BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres coach Ron Rolston added NHL experience to his new staff by hiring Joe Sacco on Tuesday.
Sacco is a former NHL player who spent the past four seasons as the Colorado Avalanche coach before being fired in April after the team missed the playoffs for a third straight year.
Sacco had a 130-134-40 record and was an NHL coach of the year finalist in 2010 after leading the Avalanche to the playoffs in his first season. In May, Sacco coached the U.S. national team to win a bronze medal at the World Championships in Sweden.
Rolston described Sacco as an ideal fit because of his coaching experience and familiarity with teaching young players, as he had done with the rebuilding Avalanche. And Rolston had to remain patient in waiting for Sacco, who had been a candidate for at least two NHL head-coaching vacancies.
“Once those opportunities passed, it was a situation where—at that point—he was obviously a no-brainer to bring in and talk to,” Rolston said. “In terms of what we had here and the direction we were going, we thought he’d be a perfect fit.”
The Sabres are in transition by rebuilding through youth.
Rolston is part of the team’s transformation. He took over as interim coach in February after Lindy Ruff was fired. He was then hired on a full-time basis in May after closing the season with a 15-11-5 record.
Sacco’s hiring fills one of two openings in Buffalo after Rolston fired both bench coaches, James Patrick and Kevyn Adams. Rolston intends to hire one more assistant, while confirming he’s retained two assistants, Teppo Numminen and goalie coach Jim Corsi.
Rolston and Sacco have ties to USA Hockey, but have never worked together.
Sacco was a forward during 13 seasons in the NHL before retiring in 2003. Drafted by the Maple Leafs in 1987, he finished with 213 points (94 goals, 119 assists) in 738 career games split between Toronto, Anaheim, the New York Islanders, Washington and Philadelphia.
Earlier in the day, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier indicated he wasn’t prepared to make a major splash once the NHL’s free-agency period opens Friday. He is instead interested in targeting veteran role players who would be able to complement Buffalo’s young lineup.
“Our focus is going to be on supporting this younger group,” Regier said. “It means fit. And the fit may be positional, it may be character, it may be to add some scoring.”
Regier remains noncommital as to whether he intends to trade his two star veterans, goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek. Both players are entering the final years of their contracts, leaving their futures uncertain in Buffalo.
“It’s incumbent upon me to have a sense of what the marketplace is or re-sign them, versus allowing them to become unrestricted and just have very good assets walk out the door,” Regier said. “It would be fair to characterize that I’m actively finding out what the marketplace is.”
NOTES: After an up-and-down rookie season, C Mikhail Grigorenko can expect to play all of next year in Buffalo. Though the 2012 first-round draft pick is still eligible to play at the Canadian junior level, Regier said he intends to have Grigorenko develop with the Sabres. … Regier said D Alexander Sulzer will become a free agent. … The Sabres will hold a three-day rookie development camp in Buffalo next week.