Out-of-the-box head coach ideas for the Sabres

The Sabres should look further than just the top retread coaches

Joe DiBiase
April 10, 2019 - 1:39 pm

Photo: Anders Ylander - Ombrello/Getty Images


It has been a few days since Phil Housley was fired as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, and the only name the team has been seriously connected to in their coaching search is former San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan. McLellan is being considered as one of the top head coaches available on the market this offseason. It's a market that limits itself to only former National Hockey League head coaches, NHL assistant coaches, or whoever your American Hockey League coach is.

Hockey is a global game, so why does the NHL limit itself to just three avenues for finding a head coach? Why is it that the NHL has only hired three coaches straight from college in recent memory? Why is it that there hasn't been a European NHL head coach since 2001? This isn't football, where you really can only reach into the NCAA, other teams' assistants, or former head coaches. Hockey has some reputable professional and junior leagues all over the world.

If the Sabres did want to go with an out-of-the-box candidate, they'd have plenty of options:


  • Rikard Grönborg, 50, Swedish National Team

A Swedish coach! Why not?

Grönborg becoming the Sabres head coach would be a pain in the butt for me, because I don't know how to type "ö" without copying and pasting.

In all seriousness, Grönborg has a prominent gig as the head coach of Team Sweden. Yet, he's talked openly about his desire to be the first European NHL head coach in almost 20 years.

When reading Grönborg's comments on the NHL, he talks a lot about how everyone in the league is playing very similar systems and that a NHL general manager would be taking a risk by hiring him. Culture and communication would likely take some adjusting, but it sounds like an innovative idea.

Grönborg has coached in North America before, starting out as an assistant coach with St. Cloud State, one of the top programs in college hockey. He also was an assistant coach for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs in 2005 before heading back to Sweden.


  • Roger Rönnberg, 47, Frölunda (Swedish Hockey League)

I thought I'd get both Swedish coaches out of the way to start.

Rönnberg has experience coaching a couple of Sabres players with Frölunda. He coached both Rasmus Dahlin and Victor Olofsson for a couple of years in Gothenburg.

Rönnberg rebuilt Frölunda into a top team in the SHL after taking over in 2013. The style in which he did is what makes him an attractive idea. Instead of buying expensive players, Rönnberg looked for the top young talent in Sweden and developed them. Olofsson is evidence of that. After parts four seasons in the SHL with just 33 goals total, Olofsson led the SHL in goals with 27 in the 2017-18 season.

I have no clue if Rönnberg would want to come to the United States. It wouldn't just be a risk for the Sabres, but a risk for Rönnberg. Picking up your family and leaving your home country for a team that has cycled through coaches this decade would likely take some convincing.


  • Scott Sandelin, 54, Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)

Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News joined the Howard and Jeremy Show on Wednesday morning, and mentioned Sandelin as a possible out-of-the-box candidate for the Sabres.

Sandelin has been the coach at Minnesota-Duluth since 2001, and has consistently coached that program to the NCAA tournament. They won the National Championship in 2011 and 2018, were runners up in 2017, and will play in the Frozen Four in Buffalo on Thursday.

If the Sabres want to talk to Sandelin, it would be easy with him being in Buffalo for the next few days.


  • Ralph Krueger, 59, Chairman of Southampton Football Club (English Premier League)

Krueger is currently running a soccer team, but Jason Botterill had reportedly reached out to him last year to see if he was interested in a return to hockey. Since then, Krueger has indicated he'd like to return to hockey someday, but likely in a management position.

It wouldn't hurt to make a call again, just to be sure he didn't want to return to coach.

Krueger coached the Oilers in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season to just a 19-22-7 record. His greatest accomplishments are in international hockey, most notably leading Team Europe to the World Cup of Hockey Final in 2016.


  • Kris Knoblauch, 40, assistant coach of the Philadelphia Flyers

Knoblauch is thought of as a rising star in coaching. He coached five seasons with the Erie Otters, helping bring up the likes of Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome.

Not only did Knoblauch have a hand in McDavid's development in the Ontario Hockey league, he also helped bring up Sam Reinhart. Knoblauch coached the Kootney Ice in the Western Hockey League from 2007-2012, where Reinhart played 71 games in parts of two seasons.

Knoblauch spent the last two seasons behind the Flyers bench under head coach Dave Hakstol. After Hakstol was fired this season, new Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher promoted AHL coach Scott Gordon as the interim head coach. It is possible that Knoblauch gets the job in Philadelphia, but Gordon seems to be the front-runner to hang onto the job.


There are plenty of other coach candidates that are not your typical retreads like McLellan or Alain Vigneault. I wouldn't want the Sabres to eliminate any of the above coaches, strictly because Phil Housley was a first time head coach.

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