The 2010-2011 season marks the 40th Anniversary for our beloved Buffalo Sabres. Over the next few months we'll be delving deeper into the history of the Sabres. Specifically, I'll be counting down the Top 40 All-Time Sabres (players that is-sorry no Sabretooth). There will also be a Team of the Decades series, where everyone can vote on the starting lineup of the decade as well as a coach. This will eventually give us a mythical All-Time roster and the best bench boss in team history. We start off our Team of the Decades series well...at the beginning-the coaches for the 70's. The only criteria is to have coached at least 78 games in the decade, which was the number of regular season games played until the 1974-1975 season.
George "Punch" Imlach 1970-1972, 119 games, 32 wins-62 losses-25 ties, 89 out of a possible 238 points (.374 winning %)
To truly understand the makeup of this franchise look no further than the first coach/GM-George "Punch" Imlach. Imlach was the architect of the Sabres. Though he never coached the team in the playoffs, Imlach was responsible for the French Connection drafting Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin with the team's first two 1st Round picks and trading with the Penguins to nab Rene Robert. He also traded for the likes of Jim Lorentz, Don Luce, and Jerry Korab. Imlach also coaxed Tim Horton out of retirement to guide the Buffalo youngsters in the early days. His 1971 draft was one of, if not the finest, drafts in team history. His first three draft picks (Martin, Craig Ramsey, and Bill Hajt) all went on to have excellent careers in blue and gold.
Imlach only coached 119 contests for the Sabres, as he had to hang up the whistle prematurely because he had a severe heart attack that nearly ended his life. He stayed in the front office as GM until the 1978-1979 season when he was canned by the Knox brothers for insubordination. A four-time Cup champion (all with Toronto-he's the last coach to the lead the Maple Leafs to the title), Punch Imlach was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984 as a Builder.Joe Crozier 1972-1974 192 regular season games, 77-80-35, 189 out of a possible 384 points (.492 winning %); 2-4 playoff record
Joe "The Crow" Crozier coached the first playoff game in team history, though the Sabres ended up losing to the Canadians in six games. He replaced Imlach behind the bench in the 1971-1972 season after Punch suffered his heart attack. Crozier was promoted from the Cincinnati Swords, the then Sabres AHL affiliate. Before that he won three Calder Cups down the thruway in Rochester as the Amerks bench boss. He was replaced at the start of the 1974-1975 season, giving way to...
Floyd Smith 1974-1977 241 regular season games, 143-62-36, 322 out of a possible 482 points (.668 winning %); 16-16 playoff record
Floyd Smith, a veteran of over 650 NHL games, who played 83 games for the blue and gold at the end of his career began his coaching career in the 1971-1972 season. He coached one game in Buffalo and thensucceeded Crozier in Cincinnati after The Crow made the show in Buffalo. In fact, Smith won a Calder Cup championship with the Swords in the 1972-1973 season. To this day, Smith has the highest career winning percentage of all Sabres coaches and each of his three seasons ended in playoff appearances. His 1974-1975 team captured the hearts of Western New Yorkers, as the Sabres won their first Adams Division Championship and made their first Stanley Cup appearance, in only their fifth year of existence.
Marcel Pronovost 1977-1979 104 regular season games, 52-29-23, 127 out of a possible 208 points (.611 winning %); 3-5 playoff record
Marcel Pronovost, a dynamic player for the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, took over the coaching reigns from Floyd Smith in the 1977-1978 season. That season, he guided the Sabres to victory over the New York Rangers in the preliminary round of the playoffs, ousting the Rangers two games to one. The 1978-1979 season proved more difficult, as the Sabres got off to a rough start-skating to only 22 points in their first 24 contests. On December 4, 1978, moments after Punch Imlach was fired, Pronovost was summarily canned, likely collateral damage from Imlach's insubordination. 1978 wasn't all bad for Pronovost, however, as he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player. It wasn't so bad for the Sabres either. The Knox brother's choice to replace the departed Imlach and Pronovost? None other than...
William "Scotty" Bowman 1979-1980 80 regular season games, 47-17-16, 110 out of a possible 160 points (.688 winning %); 9-5 playoff record
The Knox brothers convinced the defending Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadians' bench boss to come and guide the Sabres as both coach and GM. Bowman's first season in Buffalo was perhaps his best. The Sabres won their only division championship for him during the 1979-1980 season. In fact, the NHL's All-Time Winningest Coach, had the Sabres within two wins of playing for the Stanley Cup, losing four games to two to the eventual champion New York Islanders.
So there you have it. Who is your choice for the 1970's Coach of the Decade?