by PuckStopsHere on 11/16/13 at 03:02 AM ET
A big news story this week is the changes in the Buffalo Sabers front office. General manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston have been fired. Pat LaFontaine has been hired as president of hockey operations. It will be his job to find a new general manager. Ted Nolan has been hired as coach.
Buffalo was stuck in last place in the NHL. There are thoughts that they had given up on the season after their Tomas Vanek trade and attempts to trade Ryan Miller. The early return on this move is positive as Buffalo defeated Toronto 3-1 today. This is Buffalo's fifth win in 21 tries. They remain in last place in the East Conference.
Regier had been the Buffalo GM since 1997. It is hard to call him incompetent when looking at his entire record, but it is also hard to call him a top GM. I think the real problems began when Buffalo owner Terry Pegula began to push through moves instead of listening to the GM. You can't fire the owner, but that may be a better call. The GM is the fall guy instead.
Pat LaFontaine will be given the job of finding a new GM. Hopefully he can do this quickly. Right now, Buffalo is a ship without a rudder. They need a competent GM. They need somebody strong enough to resist ownership interference. LaFontaine may be able to find such a guy, but he isn't that guy. The sooner they are in place the better for Buffalo. LaFontaine is a former playing star who is learning the ropes as a front office official. Too many teams bring in former players instead of proven front office talents. There are different skills required to be a hockey player than there are to run a hockey team. Teams must learn this.
Ron Rolston is a completely unproven NHL coach. Rolston was the coach of their AHL farm team and not doing a strong job there. There were several AHL coaches who were more highly thought of than Rolston but he was nevertheless hired because he was easily available. He was at best a placeholder coach who was mistakenly kept into his second season.
Ted Nolan is an interesting choice as a replacement. He is a good coach. He was coach of the year in 1997, while coaching the Sabres. He had a good run as their coach and a good run as the New York Islanders coach. He also has a reputation as a tough guy to work with. He essentially got John Muckler fired as Buffalo GM to make room for Regier as Sabers GM. Despite being one of the top coaches in the NHL, Nolan has been unable to stay continuously employed. He should keep the Buffalo Sabers from being a true bottom-feeder this year. They don't have the talent to compete, but he will keep them out of last place. A new GM would be well-advised to work with Nolan. It is unlikely a better coach will be available.
It is too early to make a meaningful call about how well this will work out. Buffalo may have won today, but one game is not a statistical sample. Buffalo is still a bad team. They now have a good coach, no GM and an owner who interferes negatively. Adding the coach is an improvement, but there is a lot more that needs to be done to turn this team around.
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