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Nolan's future with Sabres unclear, as is LaFontaine's past as soap opera continues

By John Vogl

CHARLOTTE AIRPORT – One week ago, the Sabres were planning a news conference to announce an extension of Ted Nolan’s contract. After a wild weekend that saw Pat LaFontaine resign as president of hockey operations, it’s not clear whether Nolan even wants to stay in Buffalo past this season.

The future of the interim coach and the history of LaFontaine remained uncertain Sunday as the Sabres got back to work. Nolan conducted practice in First Niagara Center before flying to Dallas for Monday’s game, but the emotional man did so with LaFontaine’s departure weighing heavily.

“I don’t even want to think about it, to tell you the truth. It’s that tough,” Nolan said. “It hasn’t just been the last two months with Patty. I formed that relationship with him as a player back last time I was coaching. Everybody knows what kind man Patty is. They don’t come much better than him.”

Nolan and LaFontaine have been friends and allies since 1995, and LaFontaine opened the door for Nolan to return to Buffalo in November. It appears Nolan’s job status had nothing to do with LaFontaine’s shocking exit because the coach was safe.

Continue reading "Nolan's future with Sabres unclear, as is LaFontaine's past as soap opera continues" »

Emotional Nolan puts aside coaching future, LaFontaine to focus on Sabres' players

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan has been friends with Pat LaFontaine since the mid-1990s. That's not going to change. The Sabres' coach has also lived through chaos in the Buffalo organization before, so he knows what a firestorm this is right now.

The emotional man also knows now is not the time to talk at length about everything that is going on.

"It’s one of those situations where I have to put my personal situation behind right now and really concentrate on those 22 guys here," Nolan said this morning after practice in First Niagara Center. "That was the main I reason got here was to try to turn things around and coach the Buffalo Sabres. Right now especially I’m going to really concentrate on that because we traded our franchise player, we traded our captain.

"It’s tough enough as it is. All of a sudden, a situation happens with Patty. Right now I’ve just got put how I’m feeling away to the side and deal with the team."

The wild weekend that has seen LaFontaine resign as president of hockey operations and Ryan Miller and Steve Ott get traded has weighed heavily on Nolan. The emotions are even more raw because the interim coach, who was brought in by LaFontaine, is in the midst of contract negotiations.

"Right now I can’t even discuss that. It’s such an emotional roller coaster," Nolan said. "Right now is not the time to discuss that because of the situation that just occurred. When you’re emotional, you never want to make emotional comments on anything.

"Yes, we did talk about contract, so like I said right now is not about my contract. It’s about the situation that just happened. It’s about what transpired in this organization, what happened to a very dear friend. We’ll leave it at that."

During Nolan's last coaching stay in Buffalo (1995-97), a huge power struggle that featured the coach, John Muckler and Dominik Hasek took place. The dysfunction was clear, as it is now.

"I went through that a number of years ago," Nolan said. "I can’t control what people assume. There’s something happened, and I don’t know, so I can’t answer a question that I don’t know."

One thing that's clear is Nolan will miss working alongside LaFontaine.

"I don’t want even want to think about it, to tell you the truth. It’s that tough," Nolan said. "It hasn’t just been the last two months with Patty. I formed that relationship with him as a player back last time I was coaching. Everybody knows what kind of man Patty is. They don’t come much better than him."

The latest on LaFontaine: Power struggle or simple second thoughts?

By Mike Harrington

Pat LaFontaine made a triumphant return to Buffalo in November, thrilling the fan base with the thought one of the Sabres' legendary players could be the the catalyst to reverse the course of a franchise that had lost its way.

Just 3 1/2 months later, the dream is over.

The team said LaFontaine abruptly resigned his position as president of hockey operations Saturday night, a stunning capper to one of the most turbulent 24-hour periods in the franchise's 44-year history.

Just prior to Friday's game against San Jose, the Sabres traded longtime franchise goaltender Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. Now LaFontaine is gone, with the team revealing he is returning to his role in the National Hockey League's central office in New York monitoring player safety issues.

Word started spreading in mid-afternoon that something was amiss in the Buffalo front office, that divisions had formed over issues like the trade of Miller and the potential contract extension for interim coach Ted Nolan.

Several reports say LaFontaine, 49, was in the middle of a power struggle in the team's executive division, while a source close to the team insisted LaFontaine simply had second thoughts about the job and was interested in returning to New York in his role with the league.

That notion is a curious one when you consider LaFontaine's son, Daniel, is a player for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres and recently announced his commitment to play for Canisius College, starting in the 2015-16 season. And where are the Ice Griffs moving their games to in the fall? To HarborCenter, the $172 million facility owner Terry Pegula is opening in front of First Niagara Center.

Continue reading "The latest on LaFontaine: Power struggle or simple second thoughts?" »

Reports: Sabres front office discord could involve LaFontaine

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.

Stay tuned.

 

Murray Mania: All the chatter from a huge day in Sabreland

Sabrestrio
Craig Patrick, Tim Murray and Pat LaFontaine are the centers of attention on a big day for the Sabres front office. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)



By Mike Harrington

We've got all the angles covered in today's Buffalo News about the hiring of Tim Murray as the Sabres' new general manager and Hall of Famer Craig Patrick as a special assistant. Check out these links.

In John Vogl's main story on the day's activities, there's a closer examination of why the straight-shooting Murray was Pat LaFontaine's pick from a field that grew to 10 candidates.

My main assignment was a look at what Murray and Pat LaFontaine think of Ted Nolan and Ryan Miller, now that a GM is in place. 

Bucky Gleason's column talks about the arrival of Craig Patrick, a hockey lifer who became emotional because he gets reunited with Pat LaFontaine.

I had an interesting chat with Zenon Konopka yesterday about Murray, the only current Sabre who has played while Murray was in a front office. He was effusive in his praise.

What about the game? Not a great effort at all in a shootout loss to the Florida Panthers. But, as Amy Moritz notes, the bigger story was the return of Mikhail Grigorenko from Sweden. But how long does he stay? 

What's being said about Murray around the Web?

Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog says the new GM is no "Dawdling Darcy." Ouch.  

Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir calls the hirings of Murray and Craig Patrick "genius" decisions by LaFontaine.

In the Ottawa Sun, Bruce Garrioch has the reaction from the Senators on Murray's departure.

And be sure to scroll through previous entries on this blog for plenty of video from Thursday's press conference as well.

The GM search: Fenton confirms interest, says 'I would love to get an opportunity to talk to them'

Paul-fenton1
Paul Fenton at the NHL Draft in June. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

I've heard multiple whispers today that Pat LaFontaine has been in Boston, presumably to interview Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning for the Sabres' vacant GM post.

Benning is the only known candidate the Sabres have asked permission to speak to thus far, although they're expected to be interested in PIttsburgh assistant Jason Botterill and Nashville aide Paul Fenton as well.

(Friday night update:  LaFontaine spoke to reporters at the Rochester Amerks game tonight and confirmed he has done one interview this week -- and that his short list of candidates has grown)

Fenton, a former NHL player with seven teams, spoke out Thursday night in Toronto about the job and revealed that Nashville GM David Poile has called the Sabres to talk up his assistant's candidacy.

"I believe that I’m ready,” said Fenton, 53. “I’m hoping somebody else does. (David) was talking to them about me being interested in the job. There’s no question, I would love to get an opportunity to talk to them.”

Fenton is an original Predators employee dating to the team's birth in 1998. After serving as the director of player personnel for the Predators’ first eight seasons, he was promoted to assistant general manager on June 5, 2006. He's best known in Nashville for spearheading the picks in the 2003 draft that produced standout defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. 

LaFontaine on returning tonight: 'Why not play Toronto?'

By Mike Harrington

Pat LaFontaine knows Buffalo. He knows what tonight is going to be like, how the fans will respond to the return of both one of its Rafters Club members and Ted Nolan. It will be quite a scene, even if the First Niagara Center will be filled with Leafs fans too.

"From what I understand there's going to be a little bit of a mixed crowd but we're hoping our passionate Sabres fans will be louder," a smiling LaFontaine said during a meeting with reporters today. "It's measuring up to be just a great event, exciting for Teddy, for this organization. And for the players in the room why not? Why not play Toronto? This is great."

In the wake of Wednesday's stunning press conference, the team's new president of hockey operations said he's spent the last couple of days in taking-stock mode when it comes to both the team and the search for a general manager to replace Darcy Regier. He said he expects to be traveling, asking other teams for permission to talk to candidates (like Pittsburgh's Jason Botterill) starting on Monday, but does not expect to have a choice selected next week.

"It's right up there close, right in the forefront," LaFontaine said of the search, pointing to his forehead. "I'm going to be traveling and meeting with some candidates. We'll see how those go. It's obviously a priority. It has to be that right person that's a good fit for this organization going forward."

LaFontaine said he is particularly thrilled that Nolan gets another chance with the Sabres, after never returning following his Coach of the Year season in 1996-97 because Darcy Regier only offered him a one-year contract.

"Life comes full circle," LaFontaine said. "I said to Teddy, 'Anywhere you go in this life you're supposed to learn things and you apply them. If you don't apply them, you really haven't learned them. Everything you've gone though and I've gone through, there are no coincidences in life.' It just seemed like this is right. This is what it's supposed to be right now."

Click below to hear audio of LaFontaine's meeting with the media.

Pat LaFontaine

Report: Pens to grant Botterill permission to talk to LaFontaine about GM post

By Mike Harrington

Pat LaFontaine said yesterday the search to replace Darcy Regier as general manager is on and reiterated that stance this morning during team president Ted Black's weekly radio show on WGR Radio. He's not kidding.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting the Sabres will be granted permission to talk to Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill -- a former Sabres player and rising prospect in NHL executive ranks -- about their vacant post.

Botterill, 37, is in his fifth season with the Penguins and is considered an expert with the salary cap. He spent the last three years of his pro hockey career in the Buffalo organization, including 36 games with the Sabres in 2002-03 and 2003-04.

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Related content from the Sabres Edge blog:

The Patty and Teddy Show: All your links from an epic day of change in Sabreland

TBN front
Today's front page of The Buffalo News.

By Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Sabres' fortunes were supposed to completely turn around on Feb. 23, 2011, the day Terry Pegula took over as owner. Hasn't worked out that way. No further explanation necessary.

Maybe in a few years, we'll look at Nov. 13, 2013 as the day. 

Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston gone. Fan base thrilled.

Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan in. Fan base doubly thrilled.

It was an incredible morning in First Niagara Center and The Buffalo News has had full coverage online since the news of the press conference first broke around 9:30 Wednesday morning and reams of stories in today's print editions.

Here's a complete rundown of all the coverage:

It's back to the future for a broken franchise: As Jonn Vogl writes, "Enter Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan, faces from a golden age who strolled back into First Niagara Center on Wednesday with smiles, tears, determination and inspiring messages. News of their return raced through Sabreland and brought instant joy to a miserable time in team history."

Job one for LaFontaine: Restore the fans' faith in the front office: When I talked to LaFontaine after yesterday's press conference, he recounted how this entire plan was hatched in the last 10 days during a chance meeting with Terry Pegula in Florida -- and how Pegula first asked him about replacing Regier as the GM.

Rebuilding bridges is necessary -- Columnist Bucky Gleason says Regier burned so many in his time here that LaFontaine and Nolan have a lot of work to do to mend all the fences inside and outside the organization.

Darcy's hits and misses -- In a look back at Regier's career, Vogl writes, "Not getting the job done will be Regier’s ultimate legacy."

Nolan gets back to work in Blue & Gold -- The first post-practice press conference had Nolan thrilled to be back in his old job but much more secure in his shoes than when he was let go in 1997. "I’m done proving myself," Nolan says in Amy Moritz's story. "I just really want to do what I think I’m good at."

The players get a reset button -- Moritz also has reaction from the locker room, where the players seemed to sense there will be no more passengers with LaFontaine, Nolan and whoever is the GM now steering the ship.

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Related content from the Sabres Edge blog:

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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