Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Regier era ends and the LaFontaine era begins

In a back-to-the-future move, the Buffalo Sabres announced yesterday that long-time Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been fired and former Sabre-great Pat LaFontaine has been named Director of Hockey Operations.

In addition, Sabres head coach Ron Rolston has been fired and replaced by former Sabres coach, and 1997 Jack Adams Award winner, Ted Nolan.

Back to 1996.

It was a major shock to the collective system of Buffalo sports fans. The shocking part wasn't that Regier and Rolston were fired, considering the performance of the team and the overall toxic atmosphere permeating Washington St., the shocking part is that it actually happened.

Regier has had more lives in his 17 or so years than Felix the Cat, and has gotten away with countless faux pas'. But just when it looked as if he'd finally get shown the door, he'd either pull off a "hockey genius" type of move or ownership would change.

Unlike most franchises in major sports, Regier was a constant through four different owners. Instead of one owner going through four GM's over a 17 yr. period, Regier the GM lasted through four owners.

And so it goes.

The future is finally now and Sabres owner Pegula couldn't have done better with the hiring of LaFontaine, who is a legend in Buffalo.

During yesterday's presser, LaFontaine seemed confident and at ease with what was before him. He knew what was happening, and seems to have a firm grasp as to what needs to be done.

Whether it was a PR move or genuine hockey move--or a likely combination of both--the fan base stood on it's ear with the hiring.

And if that wasn't enough, LaFontaine's first move was to hire his former Sabres coach in Nolan.

Nolan had come full circle sitting at the press table, in effect taking the place of Regier who had sat there 17 years earlier announcing that Nolan had been relieved of his duties.

Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine--
Grit and skill.
It was all taken in stride as the former coach, clearly still somewhat embittered, bit his tongue and kept it positive even going as far to say that if what had preceded hadn't happened, he wouldn't be sitting there right now.

Nolan was also overtaken by emotions at times, seemingly overwhelmed with his place at the table, almost like a prodigal son. He was humbled and sincere and extremely grateful that he got the call from LaFontaine to become Buffalo's interim coach--"interim" being the operative word.

It was a good move for the new Director of Hockey Ops. Nolan will be in charge of weeding out the slackers while instilling discipline and a sense of compete. And maybe most important, as mentioned by former Sabres captain Michael Peca, his hiring energized the fan-base.

In addition to Nolan, LaFontaine laid out a few other organizational things at the presser.

First, he said flat-out that he's not a GM. The search for a new one is on, and until then he will be working with Assistant GM Kevin Devine with personnel in Buffalo, Rochester and next year's draft..

He also made it clear that Nolan is the interim coach of the Sabres and that a new GM will pick his coach.

The Buffalo Sabres
retired Pat LaFontaine's
number 16 in
March, 2006

Assistant coaches Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen and Jerry Forton will be retained as well as goalie coach, Jim Corsi.

The most pressing issue right now is Nolan and his coaching staff getting getting "the ship righted."
LaFontaine hired Nolan to change the culture of the team. Right now it's in disarray and one of the biggest problems is vets packing it in and having an adverse impact on the youngins.

It's a bad environment and the new regime is placing a heavy emphasis on compete with Nolan saying you either skate hard or hit the road.

Having LaFontaine and Nolan center stage was a strange sight not only for the flashback effect but also for the divergence in styles and what each bring to the organization.

LaFontaine was an immensely skilled player and a prolific scorer who could score or set up. He was a part of that early 90's fast skating/high-scoring Sabres team that saw his linemate, Alexander Mogilny, score 76 goals in a season. LaFontaine's a hockey Hall of Famer, and has his number 16 in the rafters at the F'N Center.

Nolan, on the other hand, is the champion of hard workers, the grunts so to speak. He coached in the NHL's "trap era" and oversaw a Sabres team known as "the hardest working team in hockey." It should be noted that Regier had dismantled that team beginning with the firing of Nolan.

If this harmonic convergence takes hold and grows, it could be a home run for Buffalo. When putting those two styles together I think of Mark Messier, Brendan Shanahan, Owen Nolan and John LeClair, very talented yet extremely hard-working players who could make a difference in a number of ways.

While talking about his previous tenure and the timbre of his players, Nolan pointed out that players like LaFontaine, Matthew Barnaby, Rob Ray and Brad May had "a certain element, a certain mystique" about them. As he learns more about the players that he inherited, he'll be looking for those qualities in them to build a championship team.

It's a mind-blowingly fresh start for the Buffalo Sabres, even with the team going back to the future.

Let the LaFontaine era begin.|BUF|home

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