The moment that the Buffalo Sabres announced that head coach Phil Housley’s time with the blue and gold was over, fans and media alike began salivating over the thought of who could step behind the bench next. Over the course of the last two weeks since Housley’s firing, so many names have been popping up - some as rumored to be linked to the Sabres, some as far-fetched hopes and dreams, and some pulled seemingly out of thin air.
One day, it seemed like Todd McLellan was absolutely, definitely, maybe coming to Buffalo. Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Among other names that have emerged as either legitimate possible contenders or potential considerations: Adam Oates (check out this piece from Jason), D.J. Smith (from the Leafs, check out Chad’s piece), or maybe someone else from a team still in the playoffs (check out Anthony’s piece.)
While it’s natural for fans and media to dive right in to who comes next as the Sabres’ head coach, in my opinion, it’s not a decision that should be made quickly, or at least, not one that needs to be made quickly. As I already said, it’s only been two weeks since Housley was fired, and the Sabres are a long way from the 2019-2020 season. Even the draft and free agency are two months or more away. There’s no good reason to rush this decision. It’s not one that should be made lightly, even though the impulse may be to fill it as soon as possible.
Yes, there could be concerns with waiting. Other teams who are also looking to fill a void could jump in and grab someone, such as McLellan. But the focus for Botterill, Pegula and co. should be to reach out to any and all candidates they feel are suited for the job, go through the proper interview channels and then figure out if it’s a good fit for both sides. Clearly, it wasn’t for a guy like McLellan. He chose to stay out west, and according to some reports, was never even really considering the Sabres but may have used the team as a bargaining chip. Who knows.
You don’t just want a coach. You want the right coach, especially given how just how many head coaches the Sabres have gone through in recent years. You don’t want to hire someone to stand behind the bench for 82 games and then in a year, say that nothing has changed and find yourself back in the same spot, looking for another bench boss.
Yes, the waiting game is tough. Yes, the Sabres have had a rough go of it in recent years when it comes to head coaches. But also: yes, there are a lot of options out there, many of them worth exploring. Taking that time to explore all the options, which may include coaches of teams still in the NHL playoffs; Chris Taylor, who’s still in his season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans; or even college coaches whose future may be wavering or uncertain, or international coaches who could make the jump to North America.
There’s such a wide pool out there of potential head coaches for any team. In my opinion, by taking their time on this decision, the Buffalo Sabres are giving themselves the best possible chance at finding not just a head coach, but the right head coach for the job. As hard as it is to be patient, it could be worth it in the long run.