By Kyle Gunn-Taylor:
I watched from a 100-level aisle entrance as the Sabres held on for dear life throughout the overtime period against a Los Angeles Kings onslaught that implied another Sabres home loss was in the making.
While Ryan Miller backboned the effort to take the game into a shootout, the man standing next to me in the abort-ready section kept murmuring “Ted Nolan’s back.”
I attributed the man’s unfounded claim to the fact that Nolan’s son Jordan was skating for the Kings and that the man probably swirled a few too many adult sodas throughout the evening.
I shifted out of abort-mode and returned to my seat for the shootout, where I was delighted to find the Sabres taking down their first home win of the season.
However, little did I know instead of watching a win that in the end will most likely have an adverse effect on the ultimate objective this season, I should have been hunting down that crazy man at the mouth of aisle 108 and sourcing him for the news that would break less than 24-hours later; Ted Nolan’s Back!
The Buffalo Sabres announced today that they have fired General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Ron Rolston, effectively replacing them with two familiar faces; former Sabres great Pat LaFontaine and former coach Ted Nolan.
LaFontaine will be assuming the role of President of Hockey Operations, while Nolan will overtake the bench boss duties with an ‘interim’ designation.
‘It’s about time’ is simply an understatement. Until today, Regier had yet to be held accountable for 16 years of failure and leading the charge of hockey incompetency in Buffalo for nearly two decades.
While Rolston didn’t even get a full season to prove his mettle in the NHL, the sample size he provided as an alleged developer of talent and analytics guru proved to be unsatisfactory even for a team that has embraced a rebuild that requires enduring some failure.
Terry Pegula has owned the Sabres for 2 Years, 8-months and 22 days, and this is exactly how long ago this change should have taken place. Unfortunately Pegula came in as a new owner and drank the Regier cool-aid that nearly led Sabres fans to a mass exodus.
Pegula obviously can’t go back and make the decision of jettisoning Regier upon arrival, one that might have kept Lindy Ruff in town, but at least he has the foresight to comprehend what we had here simply was not good enough.
That’s not to say LaFontaine and Nolan will pay immediate dividends, because there is a lot of work left to be done in order for this team to turn into a playoff contender. One thing that will be noticed is attitude.
Rolston clearly lacked an enthusiasm and the natural leadership that this young team needed to light the fire on a nightly basis. On the other hand, the roster is still full of holes and will be a challenge for the new management to rectify. Ted Nolan has been a lightning rod for controversy in the past, but he’s known as a no-nonsense coach that won’t put up with the kind of effort the Sabres have become accustomed to under Rolston.
While it’s too soon to say what kind of method Nolan will use to help ignite the youngsters he has to work with, there should be an immediate shift in intensity and the amount of ice time for the top picks that are the team’s future.
LaFontaine’s first order of business will be finding the new general manager for the Buffalo Sabres, but in the mean time he will work with Assistant GM Kevin Devine on addressing immediate needs such as; whether or not veterans Steve Ott and Ryan Miller will be re-signed, traded or let walk. Also, how to change NHL and CBA policy in order to allow the team to compliance buyout Ville Leino and Drew Stafford in-season.
Moving forward this tandem of Nolan and LaFontaine may be the right move for the franchise, they may not, but a change was needed. The only way last night could have gone any better for Buffalo Sabres fans would have been for Terry Pegula to broadcast the firings over a live feed on the video board as fans filed to the exits, WWE style.