Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - One of the most surprising aspects about
Lindy Ruff getting fired by the Buffalo Sabres last season was the club didn't
send Darcy Regier packing at the same time.
Ruff and Regier were hired by the Sabres as head coach and general manager,
respectively, back in 1997 and the two were always tied together in Buffalo,
through both good times and bad.
So, it didn't seem right when owner Terry Pegula opted to fire only Ruff last
February, while Regier earned a stay of execution. The fact that Regier was
signed to a contract extension prior to the start of last season made it
difficult to justify firing him at the time, but the GM always seemed to be
living on borrowed time following Ruff's dismissal.
The axe finally swung in Regier's direction when Pegula fired the club's
longtime GM as well as head coach Ron Rolston after Buffalo's awful 4-15-1
start to the 2013-14 season. The owner informed Regier and Rolston they were
being relieved of their duties on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning
Pegula announced the news at a press conference.
Regier and Rolston losing their jobs is not a surprise, but Pegula did reveal
some intriguing additions to the Sabres organization in the wake of the
firings. The club introduced former Sabres great Pat LaFontaine as president
of hockey operations and brought back Ted Nolan to serve as the club's head
coach on an interim basis.
LaFontaine has quite the rebuilding project ahead of him in Buffalo, a city he
knows well after starring with the Sabres for six seasons from 1991-92 until
1996-97. Considered one of the best American-born players to ever skate in the
NHL, LaFontaine carved out place for himself in the Hall of Fame even though
concussion issues wound up cutting his career short.
Nolan, meanwhile, returns to the Sabres after a previous stint as the club's
head coach for two seasons from 1995-97, when LaFontaine was one of his
While Nolan has an interim tag placed in front of his coaching title, the
Sabres revealed Wednesday that he will finish out the season behind the
For LaFontaine, the first and most important order of business is finding a
new GM to replace Regier. The next step would be finding some way to reverse
Buffalo's recent downward spiral.
Regier and Ruff experienced some early success in their tenure in Western New
York, but things turned sour in a hurry. With Ruff no longer around to
share some of the blame, the focus shifted to the GM. The situation got so bad
this season that fans in Buffalo were publicly calling for Regier's dismissal,
as "Fire Darcy" chants became common occurrences at First Niagara Center.
Although the past several seasons have been trying for the Sabres and their
passionate fan base, there was a time not so long ago when Buffalo was a
perennial contender. After getting the Sabres to a Stanley Cup Finals in the
spring of 1999, Regier also helped build clubs that made it to back-to-back
conference finals in 2006 and '07.
The good times were not destined to last, however, as Buffalo has not
qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons and four of the last six. Of
course, judging by the way the team has started in 2013-14, it seems highly
unlikely the Sabres will be returning to the playoffs this season.
Regier leaves LaFontaine a club with some young talent and potential for the
future, but right now there are more questions than answers in Buffalo. The
club dealt one of its biggest bargaining chips in winger Thomas Vanek last
month and received Matt Moulson and a couple of high draft picks in return.
If LaFontaine and the club's next GM choose to deal goaltender Ryan Miller,
and it seems likely they will, he could land Buffalo a few prospects or even
more draft picks, which are like gold to a team stuck in rebuilding mode.
"We have a lot of work in front of us. We have to be patient. It's not going
to happen overnight," said LaFontaine at the press conference announcing his
new post. "We'll get the right people in position. We'll get it there."
Nolan is takes with a much simpler job than LaFontaine. He needs to get the
Sabres to play with more energy and passion on a nightly basis. Nolan seems
pumped for the opportunity to teach this young group the right way to play and
his fan favorite status in Buffalo could generate some much-needed excitement
for the struggling franchise.
"I'm going to get try to get to know this team as quick as I can and change
the culture," Nolan said. "We'll make it exciting and we'll make it a place
people want to come and enjoy hockey games again."
Even with the changes made this week, it's still bound to be a long season in
Buffalo. But something had to be done to shake things up and handing Regier
his walking papers was the obvious play.
With Regier gone, the club has finally made a clean break with the past. Now
it's up to LaFontaine and whomever replaces Regier to make good on the promise
of better days to come.
The Sports Network