Ranking the Best Candidates for the Buffalo Sabres' Head Coaching Job

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IApril 14, 2015

Ranking the Best Candidates for the Buffalo Sabres' Head Coaching Job

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    The Buffalo Sabres had a vision for the 2014-15 season, and they achieved it by finishing dead last in the NHL. They are guaranteed to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, and either player will help transform the franchise.

    The vision for 2015-16 is going to be different than 2014-15, because 2015-16 will not include Ted Nolan. It is a decision that isn't fair, but one that had to be expected. The next head coach of the Sabres isn't going to be a spring chicken, and you can expect it to be someone who has a high profile.

    While there are former NHL coaches like Guy Boucher, Claude Noel and Paul MacLean currently without an NHL job, they may not have the full complement of skills the Sabres seek.

    Owner Terry Pegula has pockets as deep as the Mariana Trench, and it is fair to say that he will wait until the big-name coaches are fired before making a decision on coaching candidates. The Sabres are bound to make a splash, and here's a look at the best possible candidates, including those who could become available.

5. Todd McLellan

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Work History: Todd McLellan is the current head coach of the San Jose Sharks, and there's a chance he could be fired because his team missed the playoffs. McLellan has a career record of 311-163-66, and prior to this season the Sharks had made the playoffs every year under his command.

    Prior to joining the Sharks, he was an assistant with Mike Babcock, and he hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Red Wings.

    Is he a good fit? McLellan is a solid coach, but would be better suited for the Sabres if they were farther along as a franchise. He's had the fortune of leaning on talented veterans, and that is something the Sabres currently lack. He learned from one of the best in Babcock, but he isn't a coach who could step right in and start making meaningful changes.

4. Luke Richardson

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    Work History: Richardson is a former NHL defenseman who logged over 1,400 games, and he's currently the head coach of the Binghamton Senators. He was placed in that position back in 2012 when current Sabres general manager Tim Murray was the assistant general manager of the Ottawa Senators.

    Is he a good fit? Richardson is a good fit because he has NHL experience as a player and assistant coach, and coaching in the AHL suits him for the Sabres' current makeup. The 2015-16 Sabres are going to have a number of young players such as Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart and others.

    Having a coach accustomed to dealing with young players will help, because the next step in rebuilding is to slowly bring along players in becoming professionals, then focus on winning a championship.

    His name has been linked to the Sabres for some time, but ultimately I feel Pegula will want a bigger name.

3. Mike Babcock

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Job History: Babcock is the current head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, and he won the Stanley Cup in 2008. During his tenure with the Wings, Babcock has led the team to five division titles, including four in a row from 2005 to 2009.

    He previously coached the Anaheim Ducks, where he went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003, losing to the New Jersey Devils. He has also coached in the minors, and was the head coach of Team Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic games.

    Is he a good fit? Babcock is an accomplished tactician who would likely welcome the challenge of building a team from the ground up. He is relatively young, and would be paid handsomely to lead the Sabres towards relevancy.

    TSN's Bob McKenzie set off a frenzy when he fired off a series of tweets, but the contents suggest that landing the Red Wings' current bench boss may be a long shot.

    I can't say Mike Babcock will end up as coach in BUF but I will be shocked if Sabres don't take a hard run at wooing Babcock away from DET. (1/3)

    BUF GM Tim Murray has history with Babcock dating back to days in ANA. Sabre owner Terry Pegula has lot of $ and not likely to be outbid. (2/3)

    That said, it's still too soon to say Babcock will even hit the open market. In meantime, lots of coaching activity coming in NHL. Buckle up (3/3)

    The only issue I see with the logic of Babcock coming to Buffalo is that Tim Murray is the general manager, and Babcock may want to go somewhere that he has complete autonomy. They do have a familiarity from their time in Anaheim, but would Babcock take a new job that could potentially handcuff his ability to do what he wants?

    That means he would want to follow in the Glen Sather model, a system where one person has complete control and the full support of ownership in matters that don't involve trading Wayne Gretzky.

    He certainly would add something special to the organization, but it could involve the reduction of Murray's role to that of Milton's in Office Space.

    Could Babcock end up in Buffalo? Yes, but he may opt to go to a high-profile market in Toronto as opposed to Buffalo if the money is close, if not equal.

2. Dan Bylsma

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    Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Work History: Bylsma is famous for winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins after a midseason promotion from the AHL. In a way, his promotion and subsequent hiring could be viewed as a move that started a league-wide trend. In addition to a Cup, Bylsma won a Jack Adams Trophy in 2011 and two division titles while at the helm in Pittsburgh.

    Is he a good fit? Bylsma would meet a number of the criteria important for the Sabres, and he should therefore be viewed as a serious candidate. He is a big name, has a track record of success and got his start coaching young players.

    The Sabres are in the need of an identity other than being the team that tanked their way to Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel, and Bylsma can help with that. Upon his hiring, Bylsma could craft a way to help the Sabres win games, and Pegula can provide the funds to get him the supporting cast he needs.

    Taking on a challenge like this could be exciting for Bylsma, and he could do some great things in Buffalo.

1. Claude Julien

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Work History: Julien is one of the most experienced coaches in the NHL, and he's been with Boston since 2006. Prior to that, Julien coached in Montreal and New Jersey. He's also coached at the AHL level and was a Memorial Cup champion with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL in 1997.

    Is he a good fit? Julien's bevy of experience in coaching different types of players would make him a great fit for Buffalo. As a member of the Bruins' and Canadiens' coaching staff, Julien is very familiar with the Sabres and many of their players.

    He has championship experience, and his demeanor would suit a very young roster that needs a confident, calm and reassuring voice. There is no guarantee he will be available for the job, but CEO Charlie Jacobs' comments in January make it sound like missing the playoffs will cost Julien his job.

    Julien would provide the right balance for what the Sabres are looking to accomplish with their next head coach, and they may wait as long as they possibly can if there's an inkling that Julien will be fired.

    Lyle Richardson of Bleacher Report and The Hockey News reported on the fact that there are big changes coming to Boston, so it wouldn't be surprising if he soon became available.

    Coaching records via Hockey-Reference.com

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