The Sabres rebuild perdures as they search for a new head coach. Not just a new head coach, but the right head coach as the utmost priority.

It would be impregnable to hire a recycled NHL coach that knows how to come in and totally put his mark on the team immediately. One of those experienced professional coaches that firmly implements a very disciplined style of play where basic fundamentals are non-negotiable and the remainder of the game plan is based on adapting to the players that the team has in place.  Forcing the team to play like Carolina where the defenseman moves the puck like all-stars only works if you have a handful of defenders that are puck movers. Moving the puck at the NHL level is also imperative as what players did in college or the AHL is meaningless if it doesn’t translate to the big leagues.

After the Housley experiment, I would not recommend trying to find the next young hot coach who may be around for a decade or that one day may be innovative or game-changing. For my own job security as a GM, going for the big genius splash would be put on the backburner. Experimentation time is over. Winning is the priority.

When, and only when, the Sabres are in a position where coaches are let go due to first-round playoff exits or underachieving in the conference finals, then you go for the unheard-of Ted Nolan who won the Jack Adams trophy. Although, after said success, even he didn’t return after the following season.

It doesn’t matter if these re-tread coaches message got old or they were fired from their previous post. If they have had winning seasons and some playoff success, sign him up.

Coaches are hired knowing they will eventually be fired. Unless, of course, they retire or find a more attractive job. Lindy Ruff, who found ways to win with two generations of Sabres teams, utilized different styles based on what he had to work with and the changing climate of the NHL. He was eventually fired by Darcy Rieger. This could have easily happened multiple times in previous years but Ruff bounced back because he was given the opportunity.

Buffalo also fired Scotty Bowman and John Muckler. Both of whom had amazing resumes in addition to winning seasons in Buffalo. Marv Levy and Don Shula both will claim it was their decision to step down, but it was known they both were forced out after losing seasons.

Most hockey coaches tenures do not last into the double digits as far as quantity of years. Especially in Buffalo considering the multiple ownership changes, two world-class goaltenders and multiple re-tools occurring during the same time. Even coaches who won Cups for other teams during Ruff’s time coaching in the Queen City were fired as soon as they had back-to-back unsuccessful seasons.  Some coaches get replaced making playoff runs if they get stuck at a given round because they are viewed as underachieving with the talent they have been supplied with. When your team is a playoff team most years, the coaches expectations become higher. Fans do not have patience in certain cities.

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I always wondered about Marty Schottenheimer. He was not brought back after excellent regular seasons because the stacked teams were no-shows in the playoffs. I get it. I really do. The Sabres are not there. Not even close.

They need a coach who can come in and drive the team to the playoffs and if it ends there, so be it. I was just reminded how Wade Phillips coached the Bills to two playoff seasons and was terminated when he went 8-8.

Replace that recycled coach for underachieving if need be. But only after you get this core to the playoffs while they still are young. Eight teams per conference make the playoffs.  Teams go from last to the playoffs in an offseason routinely and sometimes back to missing the playoffs. (Oilers and Avs come to mind.)

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Going from ‘totally geek’ to ‘totally chic’ happens all the time and is not some miracle on ice story when it occurs. They also can go from ‘totally chic’ to ‘totally geek’ just as fast with an injury or bad start.

The expansion Sabres did not make the playoffs until year three of existence where they lost to the Montreal in the quarterfinals. So, they did not pull a Vegas Kramer-style entrance in the league, but rules were much different as now the expansion drafts and policies are very much put in place to let the team become competitive right away. How else do you sell the team and product losing for many years in new potentially non-hockey markets? Win baby!

The Atlanta Thrashers never really put a product on the ice to potentially grab the hearts of the fans and eventually found themselves in Winnipeg. Atlanta had the Flames years ago and lack of success/interest landed them in Alberta where they still are the Flames of Calgary.

I still find it perplexing that the Sabres can not build a playoff contending team despite the assets they have had over the last decade. They had some talent and high draft picks but here we are. The Sabres built a playoff team from scratch by year three of existence and headed to the Finals in year five. They ultimately lost to the Flyers and the hot goaltending of Hart trophy winner Bernie Parent.

Playoffs really had been a regular event for the Sabres as they would miss out rarely and bounce back after one year. Even the team after Hasek left only missed the playoffs three seasons and came flying right out of the lockout and should have won the Stanley Cup in back to back years in my opinion.

I recall the best of three series against Pittsburgh in the late ’70s where Dennis Herron was a stone wall and the Sabres could not put the puck past him. They lost that series 2-1. Everyone was so disappointed as expectations were focused on the prize.

An all-time classic best of five series in 1983 saw Bob Sauve backstopping Buffalo with back-to-back shutouts on the way to sweeping the Habs 3-0. They then came up short in the next series against the Bruins. Fans wanted change.

The Sabres have never won a Stanley Cup. They did spend most of the team’s existence with the expectations of making the playoffs. They even considered the “May Day” overtime win against the Bruins a reason to celebrate as they spent many seasons going out in round one. Which, at one point, was considered a playoff winning drought in Western New York.

It is quite disappointing to view the team’s history realizing the pure reality of how bad of a stretch they are currently in. For years, coaches and players were held to standards of playoffs being the absolute minimum acceptance. Even then, exiting in round one resulted in looking closely at GM’s, coaches and players. All the fans want now is to get to the playoffs and have a chance.

I am not certain how the management can put a team on the ice for so many consecutive losing seasons. I remember when they were intentionally tanking for the Eichel draft, Murray had to trade away so many players and then replace multiple goalies when they started playing well.  It was a challenge to intentionally finish in last place and at times it looked like a goalie would get a hot hand and ruin the tank. One would think, by accident, they would sneak in the playoffs one of these years.

However, despite all the trades and draft selections and attempts at fielding a competitive team, winning was just not going to happen.

Things that make you go hmm…..

Things We Know About the Buffalo Sabres This week:

  • Rikard Grönborg was hired as head coach with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland and was never interviewed for the Buffalo job as many speculated.
  • John Vogl reported that Jason Botterill has a “strong preference” to hire someone with NHL experience. Agreed.
  • Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been named the winner of the Ontario Hockey League’s Red Tilson Trophy, presented each year to the league’s Most Outstanding Player. He is the first European import player to win this very prestigious reward. Not too shabby. Keep going, kid.

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