The Buffalo Sabres came in a close second in the competition for one big-name coach in Mike Babcock. They’re about to enter another contest for a former Stanley Cup winner.
The Sabres received permission Thursday to interview former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and will hold that session this week, Sportsnet reported Sunday. But they won’t be alone in interviewing the 2009 Cup champion who led Team USA at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Bylsma is also expected to meet with the San Jose Sharks and perhaps the New Jersey Devils.
Bylsma was fired by the Penguins after last season but still has term on his contract so any teams interested must get permission to speak to him and may have to provide draft-pick compensation. The Sharks, who mutually parted ways with Todd McLellan after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003, also have permission.
It’s not clear if the Devils will make a similar request, although it would make sense. New Jersey recently hired Ray Shero, Bylsma’s general manager in Pittsburgh, as its new GM.
Bylsma did not coach this season after his dismissal in Pittsburgh. His interest in the Buffalo job is likely piqued by the up-close views he got of Jack Eichel, the Boston University star the Sabres will take with the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL Draft on June 26 in Sunrise, Fla.
Bylsma did television commentary for the NHL Network for Team USA’s games at the World Junior Championships in Montreal, and was an assistant coach for the American team at the just-completed World Championships in Prague. Eichel was impressive in that tournament, helping the Americans to a surprise bronze medal.
The Sabres are not commenting on their search until a coach is selected, although they broke that stance Thursday by providing General Manager Tim Murray for an interview with WGR Radio, the longtime rights holder that does their game broadcasts. Murray declined to comment on Bylsma’s status during that interview.
Murray was director of player personnel with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim during two of Bylsma’s seasons, including the 2002-03 campaign that ended with Anaheim’s Game Seven loss at New Jersey in the Stanley Cup final.
Babcock and McLellan were Buffalo’s top NHL-level choices to replace Ted Nolan but the Sabres were unable to land either one.
While Babcock signed an eight-year, $50 million deal with Toronto at the end of a week of back-and-forth decision-making, the Sabres and any other interested teams really had no chance to land McLellan. He was coaching Team Canada in Prague, and made a quick commitment to sign on as the coach in Edmonton with the chance to lead presumed No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid in his rookie season in the NHL and beyond.
The Sabres, Sharks, Devils and Detroit Red Wings are the only teams with coaching vacancies, although Detroit is expected to promote Jeff Blashill from Grand Rapids of the AHL to replace Babcock.
The San Jose vacancy is a complex one. Reports out of the Bay Area have Bylsma in the mix with former NHL coaches such as Randy Carlyle, Peter DeBoer and Adam Oates. The San Jose Mercury News also said an unheralded candidate could be Victoria coach and longtime NHL forward Dave Lowry, who played with the Sharks from 1997-2000.
San Jose may also wait for the Stanley Cup final to end because it could have interest in Chicago assistant and former Florida coach Kevin Dineen as well as Anaheim assistant Trent Yawney, a former San Jose assistant. Either Dineen or Yawney will coach in the Cup final, with the Hawks and Ducks tied at two wins apiece heading into Monday’s Game Five at Honda Center.
The Devils have reportedly spoken to former Tampa coach Guy Boucher and are also interested in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach John Hynes.
Teams like the Sabres are moving forward with their process of finding a coach, likely with at least one eye on developments out of St. Louis and Boston. The Blues had some late interest in Babcock, but appear ready to retain incumbent Ken Hitchcock. Meanwhile, new Bruins GM Don Sweeney is still deciding whether to keep Claude Julien.
Another candidate expected to still be high on Buffalo’s list is former NHL defenseman Luke Richardson, the coach of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. Richardson, of course, has a long association with Murray from the Buffalo GM’s days in Ottawa.