With just days remaining before the IIHF World Championship commences in Slovakia, the Buffalo Sabres’ coaching vacancy remains open. Given the circumstances, this development is far from surprising. Since the conclusion of the regular season, three of the seven teams with openings behind the bench have filled said roles. With four clubs still in the process of selecting a new bench boss, let’s take a look at some of the names that have been mentioned for the Sabres’ job, and what the somewhat delayed decision might ultimately mean.
We’ll start with what we know (or at least what has been reported by reputable sources). After the organization’s initial interest in Todd McLellan (who has since been hired by the Los Angeles Kings), things were relatively quiet. Little by little, information has trickled out, mostly in the form of veteran candidates whom the Sabres have reportedly either spoken to already, or plan to speak to at some point. That list includes names like Jacques Martin, Todd Richards, and most recently, Dave Tippett, all of whom have past experience as head coaches in the NHL (with varying degrees of success).
In the spirit of “casting a wide net” and exploring all avenues, potential first-time NHL coaches like Sheldon Keefe and Rikard Grönborg have been thrown into the conversation as well. With Keefe in the midst of a Calder Cup playoff run with the Toronto Marlies, the Sabres could be waiting for his season to conclude before reaching out. The same can be said for Grönborg who is preparing for a third-consecutive gold-medal campaign with Team Sweden this month at the World Championships.
Many believe that the current circumstances bode well for these two men. After all, if the Sabres were truly interested in one of the aforementioned veteran options, then why wait? It would seem silly to let their top candidate(s) linger and potentially accept jobs elsewhere, right?
Perhaps, but how prevalent is that threat, really?
Aside from the Sabres, only the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators have head coaching vacancies. It has long been speculated that Dallas Eakins (head coach of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls) is ear-marked for the job in Anaheim. If this is truly the case, then that leaves only Ottawa and Edmonton in the mix. Even the most pessimistic Sabres fan would be hard-pressed to present how the job in Buffalo isn’t the most attractive of the bunch. On top of that, the Oilers only recently hired a general manager in Ken Holland, who would reasonably want to conductive an expansive search of his own.
The only candidate who has been linked to both the Senators and Sabres is Martin who, let’s face it, is one of the less attractive options of the bunch, given his age and mediocre resume. Richards (a man with an even less impressive track record than Martin’s) hasn’t been seriously linked to any other openings besides Buffalo.
Tippett was briefly connected to the job in Edmonton, but that rumor was quickly squashed by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal (the same person who broke the Holland hire). So, in reality, the competition for one of the reported “veterans of interest” probably isn’t as significant as it might appear on paper.
In short, nobody should be counted out at this point, regardless of how long the search drags on. Jason Botterill has time to assess all options, no matter how anxious the fans base is to see this process come to a conclusion. He’ll watch with great interest as Grönborg vies for another title with Sweden. How often is it that a GM gets to see a prospective candidate coach a team in person during a coaching search?
The same is likely the case for Keefe as well (whose availability may have become more realistic given yesterday’s announcement that the Maple Leafs would be retaining Mike Babcock as their head coach next season). Botterill will remain patient and explore every avenue before making his decision, as he should. If that means waiting until the end of the World Championship and AHL playoffs, then that’s just fine. This will be his last coaching hire in Buffalo, if he makes the wrong decision. The fact that he’s acting accordingly is a good thing, even if it means waiting until June for this process to reach its end.
Until then, sit back, enjoy the speculation and debate, and take solace in the fact that the Sabres’ GM is doing his due diligence.