Rikard Gronborg: Mystery Candidate for Buffalo Sabres Coach

WGR 550 SportsRadio

BUFFALO (WGR 550) -- The ongoing Buffalo Sabres coaching search has been relatively quiet.

It has been a week and a half since Todd McLellan was no longer considered a candidate after speaking with the Sabres. McLellan has since taken over as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.

Other experienced NHL coaching candidates that have been hired this offseason include Joel Quenneville with the Florida Panthers and Alain Vigneault with the Philadelphia Flyers.

With the crop of experienced NHL head coaches now looking thinner, it may be time for the Sabres to look to candidates with coaching experience in other organized hockey leagues. There are candidates from the American Hockey League (such as Rochester Americans head coach Chris Taylor or Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe), college hockey (such as Minnesota-Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin) or former coaches with success in junior hockey (such as Kris Knoblauch with the Kootenay Ice and Erie Otters).

But one other name that continues to come up in Buffalo is Rikard Gronborg. Scott Burnside from The Athletic reported Sunday that Gronborg's name was thrown into the mix for the Sabres' head coaching position after they failed to land McLellan.

There has been plenty of speculation that Gr?nborg could be looking to become a head coach in the NHL, and the Sabres may be an intriguing option for the long-time Swedish coach.

Gronborg is a bit of an out-of-the-box candidate, having spent the last 13 seasons with the Swedish National Hockey program. The 50-year-old last coached in North America when he was an assistant coach with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League in the 2004-05 season. Since then, he has served as a scout, assistant coach, team manager and head coach with the Swedish hockey program.

One main reason for the intrigue is the amount of Swedish-born players on the Sabres roster. The Sabres have forwards Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund and Alexander Nylander, defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Lawrence Pilut, and goalie Jonas Johansson under contract for next season. Forward Johan Larsson and goalie Linus Ullmark will be restricted free agents heading into the summer. The Sabres also have some young Swedish prospects in the ranks such as forwards Marcus Davidsson and Linus Weissbach, as well as defensemen Linus Cronholm, Philip Nyberg and William Worge Kreu.

Gronborg would get the chance to coach some great young talent at the NHL level such Dahlin, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt and Brandon Montour. These are key, young assets that can be built upon for years to come.

Gronborg has served as the head coach for the past three years, including appearances at the IIHF World Championship, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia is expected to be his final event with the Swedish National Team.

Gronborg has experience playing and coaching in North America. He played three seasons at St. Cloud State as a defenseman from 1989-1992. After two seasons spent playing professionally in Sweden, Gronborg returned to St. Cloud State to serve as an assistant coach for one season before leaving to serve as an associate coach with the University of Wisconsin-Stout for two years. In 1998, Gronborg was hired as the general manager and head coach of the Great Falls Americans in the American West Hockey League, where he held on to the position for three seasons before taking over as the general manager and head coach of the Central Texas Blackhawks in 2002.

A majority of Gronborg's success has come in Sweden. He has won the gold medal in the last two IIHF World Championship. He also won a gold medal, silver medal and bronze medal at the World Championship as an assistant coach, and has coached Swedish junior national teams to medals at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Gronborg would be the first European head coach in the National Hockey League since the Chicago Blackhawks hired Alpo Suhonen and the Pittsburgh Penguins hired Ivan Hlinka before the 2000-01 season. Both coaches were fired after one season.

The only other European head coach ever to be hired in the NHL was Johnny Gottselig by the Blackhawks back in 1944. He lasted parts of four seasons as the head coach.

It will be interesting to see how the Sabres' coaching search develops from here, but Gronborg may be the most interesting name that comes up throughout the process.

By Brayton Wilson