By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 19) — It appears the Buffalo Sabres have become the front–runner to land Mike Babcock. A one–time Sabres employee told me this afternoon that Buffalo “has blown Detroit out of the water” with its multi–year offer, believed to be in the $5.5–million range per season.
“The only thing that’ll keep Mike in Detroit is if he decides he doesn’t want or need the aggravation of coaching a team from the bottom up,” said my source. “But, that may also be the attraction for him. If he’s looking for a fresh challenge, I’m convinced it will be with the Sabres.”
The Buffalo News is also suggesting Babcock will join the Sabres — quoting an “NHL coaching source” (story here: http://bit.ly/1FsVDTP).
WILL THE HOME OF THE BUFFALO SABRES BE MIKE BABCOCK’S NEW HOME?
Toronto and Buffalo have made extensive offers to Babcock.
“The Leafs offer is tremendous — absolutely fantastic in money and term,” said the source. “But, I think it’s come down to Buffalo or Detroit. It wouldn’t shock me if Mike said ‘Aw, the heck with it’ and gambled on the Leafs, knowing the reward for finally becoming a winner in Toronto. And, that’s what it would take — a last–minute gut–feeling that overwhelms the other offers. I see where Bob McKenzie (of TSN) said Mike has ruled out Toronto and Bob usually has good information. I just think it will be difficult for Mike to turn down the Sabres’ opportunity.”
Buffalo — largely by design — finished dead–last in the National Hockey League standings this season with a 23–51–8 record for 54 points. With the best percentage–odds of landing the No. 1 draft pick in June, the Sabres were overtaken by Edmonton in the lottery draw. As such, the Oilers will select young phenom Connor McDavid next month in Sunrise, Fla. and have pieced together their front office with the signing, today, of Todd McLellan as coach. McLellan joins new general manager Peter Chiarelli and Chief Executive Officer Bob Nicholson — late of Hockey Canada. The “consolation” prize for Buffalo will be Boston University star Jack Eichel. With Eichel coming aboard, the Sabres could ultimately possess the most strength up the middle in the NHL. Current Sabres Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Evander Kane are likely to be joined by Eichel and Sam Reinhart, drafted second overall last June.
“I’m told that Ennis did some ‘encouraging’ while [Babcock] was in Prague for the World Championships,” said my source. “That could also be a factor.” Ennis played for the gold medal–winning Canadian team.
Late this afternoon, Babcock told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN/TSN: “I hope to make a decision by morning, but I’m still very much undecided.”
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