world championships.
Krueger’s experience includes coaching Team Europe to second at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He also served as a special adviser to Canada’s national team when it won gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.
He is known for being an innovator in hockey strategies, developing young talent and being a motivator. In 2014, he wrote a book, which was published in German and titled, “Teamlife: Über Niederlagen zum Erfolg,” which roughly translates to “Through Defeats to Success.”
Krueger’s hiring allows Botterill to turn his attention to the Sabres’ next-most-pressing offseason need: making a bid to re-sign forward Jeff Skinner before he enters the free-agent market on July 1.
Skinner was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in August, and he scored a career-best and team-leading 40 goals in 82 games last season.
Although Skinner and the Sabres have engaged in contract talks since January, the team elected to put off further discussions until after its coaching search. In clearing out his locker in April, Skinner did not rule out re-signing with the Sabres but added that he didn’t want to rush into his decision.
Krueger becomes the team’s fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013. None of Ruff’s replacements has lasted more than two seasons.
The Sabres are in the midst of the worst stretch in franchise history. They have finished last in the standings in three of the past six seasons and haven’t won a playoff series since 2007, when they lost to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference finals.
Krueger inherits a team that lacks chemistry and has struggled to build on a foundation of several talented youngsters, including captain Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the first player selected in the draft last year.
The latest shake-up comes two years into Botterill’s tenure as a first-time general manager and after his decision to hire Housley proved to be a bust.
Although Botterill said the blame for Buffalo’s collapse deserved to be shared among players and himself, he added that it became evident that the team was not responding to Housley.
“Unfortunately, the message wasn’t getting through,” Botterill said when he fired the coach one day after the Sabres concluded their season.
Secondary scoring has been an issue, with Skinner, Eichel and Sam Reinhart accounting for 90 of Buffalo’s 226 goals last season. The Sabres also committed far too many defensive lapses for a team coached by a Hall of Fame defenseman.
Housley’s largest failure was an inability to get the Sabres to adapt to the creative, high-tempo style that relied on defensemen jumping into the rush.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.