Buffalo Sabres name Don Granato head coach
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 29, 2021
Granato was hired as an assistant coach with Buffalo as a member of former head coach Ralph Krueger’s staff in 2019. After Krueger was fired on March 17th, Granato took over as the interim head coach to finish off the season. In his 28 games as the interim head coach, Granato earned a lot of praise by focusing on youth.
Granato finished with a 9-16-3 record, three wins better than what Krueger had done in the same number of games. The former AHL Coach of the Year (2001) has become popular among fans for allowing younger players a chance at big opportunities.
Granato: "When you have the puck more, you obviously defend less. Our guys are getting better and improving and enjoying the fact of possessing the puck longer. That's really helped their confidence, but it's also helped us and will help us progressively on the defensive side."
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) April 16, 2021
While this hire does reinforce that a rebuild is imminent, Buffalo promoting Granato seems like the right move. Granato’s strength is in development, which is critical for a Sabres team that is about to get even younger.
The man affectionately referred to as “Donny Meatballs” by fans will take over a team with another top overall pick. However, based on his deployments, Granato will likely remain aggressive in his approach to developing the new core.
Granato – You need to win a game, and if you don't win, you damn-well better be entertaining. The objective is certainly to win, but I don't like to play a boring style, and I don't think the players like to either. #Sabres #LetsGoBuffalo
— WGR 550 (@WGR550) April 20, 2021
Buffalo’s biggest winners
Buffalo fans had to be worried about defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s regression under Krueger. However, Granato returning can only mean a positive impact for Dahlin. Dahlin had more than half of his 23 points after Granato took over and had been far better in his own zone.
From flawed stats like plus/minus to analytics like points per 60 minutes, everything from Dahlin improved under Granato. Under Krueger, the 2018 top pick saw 21:03 minutes of ice time. With Granato, Dahlin also improved with increased ice time and tougher assignments, logging 23:06 per game after April 1st.
Granato on Rasmus Dahlin – He has not even scratched the surface with his potential. He's going to continue to get better and better and better. He's becoming more aware of certain situations and how to exploit them on the offensive side of the puck. #Sabres
— WGR 550 (@WGR550) April 27, 2021
Sabres center Casey Mittlestadt also made a revival as a top prospect. The 2017 first-rounder played just 13 games with Krueger, serving as a healthy scratch half of the time. Granato not only played Mittlestadt every game, he deployed him to the tune of 17:04 per game. It should come as no surprise that 17 of Mittelstadt’s 22 points were a result of more ice time.
Winger Jeff Skinner was in Krueger’s doghouse, a high-profile healthy scratch and seeing fourth-line minutes on the regular. Skinner rebounded to notch 11 points in the final 28 games under Granato.
With Granato, the writing’s on the wall
Granato’s hire means that Buffalo can focus again on a rebuild. Star center Jack Eichel has been in trade rumors since the season ended. Restricted free-agent center Sam Reinhart has been connected to trade rumors as well. Granato spent his entire time as coach without Eichel available due to injury. It will be no surprise to see the Sabres captain dealt off for a large haul.
You can check out the latest discussion on Eichel rumors by listening to Dan and Tyson!
Be sure to listen to this week's @E2GHockey with Dan and Tyson (@tdurante_) Believe it or not, our predictions were wrong… again… but we chat about how damn good the Montreal Canadiens are, Eichel trade rumors, and the Kaprizov situation! #mnwild #NHL https://t.co/ThFU0p4jkh
— Daniel Blanda (@dcblanda) June 25, 2021
Keep stopping back to E2G Sports for more on the Sabres and all things hockey!