Buffalo Sabres: What's old is new again in Buffalo

With the Buffalo Sabres poor start, it was only a matter of time before heads would have to roll Photo: Pat Lafontaine (Mary Altaffer, AP)

SANTA CRUZ, November 16, 2013 — With the Buffalo Sabres poor start, it was only a matter of time before heads would have to roll. First to go was long time general manager Darcy Regier, followed swiftly by head coach Ron Rolston, who barely had a chance to decorate his office before being sent packing.

The Sabres have been brutal this season, but they have also been transitioning into a well publicized rebuild. Some poor play and growing pains ought to have been expected, but clearly management was not prepared for ineptitude at this level. Being problematic, if not impossible, to fire the entire team, the general manager and/or head coach are usually the preferred sacrificial lambs in these scenarios.

Ron Rolston never had much of a chance at succeeding with this group. It was a poor situation to be thrown into, but if a pro head coaching opportunity comes someone’s way, the right thing to do is to take it. If there is such a thing as hockey karma, Rolston will land on his feet somewhere else. His coaching pedigree is solid and he has earned a real chance at the next level.

Coaches and general managers of dismal teams get fired all the time. That alone is not the story in Buffalo. What makes these changes interesting is that Regier is being replaced by Pat Lafontaine, while the head coaching reigns will be handed over to Ted Nolan. Both men have history with the team, and it can be assumed that Sabres management is hoping to recapture the clubs halcyon days of the mid 1990s, while simultaneously keeping the current group of young players headed in the right direction.

Nolan coached the Sabres for two seasons, leading them into the playoffs in what turned out to be his final year with the club (1996-97). He was a fiery coach and was known to let his players run and gun. Nobody is certain why he was initially let go by Buffalo, and he has not coached in the National Hockey League since 2008 with the New York Islanders. The obvious question is whether Nolan will be able to coach a wayward mix of young players and disgruntled veterans in a league which has changed dramatically since he last coached in it.

Pat Lafontaine played parts of six seasons with the Sabres and is a legend in U.S. Hockey circles. He was as creative and exciting a player as the league ever saw, and many people felt it was only a matter of time before he would find himself in a management position.

History has shown that offensive, star players have not always made the best coaches. Ted Nolan was a grinder, a fighter, who spent most of his professional playing career in the minor leagues. If he can adapt his coaching philosophy to the new NHL, the acquisition ought to pay immediate dividends, particularly with the Sabres younger prospects. If, however, his return to coaching after a lengthy absence follows the disastrous Barry Melrose experiment in Tampa Bay a few years ago, it might be a brief one.

Steve Yzerman was another offensively skilled player with tremendous vision and leadership ability. Since taking over general manager duties with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the franchise has become one of the NHLs biggest surprises as well as one of its most entertaining teams to watch. The parallels between Yzerman and Lafontaine as players are obvious and, if Lafontaine can duplicate Yzerman’s front office wizardry, he will make the Sabres management look like geniuses.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

 

 


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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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