With the recent dismissal of Ted Nolan and just about his entire staff last Sunday I started thinking about who Tim Murray might hire to be the next head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. The biggest name and one that has been rumored about for some time now is current Detroit coach Mike Babcock. His contract runs out once the Red
Wings are eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs and that could be as early as next week. He and Murray have history, going back to their days in Anaheim.
However, Murray has ties too many coaches that could be available for hire. His relationship with current Binghamton Senators coach Luke Richardson runs deep and there was speculation he was to have been Sabres head coach prior to the 2014-15 season.
Richardson is viewed as an up and coming coach who has built a reputation of working well with young prospects. He was an
assistant in Ottawa for three seasons and he’s been head coach in Binghamton for three as well. He helped guide Binghamton into the playoffs his first two years but they were bounced in the first round in both occasions. This year they will not play in the post season. Richardson has a 22 year pro career, playing on 8 different NHL clubs. He was a hard-nosed defenseman, never an all-star but reliable, serviceable and one tough son of a gun who amassed over 2000 penalty minutes.
There is another guy out there that is all too familiar with Buffalo fans. Former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley has been carving out a name for himself across hockey circles over the past few years. He was the head coach for Team USA’s U18 National Junior team that won Gold two years ago in Ufa, Russia. He worked with rising NHL stars such as Seth Jones, Johnny Gaudreau and Jon Gibson to name a few. Current Sabres prospect Jake McCabe was also a member of that team. He’s spent the
past two (2) seasons in Nashville, first working under Barry Trotz and most recently Peter Laviolette. Jones was a Predators 1st round draft choice in 2013, and is beginning to flourish under Housley’s tutelage. I’m not going to hold my breath on this one but if Terry Pegula has anything to say about it, “Wowey Housley” will at least be considered. We all know how the Sabres owner loves former players. My guess is Housley will have plenty of offers once the summer comes and he’ll have his pick of the litter. One thing for sure, he’s ready for an NHL head coaching gig.
Todd Richards could be on his way out in Columbus. He has plenty of experience as a head coach in both the NHL and AHL. He’s been with the Blue Jackets for five seasons, the first as an assistant. Columbus made a miraculous run to the post season last year but have missed in three others where Richards led the charge.
Remember John Tortorella? He had a disastrous tenure in Vancouver, and things ended almost as unceremoniously in New York where he was the head coach of the Rangers for five long seasons. Prior to landing the Rangers gig, he won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning where he served as their head coach. He has a Calder Trophy to go alongside his NHL hardware when he won the AHL championship with the Rochester Americans. He has ties to Buffalo, having worked as an assistant coach for six seasons (1989-95) before taking the Amerks head coaching job. He is known as a tough coach but he has the results to back up his style. He’s hungry to get back into the game and he’ll have his chance to speak with Murray at some point about the opening. Torts might be too rough around the edges for a guy like Murray to handle, but he’d fit in well with the fan base.
Todd McLellan could be another casualty after his San Jose Sharks failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. The first time they’ve missed in his seven seasons out in California. It could be time for San Jose to blow up that entire roster as it’s been a whirlwind year on and off the ice. Should he be available he’s someone that will be considered.
Kevin Dineen, currently with the Chicago Blackhawks as an assistant could be another hot commodity once the season is over. Dineen, a 21 year NHL veteran as a player began his coaching career with the Portland Pirates (then the AHL affiliate of the Sabres). He spent six seasons in Maine before accepting the Florida Panthers head coaching job. He was fired 16 games into the 2013-14 season after starting the year 3-9. He guided the Canadian Women’s Olympic team in 2014 in Sochi, helping them win a Gold Medal.
Former Ottawa Senators coach Paul Maclean has to get a sniff at this job. He also has a close relationship with Murray. He was fired during this past season. He won the Jack Adams award in 2013 as the league’s best coach. He was a finalist in 2012.
Dan Bylsma could be a wild card. The former Pittsburgh Penguins coach is sure to return to the NHL next year. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2008-09 with the Penguins (In-Season replacement) he helped lead them to five straight post-season appearances. He is the Pens all-time winningest coach with 252 victories. He also coached Team USA at the Sochi Olympics but that team failed to Medal despite being one of the most talented groups. I’m not impressed with Bylsma. He took over a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the same group that a year earlier lost in the Finals. He was surrounded by some of the best talent in the NHL and had only one Cup appearance to show for it. They struggled in the post season after the Cup win. He does have the hardware though and that at least gets him a sniff here.
Speculation is that the job is Babcock’s if he wants it. Money will not be an option, it will come down to whether or not he’s willing to leave Detroit. His first head coaching gig was back in 2002-03 where he took the Anaheim Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup finals, ultimately losing to the New Jersey Devils. He returned to Anaheim for another year before accepting the Red Wings
job. His teams have finished with a winning percentage over .500 in eleven of his twelve seasons as head coach. He has missed the post season just once. He’s made three trips to the finals and has won once, back in 2007-08. He’s the ideal candidate from what you may hear on local radio. He’s indicated that he’d love to coach Connor McDavid, who wouldn’t? Babcock has also been the Coach of Team Canada for the past two winter Olympic games, capturing Gold both times (2010 & 2014).
My heart says Housley, my brain says Babcock, if Murray goes with Richardson then it will only confirm that the old boys network is still going strong.