Despite multiple reports that indicated the Sabres were on the verge of landing the biggest fish in the free agent coaching pond, Mike Babcock chose to take his talents to Toronto after a long, drawn out search process.
This leaves the Sabres standing at the altar without a coach for the time being as their bride-to-be sets off to the Great White North. The Sabres aren’t without options, however. Nor should this be seen as some black eye on the organization as they proceed through the next step of their rebuild.
Landing Babcock would have helped pile credibility onto the organization after two-straight 30th place seasons. Babcock’s presence would have likely chummed the waters for interested free agents while providing the Sabres with a bench boss with a strong winning pedigree. Missing out on him is obviously no small hiccup, but it will hardly derail the path Tim Murray has set the team on.
With a fish this big and stakes as high as they were, it’s easy to present the pros and cons of this argument. A pair of Buffalo News reporters did just that as Mike Harrington and Jerry Sullivan each penned a column regarding Babcock’s decision just hours ago. For what it’s worth, Harrington’s is the only one of the two worth reading.
Although today’s news throws a curve to the coaching search, it’s not as if the Sabres are left without any viable options. There are a host of solid coaching candidates on the market that Tim Murray will almost certainly be taking a closer look at in the coming days.
Names like Dan Bylsma, Peter DeBoer and Paul MacLean along with a host of up-and-coming candidates remain on the open market. There are also a number of coaches with NHL experience serving as assistants or overseas who shouldn’t be discounted.
Before Babcock became a true option for the Sabres – basically before he confirmed he was indeed testing the market – I was staunchly in favor of finding new, fresh talent to place behind the Sabres bench. I remain in favor of that plan now that Babcock is out of the mix. The Sabres a young team poised to add a dynamic star with the second pick in this year’s draft. There is a solid core here and nearly every player of importance is under the age of 27. I want a coach who has the capability of juggling those young personalities while pulling the most talent out of the roster along the way.
An NHL retread is by no means incapable of doing that. But there are some more visible warts on some of those candidates. For example, I’m not a huge fan of Dan Byslma as an option. He has a Stanley Cup and a very strong track record with generational talents. He wasn’t exactly set up for success in Pittsburgh due to their cap structure, but his short term returns at the Olympics and the end of his run in the Steel City left plenty to be desired.
Much of the same could be said of MacLean and DeBoer. The former wasn’t capable of sticking with the Senators after finding early success while the latter sandwiched a Cup Finals appearance (New Jersey in 2012) with a string of seasons without playoff hockey. Each of these guys have plenty of positives going for them as well, I just don’t know if they’re a great fit for the Sabres at this time.
Luke Richardson’s name is obviously going to come up. For all we know Tim Murray had Luke Richardson teed up regardless of how things went with Babcock. I also like the idea of taking a long look at the likes of Dave Lowry and John Hynes. Benoit Groulx might even wind up as a fair option depending on how deep Murray dives for candidates.
Exactly what level of interest that list of coaches would have in Buffalo is unknown. The same could be said of the Sabres as well, of course. But the bottom line is that there is still plenty of talent floating around.
Richardson isn’t a bad option by any stretch. He has followed nearly the same track as other coaches-in-waiting like John Cooper and (presumably) Jeff Blashill. Richardson has spent three years as the head coach in Binghamton, sports a 122-82-24 record and would appear to have a strong grasp of handling young talent well as evidenced by some of the new faces coming up in Ottawa.
Even though Richardson lacks the pizazz that Babcock would have brought, he’s certainly a smart choice. He has a strong track record, the background necessary to handle the Sabres’ young core and a good relationship with Tim Murray (or so I hope).
Lowry was a Flames assistant for six of seven-straight seasons with a one year hiatus spent behind the bench of the Calgary Hitmen (a team he led to a 59-9-4 record and the WHL final). He’s spent the last three years with the Victoria Royals, compiling a 122-79-15 record and three-straight playoff appearances. He was named the WHL Coach of the Year in 2012-13.
I don’t know much more about Lowry besides what I can see through a cobbled together resume via various internet sources. He’s been tabbed as the head coach of the 2016 Canadian World Junior Championship team, so he has clearly caught the eye of Hockey Canada (a good sign). It would also appear that he’s landed on the San Jose Sharks radar. So his stock is certainly high.
His resume reads something like Richardson’s to a certain extent. Both are veterans of over 1000 NHL games, both served as assistant coaches before stepping to a head job just below the NHL. The main different here is Richardson heading to the AHL while Lowry settled in the WHL. But both have spent the last few years handling and developing young players, so they would be right at home in Buffalo.
John Hynes shares a development background with Richardson and Lowry although much of his was spent in the USNTDP. He’s served as the head coach of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins since 2009-10 and helmed the 2008 US World Junior squad.
Hynes’ time with the Penguins dates to the Ray Shero era and he’s already been tabbed as a potential candidate for the New Jersey Devils job. He sports a 231-126-27 record with WBS and progressed past the first round of the AHL playoffs in all five seasons.
The tea leaves say that Lowry, Hynes and even Guy Boucher likely have a fair bit of interest from other clubs, so the Sabres would certainly be behind in the race to grab one of them. Obviously Boucher’s situation is unique given that he just interviewed in Toronto yesterday, but there’s still no telling what his next step would be.
If I had to pick a retread, Guy Boucher would certainly be the one I’d lean towards. I was a big fan of Kirk Muller as he was leaving Montreal, but I’m not sure he’s a realistic option given his position in St. Louis and his general lack of success with Carolina.
Despite getting run out of Tampa, there are certainly plenty of things to like about Boucher, and a few to dislike (the 1-3-1 forecheck, for example). He made his way to SC Bern and led them to a second place regular season finish this year before being bounced in the second round of the playoffs. He rolled up a 29-13-8 record in his first full season behind the bench.
The Swiss route is the same taken by Bob Hartley and with Boucher finding success overseas – with the likes of Chuck Kobasew and Marc-Andre Gragnani (!!) – dotting his roster, I could certainly see NHL interest in him picking up yet again.
I also anticipate the Sabres’ search to pick up in earnest over the next few days. They spent a fair bit of time pitching Mike Babcock and they’ll certainly need to make up for lost time in a hurry. I’m looking forward to see who they settle on and I’m very hopeful that the man the select comes with a pedigree of cultivating talent and meshing well with a young core.