When the Nashville Predators are on the ice practicing assistant coach Phil Housley blends in. That's not meant to be a knock, as the players skate around, Housley is right in the middle of it all, occasionally ripping a wrist shot off the cross-bar and into the net.
If he wasn't in a zip-up jacket and training pants it would be hard to tell that Housley wasn't just another one of the Predators players. At 52-years-old the 21-year NHL veteran skates as well as any coach in the league, and behind the bench, he isn't too shabby either.
"I mean learning from a guy who is in the hall of fame and is not too far removed from his playing days and the way he played, the success he had, it's so easy to learn and listen from a guy like that," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said on Monday. "He sees the game a lot of the way our D see it and the way the game is played now and he gets it."
Buffalo, a place where he spent eight years as a player at the beginning of his career, has been reported to be a team interested in Housley's services. The Florida Panthers, who also have a head coaching vacancy, have also been a rumored destination for Housley.
But what's amazing is just how quickly Housley has climbed the coaching ranks. Four years ago Housley was coaching a high-school team in Minnesota near his hometown. Now, he's behind the bench looking to bring the Predators their first Stanley Cup in team history and has become one of the hottest head coaching candidates on the market.
"Any time your name gets thrown out there, it just shows that a lot of people have respect for the work you’ve done," Housley told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in an interview last month. “Everybody has goals in life, whether you’re a player or a coach. I have those inside of me and what I want to do, but right now I’m really enjoying coaching in Nashville."
"He's so much fun to be around and he never takes anything too seriously, he can always have a smile on his face and laugh with the guys and try to joke around," Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm told 7 Eyewitness News. "Even though the playoffs are for sure a serious situation and what have you, you've gotta be able to have fun and enjoy the situation too."
While with the Predators Housley has taken charge of the defense, turning an already solid group into one of the best, if not the best, defensive units in the league.
"When game time comes and games get rolling around he's just a really good coach," Ekholm added. "I think he sees the ice, who to put out there and what situations he likes certain guys out, I think he's doing a tremendous job of that."
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 31, 2017
Aside from his time in Smashville, Housley has coached several teams for USA Hockey, including the 2013 Under-20 Junior team that won gold. He may not have the most experience as a coach, but he has won over the locker room in Nashville and has proven to be a valuable contributor on and off the ice.
"Going back to the bench he always has your back," Ellis added. "As a player in the league, I'm sure, just speaking from experience, it's nice when the coach has your back, for sure."
Hey Jason Botterill, hire this man!
It's obvious how impressive the 2016-2017 season has been for the Predators blue line, but what's even more obvious was how well respected Housley is in the Nashville locker room.
Game one didn't go according to plan, but don't point the finger at the Predators defense. On the biggest stage, they held the Penguins without a shot for 37 minutes. I didn't even think that was possible.
His lack of NHL coaching experience may be a red flag to some, but in his limited time in the league, he's made an impact on and off the ice. The aforementioned quote from Ryan Ellis really stands out for a few reasons:
1) He talked about learning from a Hall of Fame defenseman
2) He references that Housley understands today's NHL
I'm not sure that second bullet point could be said about former Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma.
If Housley is ready and willing to take the next step, he'll have his hands full with a defensive unit in Buffalo that needs work. That being said, I'm not sure there's a candidate on the market as capable.
It's pretty simple really. The Sabres need to fix their defense and Housley is a Hall of Fame defenseman. I rest my case.