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Hamilton Take 2: Is Granato the man for the job?

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres-NHL Insider Paul Hamilton shares his thoughts on if the Sabres have found their head coach for next season and beyond.
Credit: AP
FILE - Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Don Granato watches from the bench during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia, in this Sunday, April 11, 2021, file photo. Tony Granato can now laugh in recalling how angry he was at his brother Don for giving up goaltending at 15 and switching to forward. That might have been the last time Tony questioned his brother’s life decisions. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If I had to pick a coach for the Buffalo Sabres right now yes, it would be Don Granato, but since I don’t, I would still like to let this play out through the rest of the season.

Granato isn’t the sexy choice. People go gaga over Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant, but don’t forget where Sean McDermott came from. He was a defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers with no NFL head coaching experience, but the Pegula’s handed him the keys to the kingdom and looked what happened.

Granato did win the Kelly Cup while coaching the Peoria Rivermen and he has been a head coach in the AHL with the Worcester IceCats and the Chicago Wolves.   

The things I like about Granato are he’s gotten the best out of the young core that’s been drafted. He hasn’t coached Jack Eichel, but the kids like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Rasmus Asplund and Jacob Bryson have all thrived.

Granato gets all the credit for that, but don’t sell the contributions of Matt Ellis and Dan Girardi short. I think both have had a huge effect on this team. Ellis was the ultimate pro as a player. If he didn’t work hard on and off the ice, he never would’ve played one game in the NHL. Instead, he played 356 games.

Girardi was last on the ice as a player in 2019 and he knows how to relate to the defensemen. He is always telling them how to handle certain situations using the skills they do well with.

The coaching staff also knows how to adapt. I can’t tell you how many times Granato was very honest in saying we wanted to try something and it didn’t work. I love that attitude, especially now to get a gauge for the future. If it doesn’t work, fine! Junk it.

In the two-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Pens defense was stepping up and forcing the Sabres into turnovers before they could even get over the red line. For the next game, Granato decided to attack the Pittsburgh defense and it worked, they backed off and the Sabres attacked the zone with speed and won the game.

A few games ago in overtime Granato used numerous combinations during the five minute 3-on-3. He wanted to see what might work and what wouldn’t.

I saved the best for last. There was a game here against the Philadelphia Flyers where Granato put out the line of Mittelstadt, Thompson and Taylor Hall to defend a late one-goal lead. The Flyers had pulled their goalie and Thompson just missed putting the game away into the empty net.

Sean Couturier tied the game a few seconds later with 1:29 left and Ivan Provorov won it in overtime.

Of course all the Twitter coaches thought Granato was the village idiot for having Mittelstadt and Thompson out there in such a crucial situations, but guess what? Mittelstadt and Thompson learned from it and along with Asplund, are out there quite often to try to get the victory to the garage.

All three have scored empty net goals to clinch games and it was the last time they gave up the late lead.

I had one fan just livid that Granato was trying things at the expense of maybe losing a game that meant nothing because after all, this fan invested his time into that game. I would think he’d want to see how the kids react in certain situations because maybe, just maybe Mittelstadt is becoming a top six center who can be counted on in all situations right before our eyes.

That’s going to be very important if Eichel decides that he wants out of Buffalo, which by the way, he hasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, even with all the improvement this team isn’t even close to the top teams in the NHL, but at least they don’t need 15 new players. What Kevyn Adams does need to do is make sure Granato is the right coach and they guys that are performing are really performing.