Mike Babcock or Andrew Hammond? What Do the Buffalo Sabres Need Most?

Ted Nolan was set up for failure, no doubt about it. As soon as the morality of losing to get better was disputed to no end, the Nolan situation comes up. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and here is mine: do you think it ever crossed Nolan’s mind that he was signing the dotted line to coach a team that was going to—for a lack of better words—suck? From the very beginning it was his decision to coach the team and I honestly can’t think of any coach that could have turned this team around. The writing was on the walls well before he got fired and I'm sure that he was well aware his job in Buffalo would be short-lived. 

When it comes to Tim Murray we've all learned one thing; the man is on a mission to turn this organization around. He is no Darcy Regier. The hiring and firing of Ted Nolan was just a stepping stone in the master plan of Tim Murray and I have zero problems with the moves he has made up to this point. Murray basically told us that the Sabres were going to suck for a while and he had to work within the parameters he was given.

"I want to win the lottery. I want to win something here. We have to take the best player available. I want to rebuild properly here, which takes time. But it doesn't have to take years." (Murray on last year's draft lottery) Dan Hickling/Olean Times Herald

"I want to win the lottery. I want to win something here. We have to take the best player available. I want to rebuild properly here, which takes time. But it doesn't have to take years." (Murray on last year's draft lottery)

Dan Hickling/Olean Times Herald

Young talent (thank you Darcy) takes some time to develop. Murray’s job was to land some big fish to surround the young talent (Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges to an extent). The signings of Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit to one-year contracts was just good planning for the race to secure 30th/McEichel. Both are older defenseman, well on their way out of the NHL and have experience (regardless of their play) that the younger defensemen could build off of.

You could also say that Nolan did nothing to develop players in the time that they were here. Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons come to mind, but in his defense, what is a guy to do when he knows his uneventful fate? The days of Nolan and hopefully dumping and chasing to no end are history. Murray has a plan for the future and I have no problem with it.

Except for one

Please, please do not chase down Mike Babcock. Teams will be gunning for him, no doubt. In his 10 years as the coach of the Red Wings, Babcock has accumulated a record of 458-223-105 in 786 games, has made the playoffs in every year behind the bench and also added a Stanley Cup to his resume in the 2007-08 season.

Terry Pegula's pockets are deep, but just how deep? There are many hockey coaches out there and many of them are qualified to take the Sabres coaching job, but there is just one Mike Babcock. With quite the hefty resume and championships to go along with it, I will not be surprised if Babcock tries to negotiate a contract for 4-5 million per year. Do the Sabres really need an expensive coach to be successful in the NHL? I would love to see the move but it just doesn't make sense. Before finding a coach, the Sabres need to pursue a solution for the troubles that they may have in net. The combination of Andrew Hammond and Luke Richardson may be the answer.

Unless the Sabres want to stick with Anders Lindback come next season, they will need a goalie. After trading off Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth at the trade deadline, the pool of prospects in the goaltender position really ran dry. Lindback really improved once he came to Buffalo, due in part to the coaching of Arturs Irbe, but does he have what it takes to be a starting goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres come next season? His resume is nothing short of abysmal and I honestly only see him as a backup goaltender in the NHL. After Lindback, the depth chart goes Chad Johnson, Matt Hackett, Andrey Makarov, and Linus Ullmark. Besides the small experience Lindback had as the starter for the Sabres this past season, none of these goalies really have  any experience as a starter in the big leagues. If the Sabres plan on keeping McEichel in a Sabres uniform after his rookie contract, how will they get by with Anders Lindback and Chad Johnson manning the pipes? If the Sabres plan on getting better and want to keep the talent Murray worked so hard to obtain, they must go out and sign a big name in net.   

Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond
Could Murray pursue Hammond in the offseason? Remember, Murray was once the general manager of the Binghamton Senators and most likely spent a good amount of time scouting the White Rock, BC native. Undrafted, the Ottawa Senators signed Hammond to a two-year entry-level contract in March of 2013. Between then and now, Hammond has bounced around from the AHL to the NHL, playing behind Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson. In his first season with the Binghamton Senators, Hammond's time and dominant play in Bighamton was what propelled the team to the playoffs in the 2013-14 season. With his contract expiring at the end of this season, "The Hamburglar" was at it once again, this time helping the Ottawa Senators make the playoffs. 

Andrew Hammond has been a success story in Ottawa. The unsigned goaltender went from helping the Binghamton Senators makes the playoffs to punching the playoff ticket for the Senators. Could he come to Buffalo with his coach during his time in Binghamton, Luke Richards? Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Andrew Hammond has been a success story in Ottawa. The unsigned goaltender went from helping the Binghamton Senators makes the playoffs to punching the playoff ticket for the Senators. Could he come to Buffalo with his coach during his time in Binghamton, Luke Richards?

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Through the last 22 decisions that he was the goaltender for, Hammond compiled an impressive record of 19-1-2 and had a save percentage of .909. In fact, this record for his first 22 starts was the best record for any goaltender in the history of the NHL. Here's the list of the top three names for the best record through 22 decisions (note the third name):

Andrew Hammond                         19-1-2                        .909 SV%
Ken Dryden                                    18-1-3                         .886 SV%
Patrick Lalime                                18-2-2                        .864 SV %

I have a feeling that the Montreal/Ottawa series will determine Hammond's future in Ottawa. If he starts a number of those games and gets a few wins he will be in a Senators jersey come next fall. If not, I can see Murray acquiring him as a free agent along with Luke Richardson as his next head coach. By doing so, Murray will be hiring a coach that he has confidence in while addressing the needs of a strong starting goaltender for the Sabres next year. The rebuild is not over, folks. Richards could be our interim, much like Nolan was, and he could save the organization some money as the team builds up their assets. I just don't think Buffalo is quite ready for a coach like Mike Babcock. If this opportunity were to arise next offseason I would be all for it, especially after we see what McEichel's potential is in the NHL.

Without a doubt, the Montreal/Ottawa series will be a huge one. As much as I would like to see Ottawa pull off the underdog upset, I am also rooting for the Sabres to have a chance at landing Andrew Hammond on next year's roster.