McKenzie: Insight on Sabres’ coaching search, Eichel’s ‘TBD’ future

Following the news of the Buffalo Sabres firing Ralph Krueger, Bob McKenzie appeared on NBCSN to discuss the team’s coaching search, Jack Eichel, and more.

(You can watch video of McKenzie’s appearance above. It’s a great watch, especially for Sabres fans following Krueger being let go.)

Sabres’ coaching search could be ‘massive,’ and could take a while

McKenzie laid out potential paths forward for Sabres GM Kevyn Adams after firing Krueger.

For one thing, McKenzie said that the Sabres want interim head coach Don Granato to “stop the bleeding,” as much as anything. Beyond that, there were some interesting hypotheses about the Sabres’ coaching search.

  • Again, McKenzie believes that it could be a wide search. He noted that, considering Adams’ own college hockey background, the Sabres could search at that level.
  • Before the Sabres really intensify that coaching search, McKenzie believes that Adams will hire an assistant GM. Penguins executive Jason Karmanos could be a frontrunner for that AGM role, according to McKenzie.
  • If you don’t like “chummy” hires, then you might be in for some frustration. McKenzie notes a Hurricanes connection between Karmanos and Adams, and also wonders if that could be a factor if Rod Brind’amour ends up becoming available.
  • There’s some interesting stuff about big-name coaches, such as Bruce Boudreau, Claude Julien, Gerard Gallant, and Mike Babcock. Boudreau and Gallant could be among the easier big-name coaches for the Sabres to add, as neither seem to have huge contract hurdles.
  • Speaking of that, McKenzie notes that Ralph Krueger costs $3.7 million through next season.
  • With that in mind, the Sabres might shoot for a smaller name, and thus a smaller salary. McKenzie points out Providence College’s Nate Leaman as a potential Sabres head coach option.

A lot of this makes sense, even if there’s a hope that it’s not just about getting familiar candidates, but  the best one. (Granted, there’s something to be said for trusting your lieutenants.)

Sabres have a lot of work to do

Ideally, the Sabres would beef up their front office beyond an assistant GM gig. At least eventually. When Adams took over, he did so while the Sabres gutted their front office:

The returns haven’t been there, but Adams fared better than many expected during his first Sabres offseason. Reducing risks by signing Taylor Hall for just one year, and trading for Eric Staal, ranked as promising moves.

But even if Adams maintains a hot hand, he’ll need help. More than just an assistant GM. Frankly, more than just a good coach.

In an ideal world, that would mean investing in bright young minds, much like the Seattle Kraken have with the likes of Alexandra Mandrycky. (Emphasizing analytics could be especially important if the Sabres stay, um, lean with their staffing. Sometimes it’s about the millions you’re convinced not to spend.)

Anyway, McKenzie notes that the Sabres might extend their coaching search into the offseason. Potentially, the likes of John Tortorella could be added to that pool of candidates. (McKenzie’s insight about the Sabres coaching search really kicks in around the 2-minute mark.)

Granted, there’s an argument that the Sabres would also face more potential competition for those candidates. But we’ll see how that goes.

Jack Eichel update

Speaking of seeing how things go, McKenzie provided a mixed bag of updates about Eichel.

Interestingly, McKenzie notes that Eichel is getting a second opinion on a neck/possible spinal injury. While McKenzie doesn’t believe that there’s a major divergence in what Eichel is dealing with, there might be some disagreement about his window for recovery.

That’s … pretty troubling, if you’re a Sabres fan hoping for a brighter future. Why risk Eichel’s health during what’s already clearly a lost season? Yes, the Sabres want to turn things around, but this is like taking a turkey out of the oven with your bare hands.

So, there’s how Eichel feels in a more literal sense, but what about his figurative feelings toward the Sabres’ direction? McKenzie simply puts it at “to be determined.” (Gulp.)

[Considering history to see how Jack Eichel trades might look.]

Yes, Eichel and the Sabres are beyond the point of getting frustrated. But he’s still 24, and his contract runs through 2025-26. Buffalo needs to be smart about this — and their looming front office decisions.

McKenzie discusses Eichel’s injury and future starting around the 4:30 mark of that video.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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