Who Is The Right Coach For The Sabres?

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports )
What will the future entail for Buffalo Sabres interm head coach Ron Rolston? (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports )

Earlier this week, Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier was asked if he had made a decision on the future of interim coach Ron Rolston.  As reported in the Buffalo News’ Sabres Edge blog, Regier had this to say, in Rochester on the Americans locker clean-out day. “No decisions yet. Fairly soon in the case of the head coach in Buffalo, and then Rochester will follow. Those are conversations we’re going to have.”

That begs the question of should Regier and the Sabres bring back Rolston or should they go in another direction?

Ron Rolston

Let’s begin with a look at Rolston’s body of work. Rolston took over for Lindy Ruff after 17 games and went 15-11-5. The Sabres had a record of 6-10-1 under Ruff.  When you compare the records of the two coaches, the numbers in the winning percentage stand out. Under Ruff the Sabres had a winning percentage of .353, but under Rolston, the team was .484.

In addition, Rolston had a record of 27-18-2-1 with the Rochester Americans and had them in second place in the North Division, sixth in the Western Conference, of the American Hockey League when he was called up to the Sabres.

The difficulty is determining what effect Rolston had on the Sabres. Was he the reason for the slightly higher winning percentage? The fact is even if he was, and the Sabres maintained that .484 throughout the season, it would still not have been good enough to capture a playoff spot.

With that being said and no disrespect to Rolston, who was not working with very much in Buffalo, the Sabres should go in a different direction to bring a fresh look and approach to the team.

The Options

Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin
Michel Therrien, left, seen here with Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, is an example of how a recycled coach can turn a team around. (Eric Bolte-US PRESSWIRE)

Buffalo doesn’t need to look far to see other teams that have had the same sort of misfortunes and rebounded. Right in their own division a pair of teams have gone through what the Sabres are facing, the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. If the Sabres do go the route of a new head coach there are three different options, which seem to be the trend in the league theses days.

We can begin with ruling out the first, the up and coming AHL/major junior coach, simply because that was what Rolston was when he got the call midway through the season. Not to mention this approach, which gained popularity a few years ago, has seen both its share of successes, such as Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma, but also its share of flubs, Cory Clouston and more recently Guy Boucher come to mind. Both of these coaches did have success in their first year as a head coach, yet struggled afterwards and lost their position.

The next option is the assistant coach from another organization. Once again the Sabres don’t need to look far for an example of this strategy working as their division-rivals from Ottawa have seen their head coach, Paul MacLean, earn a great deal of recognition for his work in the past two seasons with the team. The Sabres could look to other organizations that have long-tenured assistant coaches as a possibility to fill their own position. The strength that these coaches have is that they have studied under some of the league’s best and are ready for their chance to take the helm of a team.

The third option is one that has been heavily criticized: the recycled coach. While many think that if a coach doesn’t have a gig, it means his best days are behind him, that is simply not the case. You only have to look at the likes of Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles, who won a Stanley Cup ring last season, Ken Hitchcock, who has turned around the St. Louis Blues organization or, again within the North East Division, Michel Therrien who took the Canadiens from 15th in the conference to a division title and second seed.

The fact is with experienced coaches, many of them take a step back after being let go from a team and redefine themselves as a coach. They learn from their previous mistakes. All three of the above names have completely redefined their game and that is why they have rediscovered success with new organizations. Again, this could be a good option for Buffalo, as it would bring in a new face that could take control of their locker room.

Names out there

So if we take a look at the names that could potentially be available here is who comes up in the categories. If the Sabres want to go the AHL route they will most likely stick with Rolston. It would not make much sense to bring in a guy in a similar situation without giving their own in-house coach a chance to run the team for a full season.

Tony Granato
Tony Granato, left, as an assistant to Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh. (Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIRE)

As for a recycled coach, the name that everyone keeps rumoring as someone who wants to get back in the game is Marc Crawford. Crawford had success winning a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and could be a fit. However, the Sabres may need to deal with the Aves themselves who are also looking for a coach.

As for current assistants, an article by the Bleacher Report last summer, outlined eight assistants who could become full time head coaches. The first name on the list that jumped out was Tony Granato. Granato has been an assistant in Pittsburgh since 2009. Before that he was head coach of the Avalanche and had a playing career that spanned 13 seasons. With experience creating plays for the offensively-gifted Penguins, Granato could be the shot in the arm the Sabres offense and power play needs.

The next name that stood out was Craig Berube. Berube is currently an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers and has been since 2008. He has also coached their AHL team, the Phantoms, and was a finalist for the Washington Capitals job. He also played 18 years in the league and could be the right mix of experience at all levels the Sabres need.

The final name that popped up was Doug Houda. Much like the other two names, he to had an extensive playing career that spanned 17 years. He is currently an assistant to Claude Julien in Boston, but has connections to the Sabres organization as a former captain and assistant coach with the Americans. Because of that connection it would be plausible that he could return to coach the Sabres. Not only that, but you could bet the Sabres would love to get an edge on the Bruins.

While none of these names may turn out to be behind the Sabres bench next season, the organization at least needs to entertain them. They have a fan base crying for change and this might be the area that they can make a change to improve the franchise and appease the fan base.