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Buffalo Sabres head coach candidates: Who's taking over this mess?

Kyle Cantlon
·Editor
·5-min read

An NHL coaching gig is an NHL coaching gig, but the one that just opened up in Buffalo has to be one of the least desirable ever.

The Sabres finally pulled the plug on the Ralph Krueger Experiment on Wednesday, firing the second-year head coach after an extremely short and forgetful tenure. Krueger returned to the NHL after working as the director of Premier League football club Southampton for six seasons following his dismal one-year stint with the Edmonton Oilers.

Switching between executive and coaching jobs in two different leagues across two completely different sports unsurprisingly did not yield productive results for Krueger or the Sabres, with Buffalo snagging only 16 points through 28 games while posting a dead-last record of 6-18-4 in 2021 after a 25th place finish last season.

Mired in a grotesque 12-game losing streak, the Sabres begin their sixth (sixth!!) coaching search since 2013 with an absurdly under-experienced GM in Kevyn Adams leading the hunt.

Any candidate jumping head first into this raging grease fire will have a plethora of organizational issues to sort out, including such Sabres Greatest Hits as: a mediocre-at-best farm system and prospect pipeline, salary cap and multiple anchor contract issues, revamping a roster with exactly one (1) good player on it, trying to convince that one player to stay long term, a lack of experience to lean on in key spots throughout the organization, owners who like to have their dirty little hands all over everything, etc, etc, etc.

So, who's up next in Buffalo? The options are endless, but only a few make any kind of sense.

"Buffalo Sabres head coach Mike Babcock" has a bit of a ring to it, no? (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
"Buffalo Sabres head coach Mike Babcock" has a bit of a ring to it, no? (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mike Babcock

As far as potential chaos goes, Babs behind the Sabres bench would be a perfect, beautiful storm. This guy is a real dweeb, no doubt, but he's also got a real track record with a Stanley Cup and gold medals to his name. He was also rumored to be extremely close to signing with the Sabres before the Maple Leafs scooped him up in 2015. Could easily see the Pegulas dropping like $6 million x 6 years on this dude and it blowing up horrifically after Year 2. The entire hockey world (aside from every single Sabres fan) deserves this union. Babcock recently accepted the head coaching job at the University of Saskatchewan, but perhaps the allure of the bright lights of Buffalo would be enough to entice him to return to the NHL. 

Bruce Boudreau

Boudreau has posted a 567-302-115 record with the Capitals, Ducks and Wild and has made the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons as an NHL head coach. The 66-year-old is a former Jack Adams Award winner, has four 50-win seasons under his belt and, perhaps most importantly, is an absolute beauty. I like the fit for the Sabres here but don't necessarily like it for Bruce's heart valves.

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Gerard Gallant

Jobless since the Golden Knights shockingly axed him in early 2020, Gallant won the Jack Adams award in 2018, made two straight playoff appearances including a Stanley Cup Final trip with Vegas, and posted a 118-75-20 record with the expansion team. Gallant has a combined head coaching record of 270-216-56 throughout his time with Columbus, Florida and Vegas.

Claude Julien

Recently shown the door for the second time in his career by the Canadiens, Julien won a Cup with the Bruins while amassing a 667-445-162 record during his time in Boston. Julien started this season with a 9-5-4 record before Montreal let him go after four-and-a-half seasons at the helm.

Jacques Martin

Martin is another name that always seems to pop up during these searches, largely in part to the 68-year-old's track record as a head coach, leading his teams to the playoffs in 12 of his 17 seasons in charge. Though he's a long time removed from those successes now, he’s currently thriving as an assistant with the Rangers after spending seven seasons — and winning two Cups — with the Penguins.

John Stevens

Now in his second campaign as an assistant with the Stars after a 2020 Stanley Cup Final appearance, Stevens posted a 49-37-9 mark as the Kings' head coach from 2018-19 after winning two Cups as an assistant to Darryl Sutter. Stevens also held the head coach role in Philly for three-and-a-half seasons from 2006-2009, where he went 120-109-34.

Steve Ott

Former Sabre Steve Ott is now in his fourth season as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues, winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 2019. Ott is one of those guys with a top-notch rapport among former teammates and could very well be a perfect candidate to bridge the gap between ownership, management and the modern player during a rebuild. His lack of experience behind the bench will likely be a big issue, though.

Benoit Groulx

Groulx has been the head coach of the AHL's Syracuse Crunch for the past five seasons, and has essentially been in charge of developing and managing the Lightning’s prospects, who have mostly panned out quite well since his arrival. He has a ridiculous record of 165-95-40 as the Crunch head coach, and spent over a decade before that as one of the premier bench bosses in the QMJHL.

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