Sabres Searching Overseas for New Bench Boss

Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams is in no rush to make a decision on who will coach his team come the fall. But, as the National Hockey League playoffs burn on in full flame, the GM’s attention has turned away from North America to Europe.

Switzerland, to be specific. That’s where Swedish-native Rikard Grönborg, head coach of the Zürcher Schlittschuh Club (ZSC) Lions, makes his home.

According to Darren Dreger, he’s the latest to be interviewed for the vacant spot left by the firing of Ralph Krueger.

Who Is Rikard Grönborg?

For those who aren’t ardent followers of the Swiss National League, you may have noticed Grönborg behind the bench of Team Sweden as both an assistant and head coach from 2010 to 2019 at various International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) events, including the World U18 and U20 tournaments, the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, and the World Championships.

Rikard Grönborg Team Sweden ZSC Lions
Rikard Grönborg, former head coach for the Sweden men’s national ice hockey team and the ZSC Lions (Frankie Fouganthin / CC BY-SA –

For others still, the name may not ring a bell unless maybe, like me, you have been following the NHL’s revolving door of coaches in the last several seasons (currently, six coaching positions open across the entire league). If so, you will note that he was once considered for the job with the New Jersey Devils last Spring. You know… the one that’s currently occupied by former Sabres line change chief Lindy Ruff.

As a side note, the ties between the Devils and Sabres when firing their respective coaches are pretty interesting. The Devils hiring Ruff in July 2020 is only the beginning. In 2019, following a 7-1 loss to the Sabres, John Hynes was fired by New Jersey to open up the position for the longtime Sabre (and former Sabres player). Fast forward to this year, and following a 3-2 loss to the Devils, it was the Sabres’ turn to fire their coach. Adding to the strange connection is that both teams have also been interested in Grönborg in the past.

But back to Grönborg… bringing him over for a potential NHL debut would have to be discussed with the ZSC Lions, although the club did allow a special clause in his contract for just this occasion. Last July, the 52-year-old agreed to a two-year contract extension with the club, taking him through to 2023. However, according to Swiss Hockey News, the deal offers him an “NHL out” for the 2022-23 season that is good until December of this year. Savvy move, since as I’ve noted, he has drawn interest from NHL clubs before, including the Sabres.

Not the First Time Sabres Considered Grönborg

Grönborg was actually under consideration when the Sabres were trying to replace Phil Housley. His last high-level hockey experience in North America came during the 2004-05 season as an assistant with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs, but he is plenty familiar with the game in this part of the world.

He coached as an assistant for St. Cloud State University at the NCAA Division I level during the 1994-95 season, the same team he was a part of as a player from 1989 to 1992 seasons. From 1996 to 1998, he was with Division III’s University of Wisconsin-Stout. Until 2009, he was with various U.S. U18 AAA teams.

Grönborg holds U.S. and Swedish citizenship. During an interview with Fansided’s Eddy Jones and the rest of the Forever Mighty team, he had this to say about why he — and some other European coaches — would fit behind the bench of an NHL team:

“…I consider myself more of a hybrid to be perfectly honest with you. I’ve coached against some great coaches in North America and I’ve coached against some great coaches in Europe. There are greats minds of hockey in both places. I think it’s just a matter of making a decision or going outside the box a bit for the decision-makers and maybe having an interest in European coaches.

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The game is so small right now when it comes to knowing what each other is doing. It’s so universal, the similar things that you bring up, and I think we are all stealing from each other and the same thing with North Americans. I think it’s just a matter of time, I think it’s just a matter of the people who are making those decisions.”

He added, “there are not many jobs, first of all, I mean there are only 31 teams. I think it’s a two-way street of European coaches making more available and the decision-makers in North America to have more interest in European coaches.”

Here’s the rest of the interview for your viewing pleasure:

YouTube player

Grönborg Among Others Being Considered

Also, being considered for the job is, well… anyone who is available, it seems. For sure, former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet (who earned his 100th career NHL win against the Sabres on Feb. 29, 2020) and former Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau are in the mix. Adams wants to talk to many coaches, including some in the NCAA, so, like you, I’m sitting waiting, wishing until a decision is made.

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