Buffalo Sabres Make The Wrong Call Again

Once again, the Buffalo Sabres have turned well meaning into the wrong move.

It’s no secret by now that the team has relieved general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston of their duties. In the door? New President of Hockey Operations Pat Lafontaine and interim head coach (and blast from the past) Ted Nolan.

Many felt the firing of both Regier and Rolston was necessary given the absolutely woeful state of the Sabres this season. If a team has just one regulation victory in 17 games, heads usually roll.

That said, the Sabres only got half of it right.

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports )

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports )

Firing Rolston was the necessary move here. He juggles lines too often, is getting porous team defense and moves his talented youngsters onto the fourth line to toil with the likes of John Scott, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick. It’s been clear for some time that Rolston isn’t the man for the job. Someone less robotic, more emotional and more of a disciplinarian is needed for a younger team. Someone who will get the most out of this young group and develop them to be the best they can.

The firing of Regier, however, was a mistake. Most people will argue against that and if Regier has one fault, it was sticking with the core group of the last five years far too long when it was evident they weren’t winning. That and the Ville Leino contract, but to be fair to Regier, it’s not his fault Leino turned into the Glass Man (aka Tim Connolly) the second the ink dried.

If you look back at Regier’s history with the Sabres, it basically comes down to two sections: bad ownership situation and the Pegula era. In the early years, bad ownership situations left him in tight spots with stars like Michael Peca and Dominik Hasek. Things were lean heading into the lockout as the team rebuilt and then nearly made the Stanley Cup Finals coming out of it. He had a young, strong team built through the draft with guys like Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Brian Campbell, etc. But again, the ownership situation doomed him. The team played the role of favorites and won the President’s Trophy in 2006-07, but Regier couldn’t make a move to bolster the team for the playoff run. He was forced to watch Danny Briere and Chris Drury walk away (though that was ultimately the right move given their asking prices) and stick with the core. The rest is history.

People question his drafting but if you look at his history from 2003 on (just going with the last decade for arguments sake), he did okay for himself. He drafted a ton of NHL contributors (over 4,000 NHL games played by his picks) with little to no stars. But given who he took in the first and second rounds each year and who was picked around those spots, he didn’t really have a better pick that could’ve been made. The fact is that he drafted solid NHLers routinely and packed his lineup with homegrown guys. Like you’re supposed to.

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

And that brings us to his penchant for trading. Regier, simply put, was very good at making deals to better his team. He turned Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr and Pominville into a 1st round pick (Nikita Zadorov), a 2013 2nd round pick (Justin Bailey), three 2014 second round picks, a fifth round pick, goaltender Matt Hackett and upper-echelon prospect Johan Larsson (who is currently in the Sabres every day lineup). That’s an incredible haul. That’s not to mention the 1st and 2nd round picks he got for Vanek from the New York Islanders as well as a viable trade piece in winger Matt Moulson (who has looked strong since coming over). That’s a bucket load of assets for pieces that were ultimately not working for the Sabres or a threat to leave town after their contracts are up. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that he got a 1st round pick for Paul Gaustad a couple of years ago. The guy is magic in terms of trading.

Perhaps the worst part of the Regier firing is the fact that Ted Nolan, who Sabres fans will remember for his run with the team from 1995 to 1997 before being unceremoniously dumped, is the interim head coach and could be let go if the new general manager decides Nolan isn’t his guy. What’s the point of that? Why leave the door open for more turnover when this young team needs a guiding voice in its corner?

Admittedly, when it comes to Lafontaine, I don’t know a ton about the guy in terms of his front office acumen. He’s one of my favorite Sabres ever, so I like the move simply because of that, but I hope he’s the man for the job and not just some nostalgic hire.

Once again, the Sabres make a move for the sake of making it. If the new general manager means yet another new head coach, will it have been worth it to shake up this young core this much? Maybe instead of calling for the heads of the GM or coach, Sabres fans should start calling for the head of Ted Black.

You want change? Start at the very top for a change.

Ryan is a lead writer for The Hockey Writers as well as editor for Mile High Sticking and co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things puck, Bills football, or his hatred of all things Philly.

Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf

I'm a lifelong Buffalo sports fan who writes for The Farm Club, The Hockey Writers, and Get Real Hockey. I'm also known to babble about pro wrestling and, no, I have no mental difficiencies. That I'm aware of. Seriously.
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8 Comments

  1. Regier should have did himself a favor and resigned when they lost Drury and Briere. Both players could have been signed much earlier to decent long term deals. But Quinn and Golisano’s penny-pinching let them slip away. Drury’s agent even said that Regier and Drury agreed to principals of a new contract during the 2006 season. But they took it off the table after the Sabres front office sat on the deal for weeks after. Afterward, there was other talent dilution with Campbell, Lydman, Tallinder, all leaving or being traded off didn’t help either.

    By the time Pegula came along the team dynamic was already a mess. Patchwork moves like Regehr and Erhoff couldn’t save the team. It way too late.

    I just feel the Sabres needed a clean the slate, irregardless of whether Regier deserved being fired or not.

    I do think the whole Nolan thing is a bit weird.

  2. What Dennis said. Ted Black has nothing to do with hockey decisions or Darcy Regier. Darcy picked up all those draft picks, but they’re worthless if the guy using them can’t draft. We drafted Vanek and Pominville, which was great, as was Miller in the 5th round back in the day, but the problem is none of the picks since then have panned out. Myers did win the Calder, but has looked awful since then.

    Making Nolan an interim coach is a great move. I trust LaFontaine to make the right choice at GM, and a GM would rather pick his own guy. If he sees that Nolan does well with this team, then he has the option to keep him.

    We also had a tendency to be a farm team for the NHL. See: Campbell, McKee (drafted by Muckler), Dumont, Briere, and now Pominville and Vanek. It’s great that Darcy was able to acquire Briere and Dumont and Drury through trades, but when you have good players, you have to be able to keep them.

    He also made TERRIBLE deadline deals in seasons where we were making a playoff push. I know rental players don’t always work out, but the guys he got were all embarrassing: Dainus Zubrus, Raffi Torres, Dominic Moore, Steve Bernier?

    This is the best possible move the Sabres could have made. Saying there was a bad ownership situation just gave Darcy something to fall back on. The fact of the matter is he had 17 years, and he produced one finals appearance (completely on the back of arguably the most dominant goalie of all time). Sorry – generally the light doesn’t click on after 17 years for someone who’s never gotten the job done.

  3. Respectfully, must disagree about Mr. Regier’s release by the Buffalo Sabres as being “a mistake”, as the author of this article contends. He previously said “We want to be competitive but not good.” Seriously Darcy? OMG! They should have fired his “hockey puck” the next day! In total agreement with the decision about hiring “La La La” Lafontaine and “Teddy” Nolan. Patty still needs to hire a GM as he is now in charge of Hockey Operation, he’s not the new GM. And make Teddy the permanent Head Coach, please!

  4. If you agree that the head-coach needed to be fired, how can you not agree with the firing of the guy that hired him on an interim basis, then hired him permanently after a lackluster end-of-the-season and without interviewing any other candidates?
    If the coach is responsible for the TERRIBLE play of this team, and the GM is responsible for the (dubious) hiring of the coach, then by the law of syllogism, the GM is responsible for the TERRIBLE play of this team.

  5. I agree with Dennis. You can’t judge a draft pick or all draft picks by games played, what are you thinking? It’s all about stats and or marketability, depending on the teams position at the time. Ted Black has made some mistakes and might not be the best when it comes to going under the gun, but that has nothing to do with the Sabres winning or losing. I think Darcy had a strong run for many years, but he is long past that point. The biggest (recent) mistake the Sabres made was firing Lindy. In other words, we fired a top class coach for a guy who never stepped foot in the NHL as player or coach. Who’s plan was that? Darcy Regier! Now that Darcy is gone, hopefully we won’t have another season with half the team being under 21. As far as Nolan, sure everyone likes his style, but come on, the guy torn the team apart in his 2 year sprint last time. It’s pretty bad when the best goalie of all time gives his team an ultimatum because the coach is tagging his wife. In my opinion, hiring Nolan back was simply a publicity stunt to keep fans buying tickets and showing up to games.

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  7. Relieve Ted Black? Do you know how the front office is designed? Black runs the business end while Regier ran the hockey side. One didn’t report to the other, both reported to Pegula. Why fire the guy whose side is successful? Regier’s side was horrible. And his drafting skills? How many of his draft picks over the past 17 years have been all-stars?

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