5 experienced coaches for the Sabres to consider and how each would fit in Buffalo


Staff member

Before the search for the next Buffalo Sabres coach began, General Manager Kevyn Adams laid out the qualities that he wants in Don Granato’s replacement.

The requirements will include, but won’t be limited to, NHL head coaching experience, a track record of success, being able to hold players accountable while building relationships and being a tactician who can get more out of a team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 13th consecutive year.

Are the Sabres ready for that type of presence behind the bench and in their dressing room? Alex Tuch and others think so.

“Needs and is ready for,” Tuch said Wednesday after his exit interview with Adams. “I really do believe so. I think Donny did a really good job developing guys in this room, myself included, in helping our games, but our next coach will be one that holds us accountable and one that makes sure that we’re performing to our best, or you’re not going to perform at all.

“I’m excited for that. I’m excited for the challenge. I think we can do great things in this locker room. I know we can do great things in this locker room and wasn’t good enough.”

There’s no shortage of qualified candidates for the Sabres to interview, most notably Lindy Ruff. While Jay Woodcroft, Todd McLellan and Dean Evason are among experienced coaches who will be linked to NHL openings in the coming weeks, here are five to watch for Buffalo and how each fits Adams’ vision:

Lindy Ruff​

Experience: Ruff has spent 23 years as a head coach in the NHL with the Sabres, Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils. He’s had success through multiple eras and proved in New Jersey the past four seasons that he is willing to adapt to how the league has evolved since he first became Buffalo’s coach in 1997-98.

Lindy Ruff led the New Jersey Devils to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Pedigree: A former Sabres captain, Ruff has led his teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on 11 occasions, most recently last season when the Devils eliminated the New York Rangers in the first round and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in five games during the second round. Ruff coached Buffalo to the Eastern Conference finals in 1997-98, the Stanley Cup final in 1998-99, consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances in 2006 and 2007 and the Presidents’ Trophy in 2006-07. His teams have advanced to at least the second round on six occasions.

Accountability: An old-school tactician who rarely gave the Sabres days off during his days in Buffalo, Ruff has changed his approach as the league has gotten younger. He is also not afraid to hurt players’ feelings with his comments through the media, Sabres alumni still talk about how grueling Ruff’s practices were in Buffalo and he’s not afraid to cut players’ ice time. Current players told reporters the latter approach was lacking this season.

“I think a lot of times, this year, we got away with some stuff that we shouldn’t have gotten away with,” said Tage Thompson, who signed a seven-year contract extension after a move from wing to center led to a breakout performance under Granato. “If you clean those things up, it sends a message. Once that message is sent, there’s no reason to deviate from that game plan. We felt comfortable, sometimes a little too much, deviating from game plans.”

Fit: Ruff, 64, managed to help several young players in New Jersey become responsible defensively and harder to face each game. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier were under 24 years old when they combined for 74 goals last season as the club had the most wins (52) and standings points (112) in franchise history.

However, the Devils fell apart this season after the injury to Dougie Hamilton, and Ruff was fired in March. Their .391 winning percentage in Ruff’s first two seasons ranked last in the NHL, excluding the expansion Seattle Kraken, and he did not elevate New Jersey to contender status until Andrew Brunette was hired as an assistant coach prior to last season. They took a step back after Brunette left to take the head coaching job in Nashville, where he led the Predators to the playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues fired Craig Berube in December 2023. Lance Lysowski

Craig Berube​

Experience: The St. Louis Blues were last in the NHL in January 2019, then rallied under Berube as interim coach to win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s then-52-year history. They won three of their last four games to beat the Boston Bruins after completing a similar comeback in the Western Conference finals and surviving an overtime Game 7 against Dallas in the second round.

Berube led the Blues to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons, but they advanced past the first round only once after their Cup victory. He was fired in December 2023 with St. Louis under .500 and ranking 26th in goals per game.

Pedigree: The Philadelphia Flyers had Berube on staff in 2009-10 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also led them to a postseason appearance in 2013-14 after taking over as coach midseason.

Accountability: A longtime NHL enforcer, Berube was lauded for his ability to get the most out of the Blues under challenging circumstances. It wasn’t until their defense depth and makeup changed that they took a step back. He was lauded for how he held his players accountable throughout his time as coach there. Berube is also known for his ability to have his teams play with structure, which, according to Sabres players, is a necessary next step.

“We need a hard, accountable, structure-driven coach,” defenseman Connor Clifton said. “There’s so much young talent in this room. ... I guess we just need someone to lead us in a better way, in a more hard-mannered way, where we can follow the leader and work and be better than we were this year.”

Fit: Would Berube’s preferred style of play be too polarizing and not a fit for the skill on the Sabres’ roster? His teams in St. Louis were excellent when the roster had big, mobile defensemen. He would have that in Buffalo with Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. The Blues’ top, young players, Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, also had success under Berube.

Gerard Gallant​

Experience: Gallant has coached in parts of 11 NHL seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was fired midseason on three occasions, most recently in Vegas less than two years after leading the expansion team to the Stanley Cup final, but he has led his teams to the playoffs in five of his last seven seasons behind the bench.

Gerard Gallant led the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference final two years ago. Lance Lysowski

Pedigree: Gallant, 60, coached the Golden Knights to the final in their first season with a roster dotted with players who were discarded by former teams. Tuch carved out a niche in the NHL while playing for Gallant during his first three seasons in the league. Though Gallant was fired by the Rangers after a first-round playoff exit in May 2023, only four teams had a higher regular-season points percentage during his two seasons in Manhattan: Boston, Carolina, Colorado and Toronto.

Accountability: The Rangers had consecutive 100-point seasons, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals and ranked third in the NHL in goals allowed per game during Gallant’s time in Manhattan. He had similar success in Vegas, where he molded the Golden Knights into a stout defensive team and, at times, got the most out of a roster that didn’t have much proven talent during the expansion season.

Fit: Gallant’s recent success coaching skilled teams with similar personnel to the Sabres suggests that he’d fit, but he doesn’t have a reputation as someone who can help young players improve. The Rangers brought in multiple assistant coaches with a background in development, including Michael Peca, after Gallant was fired. Tuch, however, praised Gallant for the impact he had on his career and the way he motivated the Golden Knights. Gallant also has the ability to build relationships with players while having a demanding approach.

“I guess that was one of things with Gerard Gallant that I realized early on that he can come down the bench and he could yell in my ear, but five seconds later, he was tossing me back out there because he knew that I was going to get the message,” Tuch said. “That’s interesting, and I’ve had coaches throughout my entire hockey career – some that are able to do that, some that have maybe struggled with it in the past.

“I obviously had a really good relationship with Don. I’ve known him since I was 16 years old, and so, maybe, that’s different for me, opposed to other guys on the team. But if you’re able to get a coach who’s able to do that with every guy, it’s really big. I think it helps a lot. It’s not just me as a rookie. He would get into it with older guys, too, on the bench, and he would make sure they were playing at their best. It’s really important for a coach to be able to do that.”

Bruce Boudreau did not coach anywhere in the NHL this season. Associated Press

Bruce Boudreau​

Experience: Boudreau, 69, has been a head coach in parts of 16 NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks. His teams finished below .500 only once, which occurred last year in Vancouver, and he has been in the playoffs on 10 occasions.

Pedigree: Boudreau won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach during his first season with the Capitals in 2007-08. He’s led his teams past the first round only four times, though, and hasn’t done it since 2014-15, when the Ducks lost in the Western Conference finals.

Accountability: The luster wore off Boudreau last season with the disaster in Vancouver, and he took responsibility for what he perceived as a lack of accountability. He was eventually fired and replaced by Rick Tocchet.

Fit: The playoff letdowns have led to criticism, but at least Boudreau understands how to lead a team through a successful regular season. Given the expectations in Buffalo, and demand to end the drought, he would check several boxes. The questions Adams would have to ask, though, is how did it go wrong in Vancouver so quickly, and whether Boudreau can help young players such as Dylan Cozens continue their development.

The pressure will be as high in Buffalo as it was in Vancouver in the weeks before Boudreau was fired, so what is the key to a coach leading his players through that situation? The Sabres seemed fragile at times this season, as illustrated by the 29 times they allowed multiple goals in the first period.

“We need a better focus in practice,” Dahlin said. “We need to push ourselves. We have to understand that the practice is as important as the game. Yeah, I think that’s our main focus moving forward.”

Rod Brind’Amour​

Experience: A close friend and former teammate of Adams’ in Carolina, Brind’Amour has led the Hurricanes to at least the second round of the playoffs in four of his first five seasons as head coach. They’ve had three consecutive years of 50-plus wins, and they finished second in the Metropolitan Division this season with 111 standings points.

Pedigree: In addition to his playoff experience as a head coach, Brind’Amour captained the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006 and appeared in 159 postseason games across his 20 seasons as an NHL player.

Accountability: After the Hurricanes traded Jeff Skinner to the Sabres in 2018, Brind’Amour told reporters that it put everyone in his locker room on notice that Carolina was looking for a specific type of player. They haven’t missed the playoffs since, as Brind’Amour has developed a reputation as one of the best in the NHL. He won’t tolerate fly-by checks, lack of effort on the forecheck or lackluster detail defensively, but, at the same time, his Hurricanes teams play the fast-paced style that fits the skill on Buffalo’s roster.

Fit: There isn’t a better match for the Sabres than Brind’Amour. The challenge, though, is his team is talented enough to play into June, and he’s reportedly agreed on a contract extension with Carolina. Sabres owner Terry Pegula would have to make Brind’Amour one of the league’s highest-paid coaches for the Sabres to have a shot at luring him to Buffalo. Even then, it is a pie-in-the-sky scenario for Adams. Brind’Amour has the personality to push his players on nights when they’re physically drained.

“Someone that is going to hold us accountable, someone with experience, good hockey mind, smart and I think somebody who brings energy into this locker room,” Tuch said. “I think, at times, we weren’t able to maintain energy and, at times, we weren’t able to gather, I guess, and create energy and momentum ourselves. Someone that’s able to do that and able to help us reach our full potential.”