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Former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe remains front-runner to join Sabres' coaching staff

By John Vogl

PHILADELPHIA -- Arturs Irbe remains the front-runner to become the Sabres' next goaltending coach, a source with ties to the goalie guild tells The News.

Irbe has been mentioned as a potential Sabres assistant ever since it became clear Ted Nolan would clean house and hire his own people. That hasn't changed, and it's being assumed in hockey circles that Irbe is a given for the job.

Irbe was one of Nolan's assistants on the Latvian Olympic team. The former NHL goalie, who played for San Jose, Dallas, Vancouver and Carolina, was Washington's goalie coach from 2009 to 2011 but went back to his homeland after failing to get a promotion to regular assistant coach.

There is no timetable for Nolan to announce his coaching staff. He released assistants Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen and Jerry Forton, plus goalie coach Jim Corsi, at the end of the season. Nolan inherited the staff from previous coach Ron Rolston.

Irbe played 568 games from 1991 to 2004.

Roster moves to help Amerks' playoff push

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres are going nowhere of course, playing out the string of their last-place season with their final three games (Thursday at New York, Saturday at Boston and here Sunday against the Islanders). The Rochester Amerks, meanwhile, have six games left in their desperate playoff push in the AHL and the parent club is going to be giving them some help for this weekend's key three-games-in-three-days-stretch.

The Amerks have a one-point lead and a game in hand on Rockford for the final spot in the AHL's Western Conference. They have a one-point lead and two games in hand on Charlotte. They host Toronto Friday, play Saturday at Hamilton and Sunday at Lake Erie. 

Here's the roster rundown on both ends of the Thruway in the wake of Thursday's practice in First Niagara Center:

1). Drew Stafford will play for the Sabres tomorrow night after missing the last four games with an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder (lower body) is a game-time decision after missing four straight and could also play. Sabres coach Ted Nolan has ruled Tyler Myers out for the final three games.

2). Forwards Johan Larsson and Nicolas Deslauriers were returned to Rochester today. Nolan said a defenseman should be heading to Rochester for the weekend as well, and that would likely be Mark Pysyk.

3). Nolan said Matt Hackett will start all three Buffalo games in goal and current Sabres backup Andrey Makarov will head to the AHL after backing up Hackett in New York. Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy told reporters in Rochester today "absolutely" when asked if Makarov could start all three weekend games.

4). Rasmus Ristolainen and Hackett both told me they expect to return to Rochester for the at least the final three games. Ristolainen told me he's just going day by day and isn't thinking past tomorrow in New York until he's told otherwise.

5). Nolan said the Sabres will have to get another backup for the final two games. He didn't know if the team would go outside the organization or flip current Amerks backup Connor Knapp to Buffalo.

Here's Nolan's audio from today with plenty of thoughts on the Amerks, Hackett, Jake McCabe and others.

Ted Nolan

Murray, Nolan share common vision to improve Sabres now that coaching job is stable

By John Vogl

The finalization of Ted Nolan's contract today is more of a start than a finish. It allows the Sabres and their fans to know that an important position -- head coach -- is stable after a wild year of uncertainty and down times in Sabreland.

“I’m really excited about going with the next step,” Nolan said this afternoon during a joint news conference with General Manager Tim Murray. “Hopefully, one day we’ll battle for a championship.”

Nolan will be on board for the next three seasons after signing a long-awaited contract extension, which removed his interim status. Murray didn’t have a “Eureka!” moment when came to deciding Nolan should stick around. Rather, the GM saw a talent-lacking squad respond to its coach on a daily basis.

“Every day has been a trying situation,” Murray said in First Niagara Center. “There’s been very few games we haven’t been competitive.

“From the players, all I’ve heard is positives.”

Dealing with the players is the next step. Murray and Nolan, a pair of midseason replacements, are aware the roster will need an overhaul for Nolan to do the best job possible.

“We have to get him better players,” Murray said.

The full news conference is available below.

Sabres, Nolan agree to contract extension

By John Vogl

Pen has finally met paper as Ted Nolan signed a contract extension today to stay on as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.

“We are very happy to get this deal done and have Ted Nolan as our permanent head coach going forward,” General Manager Tim Murray said in a statement. “Teddy has proven time and again that he is an exceptional leader, motivator and teacher. He is exactly what we need in a head coach for our hockey team, and we’re confident in his ability to guide our players and turn this team around.”

Nolan, who was named interim coach in November, was set to sign the extension last month before the chaos erupted involving the departure of Pat LaFontaine, his friend and president of hockey operations. Nolan took a break to reassess the matter, and the contract has been in the hands of his agent for weeks.

“I said back in November that it was a dream to be able to come back and coach the Sabres, and that’s still true today,” Nolan said. “Hockey is my life, and Buffalo is a special place for hockey. I’m excited by the challenge facing our team and our organization, and I’m truly thankful to have this opportunity.”

The contract is believed to be a three-year deal. Nolan finally has the long-term contract with the Sabres he had desired since 1997, when he was named NHL Coach of the Year but left the team after a mere one-year offer by incoming GM Darcy Regier.

The Sabres were 4-15-1 when Nolan took over Nov. 13. They have gone 16-30-8 with him on the bench.

The Sabres' next game is Tuesday, when they host the New Jersey Devils.

Lines are shuffled, goalies shuffled as Hackett will start vs. Oilers

By Mike Harrington

SHERWOOD PARK, Alberta -- The Sabres worked out for an hour today in the suburban practice facility that doubles as the Edmonton Oilers' part-time home and there were two main areas of news that come out of it:

Goaltending: Matt Hackett will make his Buffalo debut as the starter Thursday night in Rexall Place after Nathan Lieuwen played well in Calgary. Michal Neuvirth practiced fully and is on track to return Sunday in Vancouver. Hackett has 13 games of NHL experience with Minnesota.

Forward lines: Coach Ted Nolan juggled them and Marcus Foligno will replace Cory Conacher on the wing with red-hot Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. That trio hopes to reprise their scoring surge that was the talk of the NHL during Buffalo's 2012 playoff push that fell short. 

The playoffs are a pipe dream for this edition of the Sabres, who have lost seven straight and have just six goals in those games.

"Hopefully we have luck like that again and put up some points here," Foligno said.

"They've both got their game going," Nolan said of Stafford and Ennis. "You can't ask for much more from those two so it would be unfair for us to break them up. With Conacher, he had a couple empty-net tap in goals and he missed them. Maybe it will be good for Marcus to get in that position where his confidence could rise a little bit."

The other key move up front is returning Cody Hodgson to center from the wing. He was between Conacher and Torey Mitchell. Brian Flynn was centering Matt D'Agostini and Nicolas Deslauriers while Ville Leino was dropped to the fourth line with Matt Ellis. John Scott and Zenon Konopka were splitting the time on the other wing.

As for the goaltending, Nolan said the Sabres simply want a look at Hackett. When Neuvirth returns one of the newcomers in net will return to Rochester so this could be a quick look for Hackett. 

Hackett is just 13-17-2 for the Amerks with a 3.07 GAA and .898 save percentage. Not what you'd expect from a guy with the big prospect label acquired from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade. Hackett was refreshingly frank about his season today.

"I don't think I was working hard enough at the start of the year," said Hackett, who credited Amerks goalie coach and former Canisius netminder Bob Janosz for staying with him. "My work ethic had to improve and get better. As a goalie you're alwys battling with your partner. It's a healthy competition. I'm just trying to get my game back and work hard."

Click below to hear the complete conversations with the media from Nolan and Hackett.

Ted Nolan

Matt Hackett

Neuvirth injury latest obstacle; Enroth to start tonight

By Mike Harrington

Coach Ted Nolan clarified the Sabres' goaltending situation in his pregame briefing with the media this way: Jhonas Enroth will start tonight against Montreal and emergency callup Nathan Lieuwen will be the backup. Michal Neuvirth is day to day with a lower-body injury suffered while he was in the crosshairs of the Carolina shooting gallery Thursday in Raleigh.

Nolan said Lieuwen may need to travel with the team tomorrow to Calgary if Neuvirth is not responding well to treatment. Nolan said the injury happened during Thursday's game but Neuvirth backed up yesterday on Long Island and the Sabres weren't clear there was an issue until after the morning skate.

"All of a sudden one of the guys told us he wasn't feeling too good going in," Nolan said, referring to the team trainers. "We went in the pregame skate and he did everything. He must have just tweaked something, I don't know, maybe walking over to the rink. I don't know when. It was serious enough to warrant a recall."

Enroth will be meeting Montreal third stringer Dustin Tokarski in net tonight. Tokarski has played just two games for the Habs but is spelling backup Peter Budaj. Starter Carey Price, who played last night against Ottawa for the first time since the Olympics because of a lower-body injury, did not even make the trip as the team opted to keep him home. Clearly no concern of a Sabres offensive explosion.

And why should there be? Buffalo has scored five goals in losing its last five games -- and all of them have been by either Drew Stafford or Tyler Ennis.

"We have what we have," Nolan said. "In order to score goals in this league, I don't care if you're a seasoned veteran or a rookie, it all stems from how hard you want to crash the net and the price you want to pay to go in front of that net to screen, rebound, fight for that. We're almost there but almost doesn't count. You've got to pay a certain price to score some goals."

The Sabres don't have much offense and they're still looking to fill the huge leadership void left by the trade of captain Steve Ott to St. Louis.

"When you lose your leadership, it takes a little while for it to come back," Nolan said. "Steve Ott was a big leader in that room. I noticed that the first day I got here. And all of a sudden he's gone. So we're waiting for certain guys to emerge as the next leaders. and it's tough. But they've got to find a way."

Nolan said Tyler Myers  (arm) will be out tonight and remains day to day, although the team is hopeful he'll go on the Western swing. Torey Mitchell skated well on his own today and Nolan said he could play Tuesday in Calgary.

Click below to hear Nolan's entire meeting with reporters.

Ted Nolan

Sabres head to Carolina with agitated Nolan hoping to see better work habits

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres made a quick exit after practice today in First NIagara Center, trying to get out of town on their charter to Raleigh for Thursday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes (5 p.m. update: the plane has landed safely in Raleigh)

Practice was shorter than planned as interim coach Ted Nolan didn't like the effort, made the players do wind sprints (the old "bag skate" in hockey terms) and then walked off the ice, leaving them to discuss it all on their own.

"I don’t really care what position you’re in or what your skill set is or anything like that. What I care about is the work that you put in and the effort that you put in," Nolan said. "We didn’t put the effort in at the beginning of practice and habits are easy to form, good or bad. We have to avoid those bad habits and get them out early. We’re still professional people here. We’ve still got a season to go, too. Attention to detail, that’s our No. 1 priority."

One of the player who has definitely figured it out of late is Stafford, who played his 500th NHL game last night. Stafford had Buffalo's only goal in its otherwise dreary 4-1 win over Nashville and has eight goals and 14 points in his last 15 games.

With Steve Ott gone to St. Louis, Stafford has also regained the alternate captain 'A' that Ron Rolston took away from him at the start of the season. The Sabres will not be naming a replacement captain the rest of the year.

"We need everyone going. We can't have any passengers," Stafford told me after last night's game. "Forget where we are in the standings. We're playing for pride. We're playing to not be embarrassed out there. We're not going to quick or mail it in. Our fans don't deserve that. We're building for the future here and we have to establish the right way to do things."

Tomorrow's game opens a brutal stretch that sees Buffalo finish the season with 12 of its final 17 games on the road. For more on Stafford's late-season burst, be sure to read my story in Thursday's editions of The News.

Today's motto in Florida for Nolan, players: Gone fishin'

By Mike Harrington

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the eve of the trade deadline, and after a late-night arrival from Dallas, Ted Nolan told his players to take the day and not think about hockey. And he's not thinking too much about his own status either as new GM Tim Murray gets set for the most important day yet in the overhaul of the franchise.

"Tim and the coaching staff and all are really focused on the trades. We don't need to be negotiating a contract at this point. I'm not going anywhere. I'm here," Nolan said during an early-afternoon chat with The Buffalo News, TSN and in the lobby of the Westin Harbour Island hotel. "I'm trying to do the best job I possibly can and worry about the team. We've got a bunch of young kids who don't really know what happened and why. I can give them some direction and leadership right now."

Nolan had a morning meeting with his team in the hoteland  his message was simply that he understands how the sudden departure of Pat LaFontaine combined with the trade deadline can add to the stress. But the players simply need to get on the ice and keep playing.

"Some don't know if they're going to be here after today," Nolan said. "Who knows who's going to be here tomorrow?  Right now they're here together so I decided to give them a day where they could enjoy being themselves.

"That's why I decided today to let them do something outside of hockey. Let them go to the dog races or go fishing or go walk in the beach, enjoy the sunshine and just be themselves today and try to get hockey out of the system. We go to the rink, we're going to talk hockey all the time. There's some other things that can be a little bit more interesting than talking hockey 24 hours."

Continue reading "Today's motto in Florida for Nolan, players: Gone fishin'" »

Nolan says no deadline on Sabres' contract offer, keeping focus on ice

By John Vogl

DALLAS -- Ted Nolan has twice waited years for a team to offer him a coaching contract. He has one on the table now, and this time he's waiting.

The Sabres' coach said today he has not talked with General Manager Tim Murray about his future. Murray said Sunday about Nolan, "If he wants to be here, I want him to be our coach."

"No, I haven’t thought about it," Nolan said in American Airlines Center, where the Sabres visit the Stars. "My main focus right now is the game tonight."

Is there a deadline on the offer?

"No deadline," Nolan said. "No nothing. My main focus as it’s always been since I’ve been here, and I said it earlier, not because I’m just saying it today, I’ve been really focused on doing what I’ve been asked to do when Pat LaFontaine first asked me to come here, so I’m going to do that."

Nolan said Sunday he is taking time to think about the offer because of the sudden resignation of LaFontaine.

Nolan left the Sabres in 1997 and didn't get another NHL job until 2006 with the Islanders. He lasted two years in New York and was gone until the Sabres brought him back in November. Buffalo was set to give him a multiyear extension last week.

"Yeah, it’s nice to be wanted, for sure," Nolan said.

Nolan conducted an almost-full morning skate, with one notable exception. Matt Moulson, who is expected to be traded before Wednesday's deadline, was the only player to skip the workout.

"The vast majority of the time we have optional skates in pregame skates," Nolan said. "It’s their option. Matty felt better if didn’t go out there today."

Moulson is scheduled to play tonight alongside Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. Jhonas Enroth will start in goal, while trade-target Jaroslav Halak will be the back up.

Ted Nolan

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."

Scott makes amends with Nolan, gets a chance on 'D' tonight

By Mike Harrington

Let's get the answer to the big question inquiring minds want to know first. No, not trades. What's up with John Scott?

Scott and Ted Nolan both said they're cool with each other after the Sabres' interim coach booted his enforcer from practice yesterday. Nolan tried to downplay it this morning, saying "I asked him to stay in until he cooled down a little bit" but those of us who were there know better.

Scott, in fact, is going to be in the lineup at defense tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. He's going to partner with Jamie McBain while Henrik Tallinder gets the night off after just getting in this morning from Sochi.

As for yesterday's blowout, reporters gathered around Scott's locker after today's morning skate and that prompted catcalls from teammates with cracks like, "Anything to get on camera, Johnny."

"I obviously wasn't happy about it," Scott said. "No one likes getting sent off practice. I was having a tough practice. I just kinda overreacted a little bit, got a little upset. It happens and you move on.

"It was ironed out as soon as he came off the ice. I went and talked to him and apologized. We had a talk. Everything's fine. We're moving on, playing a game tonight."

"I was perfect with John Scott yesterday," Nolan said. "In this sport, sometimes you have those moments but it's forgotten right afterwards.

Scott said he understood why Nolan reacted the way he did.

"I'm surprised that that happened. It was kind of a weird event," he said. "I've never seen that happen before in my career. It was definitely something new but it's OK. We're fine now. I know exactly where he's coming from. He doesn't want lackadaisical practices and I was terrible yesterday. I couldn't make passes or anything.

"It was one of those days where nothing was going right. I understand his decision. I totally get what he's doing and I would have done the same thing probably."

There's no changes to the plan for tonight's lineup from what the Sabres have advertised the last few days. Ryan Miller will play goal, while the three players who were out with injuries prior to the Olympic break (Tyler Myers, Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick) will all play tonight. McCormick has been out with a finger injury since Dec. 14, a span of 24 games. Zenon Konopka will be a healthy scratch along with Tallinder.

Because it's a gameday, Miller stayed with the custom followed by many NHL goaltenders of not speaking with the media prior to the game. 

You can click the file below to hear Nolan's pregame comments on Scott, Miller, Tallinder and his hopes for a faster game tonight with several healthy and fresh players in the lineup following the Olympic break.

Ted Nolan

Sabres and Nolan back to work; Moulson, Myers healthy again

By John Vogl

The Olympic break is over for most of the Buffalo Sabres, including coach Ted Nolan. The team practiced today in First Niagara Center, its first time on the ice since Feb. 6.

Nolan led the team despite coaching Latvia in Russia on Wednesday.

"We’ll rest in the summertime," he said.

Rookie Zemgus Girgensons, who played for Latvia, was in the arena but will get a few days to recuperate.

"He deserves a couple days’ rest," Nolan said. "No bang-up, just probably fatigue and time-zone difference. ... He’s a young kid, so we’ll probably give him two, three days off."

The Olympic break gave the Sabres time to get healthy. Matt Moulson, Tyler Myers and Cody McCormick should all be ready to play Tuesday when the Hurricanes come to Buffalo. The return of Moulson is particularly good news because the pending unrestricted free agent is one of Buffalo's top assets heading toward the March 5 trade deadline.

"I was able to just work out and do treatment every day, get back healthy," said Moulson, who suffered his injury Jan. 30 in Phoenix. "It was just kind of like a cartilage thing, probably the same as a broken rib, and it just takes time and rest. Luckily, it came right before the break so I didn’t miss too many games."

Sabres goaltenders Ryan Miller (United States) and Jhonas Enroth (Sweden) are still at the Olympics, so Canisius College sophomore Adam Harris and former Morrisville netminder Chris Azzano manned the creases. Nolan said Miller or Enroth will start against the Hurricanes even though they both could be in Russia through Sunday's gold-medal game.

"One of them is going to have to play for sure," Nolan said. "We’ll see which one had the best sleep on the plane coming home. Whichever one, he’ll play."

To hear Nolan's chat, including his thoughts on Sochi and whether the NHL should participate in the Olympics, click the audio file below.

Canada survives scare from Nolan-led Latvia to set up semifinal showdown with USA

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan might have had trouble going back to his native Canada if Latvia won today. Shea Weber made sure The True North avoided the monumental upset and set up a semifinal showdown with the United States.

Latvia, coached by the Sabres' Nolan, had Canadian fans chewing their nails and holding their breath in their Olympic quarterfinal. Weber finally put the 11th-seeded team away, scoring on the power play with 6:54 left to give Canada a 2-1 victory.

The United States, meanwhile, had a much easier time. The Americans dropped Czech Republic, 5-2, to earn a chance at revenge against their biggest rival. Canada beat the United States in overtime of the gold-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The winner of Friday's matchup gets a chance at gold, while the loser will compete for bronze. The other semifinal features another fierce rivalry as Finland will play Sweden.

Canada was a huge favorite over the Latvians, but that didn't matter to goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. The minor-leaguer from the Tampa Bay organization made 55 saves to give his country a shot at hockey immortality. Weber's power-play goal finally gave Canada a chance to breathe.

Canada opened the scoring with 13:37 gone on a goal by Patrick Sharp, but Latvia answered 2:04 later on a goal by Lauris Darzins. Despite the loss, the Latvians -- who also boast Sabres rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons -- put themselves on the hockey map.

The Americans advanced with help from a timely goal by David Backes. The forward for the St. Louis Blues scored with 1.8 seconds left in the first period to put the Czechs in a back-breaking 3-1 hole.

Zach Parise scored midway through the second period to make it 4-1, and the U.S. team coasted home. James van Riemsdyk, Dustin Brown and Phil Kessel also scored for the Americans. Goaltender Jonathan Quick made 21 saves.

Nolan makes his first trip to The House That Mario Built

The 1985-86 Penguins, with Ted Nolan the second player from the left on the top row and a 19-year-old Mario Lemieux dead center in row 2 (

By Mike Harrington

PITTSBURGH -- Ted Nolan's big claim to fame from his playing days is that he played with both Wayne Gretzky (on the 1977-78 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and Mario Lemieux (on the 1985-86 Pittsburgh Penguins).

Tonight is Nolan's first game as a coach inside the Consol Energy Center, as his last appearance with the New York Islanders came when the Penguins played inside Mellon Arena. The old Igloo is now a parking lot across the street from the new building. 

The Consol Center is widely referred to as "The House that Mario Built". There's a statue of Lemieux in front, a giant mural of him in the concourse, his No. 66 hangs from the rafters and there's a Suite 66 at ice level with several pieces of memorabilia from his career.

"I remember a lot," a smiling Nolan said today when asked his memories of Lemieux. "I remember sitting down next to Mario and they had a poster night. I asked him to sign it and he asked for who and I said, 'to me.' I still got it at home. It's 'To Teddy.' That's it. When you have a chance to play with him and watch him in practice. .... I spread that story around quite a bit."

Ted Nolan on Mikhail Grigorenko: 'We just need a little bit more'

By Jay Skurski

Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan reiterated today why the organization feels it's best for 19-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko to develop in juniors.

That's a decision Grigorenko at first balked at, writing over the weekend in a since-deleted Facebook post: "I would just ask all of you guys to respect me and the time I'm taking to think about my career. It might be hard to understand, but it is even harder for a teenager."

"We can't control what people do and what they say, but we certainly can control how we're going to try to run this organization and what we feel is necessary for the development of young players," Nolan said early this afternoon following practice inside the First Niagara Center. "The tail can’t wag the dog. The dog wags the tail.

"We feel as an organization it's best for him to develop in junior hockey. That's not taking anything away from him. He's got some skills and he's got some ability, but in order for him to play at this level, we just need a little bit more."

Grigorenko and his agent, Jay Grossman, agreed to the assignment late Sunday night after talking with members of the Sabres' front office.

"You got to make the best of whatever situation you're in," Nolan said. "If he learns at a young age, it's even better. But you will learn how to adapt and to adjust, and if you don't, someone else is always going to take your job."

"We all wish Mikhail the best. We want to see him do really well and get back here," center Cody Hodgson added. 

Drew Stafford nearing a return; other injured players not as close

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Sabres could have forward Drew Stafford back in the lineup before the end of the week.

Stafford went through practice this morning in First Niagara Center wearing a red non-contact jersey. He said afterward "it's been a good last couple days."

"I think it's more a day-to-day kind of thing," Stafford said. "I had a really long day today, a hard-working day, so we'll see how it responds later today and tomorrow morning. That's pretty much where we're at."

Stafford has missed the past three games after suffering an upper-body injury against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 2.

"It's one of those things where he's coming at me pretty fast, I'm coming at him pretty fast. It's kind of like a car crash. You see those kind of hits every game numerous times," Stafford said. "Just kind of bad luck on that one that I got twisted up a little bit."

Stafford has four goals and nine assists in 41 games this season.

Interim coach Ted Nolan said he hadn't talked to Stafford after today's practice concluded.

"I talked to him during practice. He said he was feeling good," Nolan said. "I'm not 100 percent sure about tomorrow, but he's real close."

Nolan said the Sabres' other injured players -- forwards Cody McCormick and Kevin Porter and defenseman Henrik Tallinder -- are not as close to a return.

"All those three guys are about the same," Nolan said.

Nolan makes it clear he wants to stay if Murray will let him

By Mike Harrington

So Ted Nolan now has a GM to work under. What does the Buffalo Sabres' interim coach think his chances are of hanging around? He's like the rest of you. He doesn't know Tim Murray at all. He has to see.

"My status has always been the same since Pat LaFontaine asked me to come here," Nolan said after today's pregame skate for tonight's game against Florida. "I'm going to coach this team the best I can. I'm not worried about tomorrow. I'm just worried about here today and I really mean that in a sincere way."

Nolan reiterated he wants the job on a permanent basis.

"I made no secret about it," he said. "If I had a crystal ball where I could pick one place to do this job in the best league in the world in the best city in the world, this would be the place."

Murray said he was interested in working with Nolan, something Pat LaFontaine reiterated to reporters after today's formal press conference as well. But Murray also made it clear Nolan was not a prerequisite to getting the job when I asked him point-blank about that issue.

Murray looked me straight in the eyes and said, "I was never told if I take this job that I have to keep
Ted Nolan as the head coach."

Here's what LaFontaine had to say on the issue:

"It took a general manager wiht a very open mind to understand who's there now and be willing to give Teddy the opportunity because he is a great coach. Teddy is proving himself and Tim said, 'Hey, I really like Ted Nolan. I'd like to get to know him. I'd like to know what you think of him. I like what the team is doing.'

It's about changing culture. Tim Murray has paid his dues. He's earned this opportunity every step of the way. He knows Teddy has done the same thing. Let them get to know each other. A general manager and coach have to work tight together. They have to be a good team. He was very open to doing that."

Click below to hear Nolan's session with the media today, including his thoughts on the return of Mikhail Grigorenko.

Ted Nolan.

Leino scratched for tonight's game, says of Nolan: 'I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me'

By Mike Harrington

Ted Nolan has seen the same thing all of you have -- and a little bit more. So the masses are probably happy with the news that goal-less Ville Leino is a healthy scratch tonight against the Ottawa Senators, a first for Leino since Nolan has taken over.

Leino has five assists and a minus-6 rating in 18 games this season. He has four of his assists since Nolan took over but still can't crack the net. Worse yet, he's minus-3 in the last two games and the coach has seen enough. Leino will join Mike Weber in the First Niagara Center press box tonight, with John Scott and Brayden McNabb moving back into the lineup.

"Certain players with a certain skill set, they have to bring it," Nolan said. "And if you're not going to play as well as you can, sometimes it's better off to sit and observe for a while. And hopefully when he gets back in here, he plays the way he's capable of playing."

Leino's ice time increased slightly when Nolan took over from Ron Rolston, who made Leino a healthy scratch Nov. 8 in Anaheim. In the five games prior to Saturday's 3-2 loss in Montreal, Leino played at least 18 minutes in all of them and had some great stints of puck possession. But he played just 13:18 Saturday and was dropped to the fourth line in practice Monday as part of Nolan's shuffing.

"I don't know what to tell you," Leino said. "Just like you said, Back and forth. I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me."

Continue reading "Leino scratched for tonight's game, says of Nolan: 'I'm not exactly sure what he wants out of me'" »

Sabres make major line swaps in attempt to score; Ristolainen named to world juniors

By John Vogl

Ted Nolan has been very patient with his forward lines since taking over as coach. He wanted to give players a chance to perform with consistent linemates before making sweeping changes.

The time has come to make those changes.

The Sabres went with four new lines for practice today and will likely use them Tuesday when Ottawa visits First Niagara Center.

"When you’re not getting wins, sometimes things have to change," said left wing Matt Moulson. "You’ve got to perform and produce to keep going. Coach is looking for some different combinations to get things going, and hopefully everyone jells together."

The Sabres have just 10 goals in the last eight games, with droughts dotting the lineup. The new lines:

Moulson-Tyler Ennis-Zemgus Girgensons

Marcus Foligno-Steve Ott-Drew Stafford

Luke Adam-Cody Hodgson-Matt D'Agostini

John Scott-Ville Leino/Cody McCormick-Brian Flynn

The first line had been Hodgson in the middle of Moulson and Stafford.

"Our top line is having a little trouble," Nolan said. "Maybe the chemistry isn’t quite right, so we talked to them and decided instead of trying to have one we’ll have three. We have to get this thing turned around together."

Defenseman Alexander Sulzer returned to practice for the first time in a week but will not play Tuesday.

Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been named to Finland's world junior team. He suffered a concussion last week playing in Rochester but is still expected to play for his home country.

"I’m quite sure we’ll give him permission to play there," Nolan said.

Ted Nolan

Cody Hodgson

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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 |

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 |

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 |