BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since Terry Pegula was named the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres On February 22, 2011, seven people [Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley, Ralph Krueger, Don Granato] have served as head coach of the team.
A search is currently underway as 2nd year Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams searches for the perfect hire, and reports say a decision could come soon.
"I still believe that Don Granato is the strong front-running candidate," TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger said on a recent Instigators appearance. "I'm not sure what's holding it up", he added, later saying he was told it could happen early this week.
Reports have tied the Sabres to a number of candidates, including guys with all different hockey backgrounds. Rick Tocchet, a coach in the NHL since 2002, has reportedly been interviewed twice. Other names tied to interest from the team include Bruce Boudreau, Rikard Gronborg, and Greg Carvel.
But Granato seems to be the front-runner for several reasons, most notably what he did last season after taking over a team that parted ways with then 2nd year head coach Ralph Krueger on March 17th.
Since their first win on March 31st following an 18-game winless streak, Granato coached the team to a 9-11-2 record [9-16-3 since March 17], picking up more wins in that span than Krueger did all season .
For comparison, here's where things stood under Krueger and where things stood under Granato:
Krueger: 6-18-4, Granato: 9-16-3
Goals per game:
Krueger: 2.07 (ranked 31st), Granato: 2.71 (ranked 18th)
It's worth noting that Granato coached a team that didn't include top players like Jack Eichel, Jake McCabe, Carter Hutton, and Linus Ullmark as all were dealing with injuries that kept them off the ice for the majority or all of Granato's season. That meant younger players had to step up, and many praised Granato and credited him with their level of play.
"His way to play was how I learned to play hockey," defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said. "He really saw what my potential was and I felt comfortable playing out there."
"He challenged me when he took over and pushed me to become a better player," forward Casey Mittelstadt added. "A lot of strides I've made are partly to do with him pushing me. I owe Donny a huge thank you."
Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, and Dylan Cozens, most notably put up numbers that showed their confidence, promise, and hunger.
Here are some of the comparisons before and after Granato took over:
Before: 1 goal, 4 assists [13 games]
After: 9 goals, 8 assists [28 games]
Before: 1 goal, 1 assist [13 games]
After: 7 goals, 5 assists [25 games]
Before: 3 goals, 2 assists [20 games]
After: 1 goal, 7 assists [21 games]
Granato makes sense when it comes to naming the team's newest head coach, and a lot of signs point to the Sabres taking that interim tag off.
We should know soon if Granato is the guy the team wants, and if he is, he's more than ready to capitalize off the end of last season.
"I think our guys have felt they know they're building something, and that was great to be a part of," Granato said at the end of the season. "Obviously I'd like to be a part of moving forward."