Finally, it happened: Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams fired head coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday less than 24 hours after the team lost its 12th straight game. Why it took so long is anyone’s guess, but considering the team has looked downright dreadful and is poised to miss the postseason for a 10th straight year, it was definitely not unexpected.
Krueger, who was in just his second season with the club, posted a disappointing 36-49-12 record in 97 games. He was the fifth coach let go since 16-year mainstay Lindy Ruff was fired on Feb. 20, 2013. Five coaches: Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley and Krueger. Five coaches in eight years and a month.
Stepping behind the bench for now for the East Division’s basement dweller is Don Granato, who was an assistant coach under Krueger. The brother of Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato and Cammi Granato, the Hockey Hall of Famer and arguably one of the greatest women to lace up skates, Don also served as an assistant to Joel Quenneville with the Blackhawks. Named interim head coach, there’s no guarantee — or expectation — he’ll get the job come May.
“I’m not going to put any guardrails right now,” Adams said on Wednesday during a call with reporters. “The search will be effective immediately. I have in my head and I’ve thought a lot about the characteristics and attributes that I think will be important for this team and organization. A lot of people I will speak to. A lot of people will be involved in the decision. I don’t want to rush into anything or make a quick decision.
“This is about getting it right. Great to say I’m looking for this or that, but this is about getting the right person and it’s critical.”
Granato isn’t expected to be a miracle worker for the next two months; this is a team that, like mentioned previously, lost 12 straight where they were outscored 50-25 and shutout four times. They’re also missing captain Jack Eichel due to injury and other top forwards, like Jeff Skinner and Taylor Hall, have been missing even when on the ice.
So what’s next for the Sabres? Aside from the idea that this team’s roster needs to be torn down and built back up, an experienced head coach is most likely a must in Western New York.
Here are a few ex-bench bosses — and a few current ones — who could get a call from a 716 number sometime soon.
Sabres coaching candidates
Babcock back in the NHL would be interesting and could be the one to change things around in Buffalo as he did in Toronto. However, Adams talked about wanting to change the culture and, while it’s definite he would do that, can anyone trust him to do it the right way after how his Leafs tenure ended?
He’s won awards, has coached superstars like Alex Ovechkin and has only missed the playoffs in two full seasons as a head coach. He’s expressed his desire to get back in the game after being let go by Minnesota last season.
In a shocking move, Gallant was let go in January 2020 by the Golden Knights. He’s got ample experience coaching a rag-tag group — he led Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence — and may just have the gumption to get this ship righted.
After getting the ax in Montreal, Julien could be the experienced guy the Sabres need to turn the corner. And he knows the team having coached against Buffalo for years during his stints in Boston and north of the border.
Yes, Quinn is currently employed by the Rangers, and has two more years on his deal, but there have been some calls to see the curtain come down on his Broadway tenure. So why would the Sabres retread Quinn? He coached Eichel during his one year at Boston University, where he won the Hobey Baker as college hockey’s best player.
“He’s a friend to me, a mentor and he’s been pretty close to me even through my first few years in the NHL,” Eichel told reporters back in 2018 prior to the two squaring off in Quinn’s second game as the Rangers bench boss. “He was so good to me at BU and we have such a good relationship but I think we’re all competitors, right? When you get out there, all you’re doing is trying to help your team win.”
He added: “He cares about you a lot as a hockey player but I think he cares more about you as a person, and as players you appreciate that,” Eichel said. “I think that’s sort of what we took from him. He was really good at that.”
Keeping Eichel happy is priority No. 1 and this could be a good match.
Rod Brind’Amour, Rick Tocchet and Travis Green
Unlike Quinn, who is technically under contract, these three guys are all set to become free agents when the final horn sounds on their respective teams’ seasons.
Brind’Amour reportedly isn’t looking to leave Carolina but, as The News and Observer’s Luke DeCock reported, it may come down to money. And that could be the issue with Green in Vancouver, too. The one thing to keep an eye on with Brind’Amour is that he and Adams won a Cup together with the Hurricanes in 2006.
As for Tocchet, he may just want out of the desert if given the opportunity.
And we’ll throw in one inexperienced NHL guy but a guy who knows how to succeed on the big stage. Leaman, who won an NCAA title in 2015 in Providence, is coming off a gold-medal performance in Edmonton at the 2021 World Junior Championship. The U.S. head coach took his squad into a tough battle with the Canadians — in a game many did not see the Americans winning as Canada plowed through the competition — and not only snagged gold but shut out the hometown team in the process.