A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.
Struggling Sabres Refuse to Stand Pat
All season long, the hockey world has been expecting the Sabres to clean house and start looking toward the future. It turns out we were half-right — Buffalo made changes Thursday, but with an eye fixed firmly on the past.
The Sabres' decision to part ways with longtime GM Darcy Regier was shocking only in the sense that they chose not to do it during the offseason. Firing coach Ron Rolston was a mild surprise since he’d only been on the job for 51 games dating back to last season, though he’d also managed to win just 19 of those.
But their replacements raised eyebrows, as the Sabres brought back former star Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey ops (he’ll eventually hire a new GM), and former coach of the year Ted Nolan as interim coach. While both men are undoubtedly popular in Buffalo, LaFontaine has no front office experience and Nolan hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2008.
Can it work? The obvious answer is that it can’t get much worse. LaFontaine might be inexperienced, but he’s well-respected for his hockey smarts and did a good job articulating a long-term vision during the introductory press conference.
Nolan, meanwhile, is one of the league’s great mysteries — the Sabres parted ways with him immediately after his Jack Adams season, and it took him 10 years to get another NHL job (he lasted two seasons with the Islanders before being fired in 2008). He’s an intense guy and will no doubt bring his style of ever-so-subtle player motivation to the Buffalo locker room.
The Sabres split a pair of weekend games with the Maple Leafs, winning 3-1 at home Friday before dropping the rematch 4-2 in Toronto. The Sabres had already beaten the Sharks and Kings this month and actually climbed out of last place overall with Friday’s win, before dropping back down after the Oilers earned two points the next day.
At the very least, the team finally seems headed in the right direction unless you think the right direction involves the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, in which case you may look back on this move as coming a few months early.