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Jay McKee Linked to AHL Coaching Job



Jay McKee head coach Belleville Senators Rochester Americans Buffalo Sabres Ottawa Senators

Former Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jay McKee could be behind the bench in the AHL next season. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek mentioned on 32 Thoughts: The Podcast that McKee is linked to joining the Ottawa Senators organization as a coach, with the team’s new management potentially looking to restructure their AHL Belleville Senators.

McKee is a popular name circulating the vacancy with the Rochester Americans as well, with his strong ties to the Buffalo Sabres organization. The longtime NHL defenseman played 24 games with Rochester in the mid-to-late nineties and was an assistant coach with the club in 2011-2012.

He played 582 of his 802 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres from 1995 to 2006.

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Head Coaching Start

After his season as an assistant coach with the Amerks, McKee shifted to major junior hockey. He was an assistant coach with a Connor McDavid-led Erie Otters in 2014-2015. After helping the team go 50-14-4, the Kitchener Rangers hired the former defenseman as an associate coach the following season.

Kitchener promoted McKee to head coach for the 2016-2017 season, and he remained in the role for four seasons.

In 2021, the Hamilton Bulldogs hired McKee and found instant success. The Bulldogs swept their way to the J. Ross Robertson Cup, where they defeated the Windsor Spitfires four games to three.

McKee coached Hamilton to third place in his first Memorial Cup bid, going 1-2.

AHL Interest

McKee has remained with the Bulldogs organization as head coach even after their move to Brantford. His steady success in the OHL and his role in developing current NHLers Logan Stanley, Arber Xhekaj, Ryan Winterton, and Mason McTavish aid his case to become a professional head coach.

Marek notes that Ottawa Senators President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Steve Staios is looking at potential changes to the organization’s coaching makeup. Marek reported that he “thinks that somewhere down the road, John Gruden is involved in coaching [with the Sens] in some capacity, feels the same way about Jay McKee as well, whether it’s Ottawa or AHL Belleville.”

Gruden is the current head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, so Marek is likely referring to a promotion to the NHL as an assistant on new head coach Travis Green’s staff.

That would leave McKee in line to be the next head coach of the Belleville Senators in his first professional gig as bench boss.

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What About Rochester?

A return to the Sabres organization as head coach of the Rochester Americans is a move that would tick a lot of boxes. McKee was a longtime player under the tutelage of Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff.

General Manager Kevyn Adams is a big believer in bringing in people loyal to the organization and area, which makes Jay McKee a great fit.

So why Belleville instead of Rochester?

With nothing final, it’s always a possibility McKee returns. Without a huge track record in development, and Buffalo’s strong connections to the U.S. National Team Development Program and collegiate hockey, it’s more likely they bring in someone along those lines.

They could also look at other coaches connected to Ruff, such as James Patrick of the Victoria Royals or former Amerks coach and player Chris Taylor.

Taylor also coached with former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach J.D. Forrest, who has ties to Associate General Manager Jason Karmanos and VP of Hockey Strategy and Research Sam Ventura from their time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

These more established candidates make it more unlikely McKee will get his first professional head coaching chance with Rochester. With Belleville knocking at the door, it’s a great opportunity for the former Sabres player to take the next step in his career.