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Arizona Coyotes hire former Sabres head coach Phil Housley as assistant

Phil Housley of the Buffalo Sabres looks on prior to the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes have hired former Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley as an assistant coach on a multi-year contract, the team announced Wednesday.

The reported hiring became known last week by 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station‘s John Gambadoro.

“Doing some research on him, rave reviews in Nashville that that defense over the years was one of the best defenses in the league,” head coach Rick Tocchet told Burns & Gambo last week, referring to Housley’s stint as an assistant in Nashville. “Players love him, he’s an out-of-the-box thinker, a great offensive mind, a really good power play guy. So he’s going to add a lot to our staff.”

Last season, the Coyotes’ coaching staff under Tocchet included assistants Scott Allen (defense and penalty kill), John MacLean (offense and power play), Corey Schwab (goaltending) and Steve Peters (video). It wasn’t immediately clear what the hire of Housley would mean for those coaches.

Housley, 55, most recently coached the Sabres but was fired on April 7 following a 33-39-10 season and a sixth-place finish in the division. The Sabres started out hot, going 21-13-6 before the end of the 2018 calendar year. But they went a dismal 12-26-4 the rest of the way, getting shut out six times in that span and missing the playoffs.

“I took it pretty hard,” Housley said Wednesday. “But after some time — and time heals things — you think about getting back into the game. There was some interest in me. The juices started to flow. You want to continue to coach, you want to be in the game because I just love the competitiveness. I have a passion for this game. I spoke to some teams.”

Housley cited his relationships with Tocchet, MacLean and Schwab; a mix of young and veteran forwards; a good core of defensemen; being able to coach the defense but also have input on the power play; and his fondness of Arizona all as reasons why the Coyotes were a fit for him. Housley and Tocchet were teammates

“I would like to thank John Chayka and Rick Tocchet for this opportunity to join the Coyotes organization,” Housley said in a press release. “I played with Rick and John MacLean, and I look forward to working with them and a fantastic coaching staff. I’m very passionate about developing young players and winning, and I look forward to coaching a very talented defensive corps.”

As a player, Housley was a defenseman and played 21 years in the NHL for eight teams, eventually making the Hall of Fame.

The greatest deficiency in the Coyotes’ overall game last year was goal-scoring, as the team finished 28th in the league in goals scored and 26th in power place percentage (16.3%). Their 30.7 shots per game ranked 20th in the 31-team league.

Defense, however, was set: They allowed the sixth-fewest goals in hockey, and the five teams that finished ahead of them in that category made the playoffs. Their 85.0 penalty kill percentage was tied for first in the NHL with Columbus and Tampa Bay. They allowed the 11th-fewest shots per game and had a .913 save percentage as a team, ranked sixth in the league.

Arizona finished four points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference last season.

“Phil is a great addition to our coaching staff,” Chayka said in a release. “His experience as a player, combined with his success overseeing defensive units, make him a perfect fit for this job. We’re all excited to work with him and leverage his knowledge of the game to make us better.”

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