It’s not a big surprise, but Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill announced today that he’s relieved head coach Phil Housley of his duties. After two disappointing seasons as the Sabres head coach, this move was almost necessary. The club really struggled down the stretch and the coaching questions became too much to overlook.
We don’t need to re-live those moments here but instead focus on the future.
Botterill has a variety of directions he can go in finding the 19th head coach of the Sabres. There are candidates with experience and some that are rising up the ranks without a lot of NHL experience
As of now, Chris Taylor may carry the best odds to step in as the next coach. With Joel Quenneville seemingly on his way to the Florida Panthers according to reports, Taylor may be the fan favorite.
There is a real sense today that the process between FLA and Joel Quenneville is much further along than many of us realized. It’s not a done deal, but it’s close. It would not be a surprise if this process closes in the near future.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 7, 2019
The head coach of the Rochester Americans led his club to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. He’s done a good job developing young players this season such as Rasmus Asplund, Victor Olofsson, and Alex Nylander. All three look like different players than what we saw in training camp.
He has familiarity with the players in the NHL and AHL level. He’s also been a member of the organization on and off for the last 20 years as a player and coach. Taylor was hired by Botterill when he was named the new general manager of the Sabres. He spent the year prior with the Pittsburgh Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
He feels like the easy transition option.
The next option that could be at the top of a lot of lists is Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe. The 38-year-old has spent the majority of his coaching career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He won CHL coach of the year in 2015 and then after that season was hired by the Leafs.
Keefe has had a lot of success with the Marlies, which included winning a Calder Cup last year. He’s one of the hottest up and coming names in the coaching landscape. However, he may not be easy to pry free from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.
He has a good relationship with current Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and reports have indicated he has a new extension with Toronto. His new deal includes an out clause, but Leafs still maintain control on who they will allow permission to talk with him. Also, some recent rumors of uncertainty with Mike Babcock could come into play as well.
Another up and coming name is Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Kris Knoblauch. The 40-year-old made his way to the NHL via CHL as well. He had success with a few teams, but most recently the Erie Otters. He was named the CHL Coach of the Year in 2016 while leading the Otters to the Memorial Cup. Knoblauch was hired by the Flyers the following season to serve on Dave Hakstol’s staff.
When Hakstol was relieved of his duties this season, Knoblauch was kept on. He’s been responsible for the Flyers power play (23rd this year and 15th last year). We even saw him try a six-forward power play system early in the season in an attempt to spark the struggling unit.
He could be a name in consideration for the Flyers job, but a name worth considering.
If you’re looking for a coach with experience coaching NHL players, but not in the NHL then Rikard Gronborg could be your guy. The 50-year-old has been the head coach of the Sweden National Team since 2010.
Gronborg had some experience last year coaching Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the Olympics, but it was only for a short period of time. He resigned from his position as the coach for the Sweden National Team to begin to focus on the opportunity to land an NHL job in the future.
He’s an interesting coach candidate for the Sabres or any team that has interest in hiring him. You can learn more about him in a nice piece here from Sportsnet on how he could be the first European coach since 2001.
Some other names worth mentioning include former New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. He’ll be coaching the Canadian World Championship team in which Botterill be a part of the triple-headed management putting that club together.
DJ Smith an assistant coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jay Leach the AHL head coach of the Providence Bruins are two other names to throw into the mix.
The last name to watch is current Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. He can’t officially be labeled a candidate since he’s still employed. If the Wild decide to move on from the veteran bench boss, the Sabres may be wise to quickly pounce on that opportunity.
We’ll see where this search lands us in the coming weeks and maybe longer. Botterill has been given another chance to find his coach by ownership and he can’t get it wrong again.