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Looking back at Nolan’s first tour in Buffalo

Nov 13, 2013, 11:11 AM EDT

Ted Nolan AP

On Wednesday, the Buffalo Sabres made a major organizational shakeup by firing GM Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston, bringing aboard new president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine, and new interim bench boss Ted Nolan.

It’s the latter announcement that raised most eyebrows. Nolan, who hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2008, rose to prominence with the Sabres from 1995-97, capturing a Jack Adams award (at the tender age of 39) while leading the ’97 team to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

That’s not all Nolan is remembered for, though.

His departure from the Sabres organization was ugly, a public spat littered with allegations, feuds (most notably with Dominik Hasek) and bitterness that saw both Nolan and former GM John Muckler — who would be replaced by Regier, ironically enough — lose their jobs.

Here’s more on the ugliness, from Sports Illustrated (July ’97):

The Sabres, who won the Northeast Division last season, have decided to entrust their future to $4 million-a-year goaltender Dominik Hasek, the league’s most valuable player, instead of the NHL’s coach of the year, Ted Nolan. During the playoffs the volatile Hasek attacked a Buffalo columnist who questioned the severity of an injury that had kept him out of two postseason games (SI, May 5); Hasek later made it clear that he wanted Nolan out of town, saying he did not respect him. Nolan, whose contract expired on June 30, had the support of nearly every other Buffalo player, but management listened to Hasek. “I honestly don’t know what made Dom feel the way he does,” Nolan said last week. “I tried to treat everybody fairly, but as far as kissing up to players, I’m not one of those guys.”

General manager Darcy Regier, who was hired only last month, took a slap at Nolan when, at a June 26 press conference, he offered him just a one-year contract for an undisclosed amount. Nolan instantly rejected the offer, which was subsequently withdrawn. In the two days after the press conference, there were a pair of pro-Nolan rallies in Buffalo, each of which drew hundreds of fans. Jean Knox, widow of the franchise’s founder, Seymour Knox, attended one. “This never would have happened if Seymour were alive today,” she says of Buffalo’s failure to re-sign Nolan. “Ted Nolan would have a long-term contract.”

Nolan has no immediate job prospects. The Jack Adams Award as the top coach is a splendid line on a résumé, but there aren’t many NHL coaching opportunities available. Moreover, Nolan’s feud with former Sabres general manager John Muckler, whom team president Larry Quinn fired after the playoffs, might make potential employers queasy. “There could be that perception of me [as a G.M. killer],” the 39-year-old Nolan said, “but I’ve had a pretty good history of working with people.”

It appears Nolan was right about perceptions — despite winning the ’97 Jack Adams, it took him nearly 10 years to find another NHL gig before getting hired by the Islanders in 2006.

Despite this, it’s easy to see why LaFontaine opted to bring Nolan back into the fold. The two have a history of working together in Buffalo — in ’95-96, LaFontaine had one of his finest offensive campaigns, leading the Sabres with 40 goals and 91 points. What’s more, the 91-point campaign came after LaFontaine’s career was derailed by concussion issues and represented his last hurrah in Buffalo.

It’s worth noting that none of the Sabres regime from Nolan’s first tour remains. Regier is gone, ownership has changed and Hasek — while still a franchise legend — had his comeback effort rebuffed by the Sabres in June of 2012.

  1. kantnockdahustle89 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    When does Mogilny come back?

    • tarotsujimoto74 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      Could use his scoring touch

  2. greenmtnboy31 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    It’s about time, it’s been a long time coming and anything similar applies here for Ted Nolan. Don’t know him from a hole in the ground or an A$$hole in the GM’s office, as the case was when he wasn’t resigned. This was just a completely dumb move by the Sabres at the time and they’ve rightfully paid for it with years of being the laughing stock in the NHL. They could have had a much different history had they been smart enough to hang on to this guy and recognize the tempermental fool they had in Hasak. Some one in that organization should have been tasked with making it work. They gambled on Hasak and lost big time.

    Good luck Ted, I’m glad to see you have been put back where you belong.

  3. gnrfan8804 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    How did they lose big with hasek? They were in the playoffs everybyear and went to the cup finals. Without him, he team would have as bad as it is now. And how many coaching jobs in the nhl has nolan had? Its a good move because it gets rid of regier and rolston, but choosing hasek in 97 was the right call

    • greenmtnboy31 - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:30 PM

      They were in the playoffs and ………….lost.
      They were in the cup finals and …………lost.

      Without him, they would have had a better TEAM and that would have produced a better atmosphere and I’m saying, better results. Hasek learned that lesson by the time he got to Detroit and a better TEAM to carry him to victory in the finals.

    • northbuffalo1 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:54 PM

      Top 10 worst Mike Milbury trades

      • northbuffalo1 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:57 PM

        Milbury commented on NBC sports that this is a PR move. Though it maybe a temporary coaching move… Milbury is no judge of good hockey moves and wouldn’t know an X if it bit him in his O as evidence by the above moves he made with the Islanders. This is why is on TV and I am not sure he should even be there.

  4. rsmith1756 - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    great move to bring back Nolan, When he was coach for us last we were known as the hardest working team in hockey. made it far in the playoffs with the likes of holzinger and dixon ward. also with nolan being native and having the stigma he’s had in the league, he wont be quick to label the young russin draft picks lazy. he is going to give those kids as much chance as they deserve to make it, Bout time we really cleaned house, wish it would of happened sooner

  5. kgun80 - Nov 13, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Nolan slept with Haseks wife. The story by SI is bull. Most people in Buffalo knew the real story and reason they had a rift.

    • matt14gg - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:59 PM

      Yeah, it’s weird that everyone dances around the issue w/o actually stating what happened. There’s a reason Nolan was blackballed for so long and while it doesn’t often get mentioned, no one has ever come out and denied that it happened. It’s a lot like the Seguin situation in Boston. There’s a nasty rumor regarding Seguin and a former teammate’s wife (including a tweet by one former Bruin) and while it doesn’t often get spoken about, no one has ever flat out denied it.

  6. olhockeypop - Nov 13, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    This stinks we were building a dynasty here with Darcy . The arena was buzzing every game . All the fans where onboard wacthing as this team was evolving into a decade long contender for the cup . Wait excuse me while I have to go pe in another cup for my drug test .On another note I am getting differant colerd padding for my walls as we speak .

  7. rje49 - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    I think of Ted Nolan as the Billy Martin of hockey. Good results, rocky road, never a dull moment. Enjoy him as long as you can stand it.

  8. zinger99 - Nov 13, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    Ya Hasek was so overrated.To put up numbers like he did in the regular season and fold like a tent at playoff time says a lot about his inability to handle pressure. You make your mark in sports at playoff time,not in the regular season.He wouldn’t play hurt and couldn’t take criticism either(attacked the late hockey writer Jim Kelley). Should have won in Buffalo to prove his greatness instead of riding Detroit’s coat tails to a Cup. I’d take Grant Fuhr or Patrick Roy any day! Hasek can keep his Vezinas.

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