By Mike Harrington
There are signs that Pat LaFontaine's stint as the Buffalo Sabres' president of hockey operations could be over.
TSN's Bob McKenzie and Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman have both tweeted this afternoon about discord in the Buffalo front office. One possible result is LaFontaine possibly leaving the organization just 3 1/2 months after he triumphantly entered following the firing of general manager Darcy Regier.
LaFontaine was one of the scheduled speakers at yesterday's Power Play Luncheon in the Lexus Club at First Niagara Center but was a late scratch as the crowd was told he was not feeling well. The function was a heavily promoted one featuring LaFontaine, Danny Gare, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, the four living Sabres who have their numbers retired.
Any issues surrounding LaFontaine would most likely involve new general manager Tim Murray -- the man LaFontaine hired in January to replace Regier.
LaFontaine was also not seen nor heard from last night during the activity surrounding the trading of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. LaFontaine, remember, spoke out strongly about the Sabres keeping Miller on multiple occasions. And for LaFontaine to not be seen on the night a face-of-the-franchise player like Miller was traded was highly unusual.
In addition, interim coach Ted Nolan revealed during his postgame news conference that he was told by Joe Battista, the team's VP of hockey-related businesses, to pull Miller from the lineup. Battista then returned to tell Nolan to pull Ott. Why wouldn't LaFontaine be doing that? Battista, a longtime friend of Pegula, was just hired this year from Penn State and has zero NHL experience.
Discord involving LaFontaine could certainly speak to the trading of Miller or the unwillingness of either Murray or owner Terry Pegula to give interim coach Ted Nolan a contract extension. There was talk earlier this week such a move was imminent with Nolan but it has not materialized.
Murray, speaking yesterday on the FAN 590 in Toronto, said the status of Nolan was something he might look at after the season and that Nolan would have a role within the organization -- but never said that role would be as the coach.
Tim Murray and his uncle, Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray, are known to be close to former Sabres coach and GM John Muckler, who was the Sens' GM in 2007 when Bryan Murray coached them past Buffalo in the Eastern Conference finale. And, of course, Muckler is no friend of Nolan as their celebrated 1997 power struggle here resulted in both men getting let go and the regime of Regier and Lindy Ruff getting its start.
There is no comment from the Sabres on all of this at this time. My texts to LaFontaine, team president Ted Black and vice president of public relations Michael Gilbert have all gone unreturned.
LaFontaine, remember, has already had one quick exit from an NHL front office. He worked just 40 days as an unpaid senior adviser for New York Islanders owner Charles Wang before resigning in July, 2006 because he disagreed with Wang's decision to fire general manager Neil Smith and replace him with Garth Snow.