The Buffalo Sabres’ rumor mill kept on churning yesterday as the organization continues its search for a new head coach. Veteran bench boss and current Seattle hockey adviser, Dave Tippett has interviewed with the team, as reported by Elliotte Friedman during his 31 Thoughts podcast.
As a candidate with 14 years of experience as a head coach with both the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars, Tippett certainly fits the veteran mold that Jason Botterill appears to be pursuing. Prior to Friedman’s report, it was unclear whether or not the former Jack Adams award winner would be interested in the position. Many believed that he was earmarked for the same role with Seattle’s expansion franchise in 2020-21.
At first glance, Tippett’s recent resume might give Sabres fans pause. During the last five years of his tenure in the Arizona, his teams failed to qualify for the playoffs, but it’s important to consider the state of the Coyotes franchise at that time. John Chayka was in the midst of rebuilding the core of his roster from the ground up. Despite this, Tippett always seemed to get more out of less, given the talent (or lack thereof) at his disposal.
Just one year removed from a pseudo-tank in 2014-15, which left Arizona one spot away from landing one of Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid, his squad experienced a 48-point improvement, just barely missing out on a postseason bid. Not bad for a team whose top point producer that season was defenseman, Keith Yandle (53 points). Prior to that, he managed to lead the desert dogs to their only Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history, despite again, having a very shallow talent pool to work with.
The Sabres’ rebuild should theoretically be coming to a close. After Buffalo spent two years with a head coach that failed in every measurable way to get the most out of his lineup, Tippett’s approach would be a breath of fresh air. His name certainly carrier more clout than some of the others that have been mentioned to this point.
According to the report, Tippett’s interview with the team went quite well, but the Sabres’ coaching search may be far from over. After confirming the interview, Friedman went on to mention that the team also spoken to Jacques Martin, and could still be interested in Swedish National Team head coach, Rikard Grönborg, as well as Toronto Marlies bench boss, Sheldon Keefe.
Grönborg has been in the mix for weeks, according to a report from Scott Burnside, but the Keefe interest is somewhat new. Sure, his name has been floated out there by fans since the beginning of the search, but this is the first confirmed interest from a reputable source.
“After a great regular season their AHL affiliate, Rochester, was swept by Toronto in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs,” wrote Friedman. “Word is they were very impressed with the job Sheldon Keefe did, and it wouldn’t be a stunner if they asked to talk to him.”
He went on to confirm the notion that Botterill would prefer a coach with past NHL experience, but also stated that Keefe could be the exception. If Buffalo is seriously interested in either Keefe or Grönborg, they may have to wait a while.
Grönborg has stated that he won’t make any decision about his future until after the IIHF World Championship, where he hopes to lead Sweden to their third-consecutive gold-medal.
Keefe’s Marlies are still in the midst of a Calder Cup Playoff campaign and, barring something unexpected, he likely won’t accept a job with another team prior to their season comes to an end. Maple Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock may also be shown the door in the near future after leading his squad to another first-round playoff exit. Whether or not he is fired will also play a key role in Keefe’s decision.
We’ll find out soon enough whether or not Tippett’s interview went well enough for the Sabres to pull the trigger and offer him the job. If not, the search could drag well into the month of May. Either way, it’s nice to see that Botterill is casting a wide net this time around, assessing all available options.