The Buffalo Sabres announced on June 29th that Don Granato has had the interim label removed, as he’s been appointed the new head coach of the hockey club. Agreeing to terms on a three-year contract, Granato becomes the 20th head coach in franchise history.
After a lengthy offseason search for GM Kevyn Adams, he ultimately circled back around and decided that Granato was the right person for the job. Granato was named interim bench boss back on March 17th when Ralph Krueger, who held down the fort previously, was relieved of his coaching duties amid a 12-game winless streak.
Granato has no shortage of experience within the game of hockey, serving as head coach of the Green Bay Gamblers and Wisconsin Capitols in the USHL. He then made the jump to pro, joining the Columbus Chill in the ECHL. After serving there as head coach, he also saw time in the American Hockey League with the Worcester IceCats, and in 2000, was voted as the recipient of the Most Outstanding Coach Award. He then made the jump to the NHL as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues. That tenure didn’t last long, as in 2009, he was named bench boss of the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League.
From 2013 to 2016, Granato worked with USA Hockey as head coach of the USA National Team Development Program. After a short stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, Granato was hired as an assistant coach by the Buffalo Sabres in 2019. All but leading up to his hiring as full-time head coach entering the 2021-22 season.
During his press conference on Thursday, Granato shared his excitement and optimism surrounding the future of the organization and is looking forward to the challenge of winning back the trust of Sabres fans. “This is more than an opportunity, this is an obligation”, he said. Amid the many changes from within, Granato expressed that “this is the position I had wanted to be in. That I had hoped to be in. Nothing else interested me in the interim. This is something that excites me to be here.”
The Sabres certainly showed improvement under Granato after taking over the reigns. The young core of Dylan Cozens, Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin all thrived and showed flashes of being capable NHL players under the direction and leadership of Granato. A cousin of Cammi Granato’s. he built a trust and belief type of relationship with the players. The big question still remains though, what will happen with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen? The trade rumours have been swirling and will continue to up until the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Eichel has stated publicly that he’s unhappy with how his neck injury was handled, fuelling speculation that he wishes to be traded. Even after GM Kevyn Adams made clear that the centreman had not requested to be dealt. Sam Reinhart is an RFA this summer and will demand a hefty raise in order for him to stay put. That is, of course, if he even wants to. Rasmus Ristolainen also made it public that he is “fine” with either outcome of a trade or staying in Buffalo, but also wanted it known that he cannot go through another rebuild and that the team has to be a playoff contender.
When asked about the players in question, Adams said he wants players on the team who actually want to be in Buffalo, who are proud to put on the Sabres jersey and play for something bigger than themselves. During Granato’s press conference, Adams skipped around questions about Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen, but did say he was in communication with Eichel’s agent. Speaking of Eichel and his agent, him and the team are reportedly close on a resolution regarding the approach to Eichel’s neck rehab. Whether that means they’ll let him get surgery or not remains to be seen, but hopefully the team and Eichel can come to an agreement and focus on the season.
All in all, I think the appointment of Don Granato was a great hire for the Sabres. He has experience, wisdom, and all the right tools to be a successful NHL coach, especially with a young and promising group of players. What comes now is a world of uncertainty. The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is a little over three weeks away. Free agency creates a chance to address some lineup holes, and with trade speculation picking up, Kevyn Adams has his work cut out for him. We’ll see what happens, but expect the next month to be huge for this team.