The search for a new head coach has started to ramp up for the Buffalo Sabres this offseason after the mid-season dismissal of Ralph Krueger back in March.
It has been reported that the Sabres have already talked to a number of potential candidates for their opening, including the likes of Bruce Boudreau and Rick Tocchet, while also seriously considering Don Granato to remain on the job after the work he did in 28 games as the interim head coach.
TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported just before his appearance during "The Instigators" on WGR that Buffalo has interviewed current head coach of the Zurich Lions in the National League in Switzerland, Rikard Grönborg.
"I don't know how surprised you'd be that Rikard Grönborg would be interviewed by the Buffalo Sabres, probably very little," Dreger said with Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Martin Biron on Friday. "He's been interviewed by other NHL clubs, I think most recently the New Jersey Devils. Real good coach, no question about that. Longtime Swedish national coach, he's been around some top-notch players. [Niklas] Lidström, Henrik Zetterberg, go down the list of all the Swedish great players that he's been around and has coached. More recently, he's been with the Zurich Lions. [He's] highly, highly regarded.
"I would expect that Kevyn Adams and Jason Karmanos, whoever were involved in the interview process, would've found him to be impressive, because that's the feedback that I've gotten from other NHL clubs over the years. All we can do is throw him in the mix, and ultimately we'll see where the process takes Kevyn Adams and the Sabres in their final decisions."
Grönborg has spent the past two seasons coaching in Zurich, where he has led the Lions to a first place finish in the 2019-20 regular season, followed by a fifth place finish this past season. In the playoffs, Zurich was able to reach the league's semifinal round before being eliminated in three games by Genève-Servette HC.
While Grönborg has never been a head coach at the NHL level, he has plenty of experience coaching NHL players, and also coaching in his earlier days in North America.
After his days of playing professional hockey in Sweden were over in 1994 at the age of 25, Grönborg returned to North America to become an assistant coach with his alma mater, St. Cloud State University. Then in 1996 he would move on to the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Division-III to serve as an associate coach.
Grönborg then made the jump to the old American West Hockey League in 1998, where he became the general manager/head coach of the Great Falls Americans. After three seasons in Great Falls, he'd spend one season as the general manager/head coach of the Central Texas Blackhawks before taking an assistant coaching job with the Spokane Chiefs in the Western Hockey League in 2004.
After a few more years coaching in AAA Under-18 leagues in the United States, Grönborg then decided to work full-time with the Swedish National Team as a scout, as well as an assistant and head coach at the junior level of international competition.
In 2012, Grönborg was part of the coaching staffs that ended up winning the gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Calgary, as well as the silver medal at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Germany.
Grönborg would also lead Sweden to a silver medal on home ice at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, while also serving as an assistant coach on the staff that won a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Finally, after years of splitting time as an assistant or head coach with the Swedish national program, Grönborg started to earn head coaching positions with the Swedish teams, including at the World Juniors, the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, the IIHF World Championship, as well as the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Grönborg's best success while coaching Sweden came when he led the program to back-to-back wins at the 2017 and 2018 IIHF World Championship. While with those teams, he coached a number of current, prominent NHL players like John Klingberg (Dallas Stars), Nicklas Bäckström (Washington Capitals), William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs), Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning), Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes) and former Sabres forward Johan Larsson.
After 13 seasons spent working with the Swedish National Team, Grönborg decided to leave the program and take his first professional coaching job with Zurich. After his first season in Switzerland, the Lions gave Grönborg a two-year contract, which he currently has one year remaining.
Before taking the job in Zurich, it was widely reported the Sabres had conversations with Grönborg about their head coaching vacancy at the time. However, he decided to take the job in Switzerland, while Buffalo elected to hire Krueger.
While Grönborg becomes another name to add to the list of options for the Sabres, Dreger says the Sabres do not appear to be close to making a hire any time in the immediate future.
"They might have interest in coaches who are still on benches [in the Stanley Cup Playoffs]. That we don't know," Dreger said. "I've got that feedback from other clubs that are in the coaching search waiting to see what happens. I can't be certain as to who would be the front-runner beyond Don Granato, of course, who we've talked about week-after-week deservedly being in the upper echelon of the process."
As for Grönborg, it is still not known for sure what his future holds with Zurich. While he does have the one year remaining on his contract, Dreger suggests that Grönborg could maybe look to make the jump back to North America to join a coaching staff in the NHL.
"I think he's reached a point in his career - I haven't dealt with him directly - where he might even consider coming over as an associate coach. That would intrigue me, if I were Kevyn Adams and management of the Buffalo Sabres," Dreger said. "If 'Donnie' Granato has shown enough in the short period of time that he deserves the head coaching opportunity but you want to bring in something new, something different into the mix, Grönborg would be right up there."
As for the latest on captain Jack Eichel, Dreger says that the Sabres have not made any decision yet on what the next step is for his recovery of a herniated disk in his neck.
"Is it, again, the more traditional means of just continuing to have treatment, working with the medical staff and trying to heal it naturally, or the surgical route? They have not made that decision," Dreger said. "My understanding is that the Buffalo Sabres had a bunch of conversations in the past few days this week gathering all the most up-to-date information from the doctors and the medical staff. Sources indicate that Adams also met in-person with Jack Eichel's agent, and that I believe happened as early as [Thursday].
"Buffalo isn't purposely dragging this out so that they can get their way here and go down the medical path that they prefer. They want what's best for Jack and what's best for the club. They just haven't been able to ascertain medically what that is just yet. We have to be talking about days here before they make that final decision."
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams confirmed following Wednesday's NHL Draft Lottery that the team is through the 12-week rehab period in which the team wanted to evaluate the progression of Eichel's recovery from his herniated disk. However, Adams did say in his Zoom conference call that the team doctors are still not comfortable with the type of surgery Eichel wants to have to repair the damage to his neck.
You can listen to Dreger's entire interview with "The Instigators" below: