Sunday, April 14, 2019

What kind of head coach is GM Jason Botterill looking for?

Published by, 4-12-2019

When all was said and done at the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, the Buffalo Sabres ended up dropping two spots and will pick seventh-overall. Although they'll get themselves a very good player at that spot, it may take a year or two for said player to hit the ice at KeyBank Center. Whomever they pick will be heading into a good situation talent-wise in Buffalo with two second-overall picks in Jack Eichel (2015) and Sam Reinhart (2014) plus 2017 eighth-overall pick Casey Mittelstadt up front as well as defenseman Rasmus Dahlin who was selected first-overall in 2018. In addition Buffalo looks poised to add talent player-by-player with prospect pool and development system that has younings in the hopper on track to be in Buffalo beginning next season.

But the big question right now is, who will be coaching the team?

The Sabres will have a new head coach for the third time since their scorched-earth rebuild netted Eichel in 2015. They hired Stanley Cup-winning head coach Dan Bylsma in 2015, but he flamed out for a number of reasons which included reports of him being "aloof" causing a severe disconnect between him and the players. Bylsma spent two seasons in Buffalo and finished with a record of 68-73-23 (.485 win percentage.) The Sabres went with rookie head coach Phil Housley after that and he couldn't handle the situation. After two seasons, a 58-84-22 (.421) record and some dubious negative marks that bordered on historical, Housley was fired.

Buffalo's coaching search is on and initially general manager Jason Botterill kept his coaching ideals close to the vest. However, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, in his 31 Thoughts piece this week, was able to pry some information from Botterill as to what he's looking for in his next head coach. "We're open to anything," Botterill told Friedman before laying down some ideals which included "someone who has command of the room...that presence in the room."

That night, on queue, Columbus head coach John Tortorella embodied what Botterill was talking about as his wild card Blue Jackets was about to face the best team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tortorella offered up an f-bomb-laced pregame speech where he implored his troops to "forget about skills," the likes of which oozed from the Lightning squad, and to "forget about X's and O's."

"It's a f%*^#n mindset of f%*#in believing," he preached. "It's amazing what can f%*^#n happen."

Although his team got steamrolled in the first period and faced a 3-0 deficit at intermission, they got the message and pulled off a stunning come-from-behind 4-3 upset-win on the road to take Game-1 of the series.

Where the rest of the series goes is anyone's guess, but it serves as a reminder that there are coaches out there wo can inspire and motivate and "command the room." (Lest anyone think that this is a call for Buffalo to bring back Ted Nolan for a third time be at ease. It's highly doubtful he's even a consideration at this point.)

The Sabres are in a tough situation in that they're core is very young, but they've played a lot of games and they also have a group of hardened vets and young vets surrounding them. It's supposed to be a good scenario where the vets teach the younins what it takes to win in the NHL. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out that way and the kids are turning into vets and young vets themselves. WGR550 Sabres beat writer Paul Hamilton said recently that because of the youth they have and will be adding, he believed the next coach should be a strong developer of young talent. Yet, there's also the need for that "presence" to the point where the new head coach needs to manage egos and get them to play their roles to the best of their abilities consistently.

"We have skill," Botterill told Friedman. "We need to continue to develop that within our organization. We're looking at someone who has that communicative ability, has that accountability, has that presence."

Where that will come from is still unknown at this time. The Sabres were said to be meeting with Todd McLellan, who last coached in Edmonton and prior to that was with the San Jose Sharks. McLellan has coached over 800 NHL regular season games with the likes of Connor McDavid  Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns skating for him. He has an record of 434-282-90 and made the playoffs seven of 10 seasons before the Oilers fired him in November.

Other veteran coaches who might be of interest are Alain Vigneault, who has coached in over 1,200 NHL regular season games (648-435-133,) made the playoffs in 11 of 15 seasons and appeared in two Stanley Cup finals with two different teams (Vancouver, 2011 and the Rangers, 2014.)

Who else might have that "presence" Botterill was talking about?

Swedish head coach Rickard Grönborg has had a ton of success with their national team and seems to have that presence but would be a rookie head coach in the NHL. Other names like Marc Crawford and Jacques Martin have been brought up in social media and there are other names being bandied around containing up-and-comers in the college ranks, NHL assistants and AHL head coaches ready to make the jump.

However, can Botterill and the Sabres really take a chance on a rookie NHL coach?

Probably not. He needs to get this team winning. Friedman wrote that he believes the Sabres have a list of about three head coaches they're seriously considering. We know that McLellan has been in Buffalo to watch his son play in the Frozen Four and was said to have been interviewed by the Sabres. Should he go to Los Angeles, which was rumored to be his destination, one would thing that Vigneault's name will emerge at some point.

After that it's anyone's guess but at least we have an idea as to where Botterill wants his coaching search to go and if he's intent upon finding that coach who can "command the room," this team will be better of for it.

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