Two in the Mailbox: Coaching Candidates, Blue Collar Built and the Battle of Winterfell

Two in the Mailbox, the (sometimes) weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing

Shawn/@iammasheen – Who would you like to see as Sabres coach?

The short answer here is Rikard Gronborg. His quotes that have come out over the last couple of weeks certainly instill confidence that he’d bring some new ideas to the Sabres. Ideas that would hopefully translate to wins.

The longer answer here is more complex. Even before Todd McLellan was officially hired by the Kings there weren’t too many obvious candidates who really jumped off the page. Even with McLellan possibly in the mix, the field wasn’t flush with good options. To me, McLellan felt like a “meh” hire. There were plenty of reasons to question it, his shortcomings in Edmonton chief among them. But his resume wasn’t weak, either. It just didn’t feel like an inspired choice. Doesn’t mean it would’ve been the wrong one, it was just hard to fully get behind.

I shared this view on Twitter and on this week’s podcast and I’ll re-hash it here. It strikes me that the fanbase has reached point where virtually everything the Sabres do is going to be deemed as negative. Pretty much every guy that will be connected to the Sabres is going to draw some level of ire from the fanbase. I, like many fans, want to feel confident about the choice the Sabres ultimately make. That doesn’t mean they need to abandon any logical discourse and simply pick a guy the fans are going to like. But it’s hard to feel good about guys like Jacques Martin or Todd Richards. We know what these guys can do. More importantly, we know what these guys can’t do. It’s going to be hard for fans to get behind a choice when they can look at his previous exploits and gain little confidence he’ll take the Sabres to the next level.

So that’s part of the reason I like Gronborg. The unknown. He’s had success at the international level, he’s worked with elite players and he’s certainly saying the right things. Hiring Gornborg would take the Sabres in a different direction than they’ve gone with any of the hires they’ve made since Lindy Ruff. If the same process has failed them time and time again, why not try a new one? Like with Phil Housley, the team tried to find someone with a new vision and a new approach and I appreciated that. I thought he was a smart hire at the time and I’m happy to admit I was wrong in that regard.

The other reason I’ve come to favor Gronborg is that he appears to be the candidate who offers the most progressive approach to coaching of all the available candidates. Sheldon Keefe and Dallas Eakins deserve to be mentioned in that regard as well, but Gronborg really seems to be grabbing the headlines when it comes to looking at things differently. And that’s something else I hope the organization values in a bench boss. Playing an efficient, attacking style that will keep the team on the front foot and can maximize the abilities of the players they have.

I’d sooner see them fail trying to be progressive than see them stagnate being safe.

@tonyfisher300 – In a dystopian, upside down universe – who would you rather see coaching the Sabres? Mike Harrington or Paul Hamilton?

Tough call. Mike comes with a quasi-blessing from Lindy Ruff and at he shows a willingness to embrace some advanced stats in certain situations. But Paul has played the game at a pretty high level, so that’s a feather in his cap. While Mike might struggle with balancing in-game Twitter arguments with in-game coaching adjustments, I fear that Paul would block (read: scratch) his players if they used profanity on the bench, though. Both be issues as the season went on.

I think I’ll need to go with Mike. He offers the added benefit of fiery post-game press conferences and if Paul doesn’t care for foul language on Twitter, I’m not sure how he’d handle a modern NHL room. So I think that gives Mike the edge.

Max/@maxwellmarko – Are you Blue Collar Built?

I’m not acting like Rome has fallen as a result of Rochester’s playoff elimination, so probably not.

It’s so incredibly lame that the various Pegula Sports properties feel like their best marketing ploy is to play up the region’s blue-collar ethos. I know there were steel mills in Buffalo one time but it’s such an incredibly tired trope, you’d think they’d want to rise above it at some point. But instead we get video promos of Brandon Beane’s phony press conference tirade and bullshit about conditions and having a lunch pail attitude. Frankly, it’s insulting.

Ted Black once applauded the high hockey IQ that Sabres fans have (lol). If that’s what they believe why not show fans some respect and build on the great understanding fans have for their teams and their respective sports? The region has battled back from college graduates fleeing en masse and you can’t go two weeks in the summer without some major publication applauding the hip and vibrant nature of the city and region. We’re a hell of a lot closer to “Keep Austin Weird” than we are to “Blue Collar Built”. Maybe it’s time to throw out the blue-collar bullshit and take a new approach.

Speaking of taking a new approach. You can stream NHL games all season long while catching exclusive content like 30 for 30 and other features on ESPN+. Use this link to sign up for a free seven-day trial and $4.99 a month (or $49.99 a year) after. And unlike the Sabres, you can cancel at any time.

Jeremy/@Jeremywgr – Willy for Risto. Who says no?

Kyle Dubas, for one. I do have to say this type of move makes a lot of sense in terms of filling needs. The Leafs are desperate for capable, right shot defensemen and Risto is at least one of those things. Maybe even both in the right situation. Meanwhile, the Sabres could use another gun up front, especially someone with Nylander’s fleet footed, high skill repertoire. Even if/when Jeff Skinner re-signs, the Sabres are going to be in the market for some high-end help at forward, so Nylander would fit that bill.

The issue with this will be Ristolainen’s fancy stats. For those who haven’t heard, they’re bad. With a GM who invests a lot into advanced stats, I’d have to think Ristolainen’s name is a four letter word in the Maple Leafs front office.

Zach/@zcarr39 – Who’s demise do we see this week? And no I’m not talking hockey playoffs.

I think Brienne has to be the clubhouse leader, no? That really sucks too because as I rewatched the series in preparation for the final season, I came to realize that Brienne is one of the best characters on the show. [Spoiler alert] Her knighting ceremony last week was a huge talking point because it resonated with just about everyone who watches the show. So if she is one of the ones to die, it’s going to seriously suck.

I’d apply much of that assessment to Jamie as well, which makes him another good bet to die this episode. His character arc has been complicated and has turned him into someone you want to root for. He was the other half of that great knighting ceremony, so in many ways he’s really come full circle from the arrogant jerk he was early on to the likable anti-hero he is now.

Given what’s bearing down on Winterfell it’s hard to have faith that anyone makes it out alive besides Jon, Dany and Tyrion. But if they kill my boy Tormund I’m going to drive to HBOs offices and leave a flaming bag of crap on their front step.

Tim/@tpcr8on – Trying things on…does Tyler Toffoli fit?

It’s a no from me but only because I’ve soured on him. He scored 24 last year but he really hasn’t sniffed that 31-goal plateau he hit in 2015-16. He’s 27, has another year on his ticket and the Sabres need scorers. So he certainly fits what they’re looking for. But I worry the Kings would want a haul for him and if I’m paying big for a scoring winger, I’d probably prefer to find some a shade younger with a slightly more consistent production.

Gary/@garysteele6 – What airline most needs to update its look on their planes?

This question likely inspired by this Tweet, which I found to be mesmerizing. I’m a sucker for cool time-lapse videos of things being painted or assembled. Have a video of a baseketball court being stripped and re-painted? I’m all about it.

I don’t have quite the same knowledge of airline livery as I do goalie masks or hockey jerseys, but I do remember seeing a pretty cool set of University of Washington and Washington State painted Alaska Airlines planes a few years back. Someone needs to start a multinational carrier centered in Buffalo so we can get a city flag designed plane. Maybe Terry and Kim can do that and leave the Bills and Sabres alone for a little while.

Mike/@michaelparthum – If one of Leaf’s fans complains about Babcock is player usage, wouldn’t hiring him (if he is fired) just be Phil Housley 2.0 with the volume turned up?

Yes. He’s still a good coach and has just enough of that old school mentality where he will favor players whose on-ice results aren’t as good as his stars but their effort rarely wavers. So we’d probably be just as batty over his usage as we were for Housley’s.

I thought this was going to be the year they got out of the first round but somehow they managed to fall short again. Kyle Dubas will swing a trade for a defenseman this summer and they’ll be stronger for it. Should Babcock be back next year, and I suspect he will be, he’ll benefit from that roster improvement and I’m sure he and the Leafs will get over that first round hump.

But in the meantime, his resume doesn’t look quite as good as it did when the Leafs chased him down in 2015. He hasn’t seen his team get out of the first round in his last six tries and, as Adam Gretz from Pro Hockey Talk has noted, if he didn’t have his Team Canada exploits to bolster his resume, he wouldn’t be nearly as sexy of a target as he’s been made out to be. Especially when you consider just about anyone could win gold with Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron at center and Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Carey Price on the back end.

The thought process has been that Kyle Dubas just needs to give Babcock a roster of players where his decision to play favorites won’t put the Leafs at a distinct disadvantage. I think we’ll see the Leafs win a round or two next spring and a lot of the questions about Babcock’s future will go away.

Don/@donmanski – Just because media and fans think a coach is being considered by the Sabres and not one person from the coach or team has stated the same, does that equate to the coach being linked by many to the team?

It all depends on where you’re reading it and how it’s being presented. For example, Chris Taylor has been connected to the job because he’s had two strong regular seasons with the Amerks and Rochester happens to be Buffalo’s farm team. However, there’s been no indication he’s going to be given an interview. His connection to the job is merely from connecting the dots.

Same goes for Sheldon Keefe and other likely coaching candidates like Dallas Eakins. There’s been no reports that they’ve been called for an interview, but it’s expected their names will be on the short list for any team with an opening. This happens every spring where a group of popular, up-and-coming candidates are looked at to fill whatever openings shook loose during the year.

When guys like McKenzie, Friedman, Dreger, LeBrun or others make note of the team asking permission or pursuing a guy, you can consider that official acknowledgement of a candidate being pursued. Count the likes of McLellan, Gronborg and now Martin in that mix.

Very Bad Trades

It’s back! This feature, like the mailbag, took a little break. But since the Sabre are still bad, fans want to figure out ways to fix them.

Take rktkt66 on CapFriendly who feels the Kings will want to get older on D and crappier up front in exchange for two of their better forwards and a third round pick.




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2 thoughts on “Two in the Mailbox: Coaching Candidates, Blue Collar Built and the Battle of Winterfell

  1. James Weise April 26, 2019 / 10:18 am

    While Gronborg would be an interesting hire, I do believe he is one of the riskiest options out there.

    His only experience as a club head coach is as a GM/Head Coach of a Tier II Jr A team. That is a red flag to me.

    I think the fact that he is European is less of a concern. But, I do believe it adds a bit of risk, as well.

    And while fans tend to hate “retread” hires, if you look around the league, most of the recent cup winners had coaches that were with their second+ NHL team.


    • Chris Ostrander April 26, 2019 / 11:59 am

      Don’t disagree with any of that. It’s a delicate balance for sure.


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