The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 04/15/15 at 09:19 AM ET
Ted Nolan has coached 471 games in the NHL. But not one single time has he ever stood behind the bench of a Stanley Cup contender.
How would Nolan do with a supremely talented team?
Chances are we'll never know, because his NHL coaching career is likely over.
When was it clear that his latest gig in Buffalo wouldn't last? For me, it was at prospect camp last summer, when I couldn't help but notice that Tim Murray and Nolan were watching the action from the same section in the 200 level, yet they were seated five rows apart.
I remember seeing Nikita Zadorov flying around the ice hitting people and prospect Nick Baptiste making a great drive towards the net, followed by Murray jotting down some notes -- but doing no communicating with Nolan.
It was like they weren't even in the same building.
There's a bit of an outcry from Nolan supporters about the unfairness of firing someone for doing exactly what you wanted him to do, which was finish 30th. Truthfully, Murray's decision had little or nothing to do with job performance.
Even if Nolan had maximized the potential of this Sabres team, which would likely have put them in around 27th place with about 15 more points, his fate would've been the same.
Murray didn't hire Nolan, and quite frankly I don't think he was ever fond of him on a professional level. This was almost certainly going to happen either now or a few months into next season.
The sad part for fans of Nolan like myself is that, after the disbelief and excitement about his improbable return to the Buffalo bench, what we learned over time is that what worked 18 years ago doesn't apply in today's NHL.
Concepts like "working hard" and "compete level" have been replaced by "puck possession metrics" and "zone entry data". The latter two are about as far away from Nolan's core competencies as good chicken wings are from California.
For as bad as his team was, Nolan could have shown some adaptability to the new way of thinking in hockey in some of his decisions. Such an approach could have at least yielded a more competitive team and a modestly better output than 54 points.
Instead, the coach of the league's worst team recited the tired old adage of getting by just fine with the "eye test".
Selling the emotional and intangible components of the game are Nolan's brand, but that pitch is better suited for a level such as junior hockey, where he not coincidentally has won 3 championships in 6 seasons. It's a perfect fit for him.
Some younger fans don't understand what made Nolan such a rock star in Buffalo. The reason is pretty simple.
We grew up watching skilled Sabres teams get bullied and beaten by lesser-talented thug squads like the Bruins, or in some cases just not seem to show enough heart against teams like the Canadiens and Nordiques.
Then this young, brash unknown motivator came to town out of nowhere and the attitude was shaken up instantly.
One of my favorite Nolan moments was his response towards the Flyers bench after the Steve Shields - Garth Snow brawl in a 1997 playoff game. It was a clear message that, win or lose, the Sabres weren't taking any crap from anyone ever again. It was a fresh and exhilarating change.
But in 2015, things are so different. Skating around defenders is the norm and skating through them is the exception. Emotion and intangibles are still important, but the talent level of NHL teams is so close to even that manipulating analytical data to maximize small edges is paramount.
With that in mind, it's not crazy to hypothesize that Nolan wouldn't have gotten the best out of a great team if he ever had one. Opposing coaches would be making effective strategic decisions on zone starts and matchups while Nolan would be giving speeches about needing to work harder.
It's an inspiring mentality from a man who is rightfully still beloved by many in a blue-collar town in tune with his philosophies on hockey and life.
But in today's NHL, it just isn't enough.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]