The Sabres have announced they are making Don Granato their full-time head coach.
Granato, 53, took over on March 17 on an interim basis following’s Ralph Krueger’s dismissal. He is the Sabres’ seventh head since Terry and Kim Pegula bought the franchise in 2011.
When Granato went behind the bench, the Sabres were in the middle of an extended losing streak that would end at 18 games. But down the stretch, the team finished with a 9-11-2 record. Those nine wins under Granato were more than what Buffalo earned under Krueger (6) this season.
That record may not be impressive, but when you consider the Sabres played without Jack Eichel, two goaltenders (Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark), and Jake McCabe for most of the final part of the season, it was Buffalo Good. It was clear that a change behind the bench was needed, and Granato was the right person for the job.
“I think our guys have felt they know they’re building something, and that was great to be a part of,” Granato said in May. “Obviously I’d like to be a part of moving forward.”
The Sabres responded positively to the change, bumping their goals per game average from 2.07 under Krueger to 2.71 under Granato. Following the regular season, the players spoke glowingly of the coach’s impact.
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Said Rasmus Dahlin: “His way to play was how I learned to play hockey. But the thing I felt was that he trusted me as a player. He really saw what my potential was, and I felt comfortable playing out there. I wasn’t thinking too much.”
Casey Mittelstadt, a player who had his ups and downs this past season, was grateful for the work Granato did with him.
“I think a lot of guys, including myself, owe Donnie quite a bit,” he said. “He challenged me when he took over and pushed me to become a better player. I think it’s that simple. A lot of the strides I made are partly because of him pushing me or had a lot to do with him pushing me.”
The Sabres have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft where they’ll be able to add another young piece towards what they’re hoping is a franchise turnaround. If Granato’s work in the final two months of this season can impact the 2021-22 season, that will go a long way to reaching team’s goal.
“Behind the scenes, we were challenging these guys very, very much, which is a big part of it, because we need them to be better,” Granato said in May. “And again, I coached as if I would be here next season. Obviously, I wouldn’t want to be standing behind a bench in October and not have taken advantage of this opportunity to get these players valuable experience playing against top teams.”
With the Sabres job filled, that leaves only the Coyotes without a head coach. They are reportedly closing in on Hockey Canada’s Andre Tourigny.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.