So there we have it. Mike Babcock has apparently decided not to take what pretty much amounted to a blank check from Terry Pegula and is off to, of all places, Toronto.
Woe is us? Woe, Sabres?
At this stage in the Sabres’ history, they need a coach committed to The Plan. That means growing with the likes of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and, yes, even Nikita Zadorov and his wonky alarm clock. Exactly what the Sabres don’t need is a guy who came here only for the money.
If you remember, we saw the damage a money-alone approach can do in 2011. The Sabres organization was so full of itself that fall it barely needed a plane to get airborne to open the season in Europe after signing Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff and getting veteran Robyn Regher to agree to a trade here. Didn’t end so well.
A coach who comes here just to make a financial statement to his old boss and for coaches around the league is not my idea of what the Sabres are looking for right now.
This is not a massive defeat for the Sabres at all. They went head-long into a big-money derby and, by any measure, did all they could to get Babcock. You offer to make someone the highest-paid coach in NHL history and he doesn’t come, that’s on him. You did all you could.
This is not a setback for the Sabres’ rebuild. Not for a second. If Babcock’s dream was to be the savior of the Leafs, nothing Buffalo could do about that.
Through all of this odd hero-worshipping, a few points stand out:
• I’d like to know why seemingly everyone, especially in the Canadian media, has automatically deemed Babcock the best coach in the NHL? Just because of those two Olympic gold medals? I think Joel Quenneville, among others, might have a thing or two to say about that. Sorry, it didn’t take some immense coaching genius for Babcock to put Sidney Crosby on the ice for an offensive zone faceoff in overtime of the gold-medal game in Vancouver.
• It strikes me that the best coach in the NHL shouldn’t be on a six-year run of not getting his team past the second round of the playoffs – especially when four of those teams had at least 100 points in the regular season.
• It strikes me that the best coach in the NHL and a man constantly referred to as a future Hall of Famer should have more than one Stanley Cup.
• It strikes me that the best coach in the NHL should have had all kinds of teams, winners and losers, banging down his door when he proclaimed he was a free agent.
Babcock didn’t and he seems to have woefully over-inflated his own value. The expectation was clearly that a good team – not a rebuilding outfit like the Sabres or one about to embark on said path like Toronto – would jump at the chance to hire him. But it didn’t happen.
Babcock’s presumed interest in coaching Connor McDavid didn’t matter, as Edmonton saw better value in Todd McLellan. Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal all decided to stand down with what they have. The fact Babcock initiated contact with the Sharks reeked of some desperation.
Pegula had to love the reaction he got locally and across the NFL landscape with the hiring of Rex Ryan, who is walking on water even though he has won exactly no games here and still has no reliable starting quarterback.
Pegula wanted that same big splash with Babcock and almost got it. Losing out to the Leafs has to hurt.
So what do the Sabres do now?
If he hasn’t already, General Manager Tim Murray should be be ringing the phone of former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, who completed his NHL playing career under with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim while Murray was director of player personnel there.
It appears Bylsma is interested in the San Jose gig but he should think long and hard about coming to coach Eichel & Co. He saw him first-hand at the World Junior Championships in Montreal and again at the Worlds in Prague.
For the record, Bylsma has exactly the same number of Stanley Cups as Babcock – one. And he won his in Game Seven in 2009. In Detroit. Over Babcock.
It didn’t end well for Bylsma in Pittsburgh but when does it ever truly end well for a coach? That was a hot-pressure situation with superstar players and a megawatt owner in Mario Lemieux. Bylsma best worked with Sidney Crosby & Co. in that 22-25 age group, which is what he would be building up to here.
Only if they check in on Bylsma and he’s not interested should the Sabres go to a fallback choice like Binghamton Senators coach Luke Richardson. And even if Richardson ends up being the man, that’s not a disappointment.
This is probably the time for the Sabres to get a development coach but when you hear those words, don’t think of someone over their head like Ron Rolston was.
Richardson, for starters, played more than 1,400 NHL games for six teams in a career that spanned from 1987-2009. And if you paid attention to the second half of last season, plenty of his players who graduated from Binghamton were more than ready to contribute in Ottawa. Think Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Andrew Hammond, just for starters.
For reasons yet to be revealed, Babcock to Buffalo didn’t work out. But there are other guys who will relish the opportunity here.
And they won’t just be trying to convince their family to take Pegula’s money, or perhaps use it to get more somewhere else. That’s what this whole Babcock dalliance felt like.
But it sure turns up the heat even more on the Sabres-Leafs rivalry now. Look for Babcock to get quite the reaction in First Niagara Center during the first meeting here next season.
The guy the Sabres actually hire will make a lot less money than Babcock would have. But he’ll be coming here with winning on his mind a lot more than his paycheck