Buffalo’s Coaching Search Has Begun


Tim Murray’s been a busy man. Photo from bleacherreport.com

It’s been an interesting month since the NHL regular season came to an end. The tension building to the draft lottery has dissipated and has begun to simmer into excitement. While Edmonton landed the first pick, Buffalo has seemingly set its sights on Boston University standout Jack Eichel. Eichel is currently entrenched with Team USA’s senior team, and the world is watching the young center as he matches his talents against NHL stars such as Evgeni Malkin. Edmonton’s attention seems to be set toward solidifying its front office. The team has brought in former cup-builder Peter Chiarelli to head their management team, and has begun to search for a head coach to nurture the abundance of talented youth that peppers the Oilers’ team.

While Buffalo is gleefully watching their potential prospect carve up the European ice, there is a notable hole that fans

Babcock seems to be the frontrunner for the Sabres' coaching spot.  Photo from NHL.com

Babcock seems to be the frontrunner for the Sabres’ coaching spot. Photo from NHL.com

are waiting to be filled. It didn’t take long for Sabres’ GM Tim Murray to relieve coach Ted Nolan of his duties, and since that time, several names have echoed in the halls of the First Niagara Center. During the season, there was a lot of talk that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock may be looking across the great lakes to the shores of Erie, where it was expected that Connor McDavid would land. The best laid plans rarely bear fruit, and in this instance, McDavid was banished to Edmonton, which left Buffalo to wonder if Babcock still had his sights set on the Queen City. The season gave fans little to do but speculate on which other coaches may want a crack at Buffalo Bench Boss – coaches who were perched on the hot seat, such as San Jose’s Todd McLellan and St. Louis’s Ken Hitchcock, as well as coaches roaming the league without a team, headless horsemen like Dan Bylsma or John Tortorella.

With the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs nearly over, coach talk is heating up considerably. McLellan seems to be enamored with the Oilers’ situation and has been seen rubbing elbows with Edmonton’s elite while coaching Team Canada at the World Championships. Reports are that Chiarelli has McLellan on his short list, and it seems like these two parties will likely pair off in the very near future. Bylsma’s name has been attached to former Penguins GM Ray Shero, who was recently hired to run the New Jersey Devils.

Luke Richardson seems like a longshot, but Murray is unpredictable.  Photo from NHL.com

Luke Richardson seems like a longshot, but Murray is unpredictable. Photo from NHL.com

As the rumor mill churns, the list seems to whittle itself down. Nothing is a sure thing until pen hits paper, but it seems that Babcock may find himself in Buffalo before spring’s end. On May 10th, Babcock paid Buffalo a visit, meeting with owner Terry Pegula. Both Babcock and the Sabres have been mum about the meeting thus far, but it is certainly good news for a city that is waiting with bated breath. If Buffalo were to snag Babcock from his current position in Detroit, there would be a compensatory draft pick heading to the Red Wings, and Tim Murray has been amassing draft picks like Pokemon – perhaps in preparation for such a move. Pegula has the money and Murray has the resources. Babcock has a Cup and an impressive set of seasons with a Detroit team who has seen its fair share of youthful talent. It would appear that Buffalo and Babcock are meant to be.

Waiting silently and patiently in the wings is AHL coach Luke Richardson. Richardson has been associated with Murray since Tim took over the Buffalo GM job, as the two worked closely together in the Ottawa Senators organization. Richardson certainly has a history of developing young players; however, his record as head coach of the Binghamton Senators is less than stellar.  In three seasons, Richardson has barely kept the team above .500 with a .535 winning percentage, and the Sens failed to make the playoffs this season. The NHL certainly is a “good ol’ boys” fraternity, but Murray’s reputation is on the line here, and I would expect him to go with a proven NHL winner over an unproven AHL coach. The one X-Factor that could work in Richardson’s favor is manageability. Murray doesn’t seem to like to be challenged; he’s got his plan and he expects everyone to fall in line. Richardson may be more “suggestable,” as it were, and therefore preferable to Murray. Still, it’s a stretch to think that Murray would take such a gamble when a Cup coach is available, and while Buffalo has trusted Murray and Pegula to this point, there may be some tremors of uneasiness if this were to not go the way fans expect.

Blue & Gold make Green...Goblin.

Blue & Gold make Green…Goblin.

The NHL draft is still a month away, but Buffalo is already chomping at the bit to get this revamped juggernaut onto the ice. The team has noticeable gaps that Murray is equipped to fill – his draft pick stockpile makes for easy trade bait, and free agents may be more eager than ever to hear what Buffalo has to offer. Capping off this magnificent offseason with the hire of one of the most successful coaches of the last five years would only serve to increase the anticipation, which is already at a near fevered-pitch. If Buffalo can’t hire Babcock, perhaps they can hire Willem Dafoe. The infamous method actor is a dead ringer for Babcock and would probably study the coach so intensely that he could pull off the job pretty handily – and even if not, it would be fun to see him hurling pumpkin bombs at the Toronto bench while seemingly looking into the mirror like some bad Sam Raimi nightmare.

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