In a move that was both equally unexpected and long overdue, the Buffalo Sabres announced the firing of long-time general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston Wednesday in a morning press conference, according to the team's official website.
In their place step former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine as the president of hockey operations and former Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who will be taking over on an interim basis.
It's safe to say that this move was well received by Sabres fans, as LaFontaine is one of the most revered players in the history of the franchise (the No. 16 jersey hanging from the rafters of the First Niagara Center is proof of that), and Nolan was known for getting a lot from a little during his first tenure in Buffalo.
So what can Sabres fans expect from this point forward?
First, LaFontaine will commence his search for a new general manager to replace Regier. An interesting storyline to keep an eye on is how much say that GM will have in roster moves moving forward (see the Colorado Avalanche). Assuming the Sabres use a traditional structure, their next general manager will get the keys to the youngest team in the NHL and a plethora of top-60 draft picks in the next couple of years.
With that said, let the speculation begin. Three names that will lead the pack at the start will be Rick Dudley, Jason Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald.
Dudley, an assistant GM in Montreal, is the popular pick at this juncture. He both played and coached in Buffalo and was the architect of the 2003 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. As of this moment, according to the Buffalo News' John Vogl, the Canadiens have not commented on whether or not the Sabres have contacted them about Dudley, but you have to imagine they will, and soon.
Both Botterill and Fitzgerald are from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, with both holding assistant GM designations. Botterill focuses more on the salary cap and the day-to-day operations of the team, whereas Fitzgerald is more involved in scouting and other developmental aspects.
As with every NHL front-office position, there will be dark horses for the position as well. Enter Neil Smith and Mark Messier.
Smith, the former GM of the New York Rangers in the 1990s, is widely seen as a great GM, but he has not been in or near the position since taking the New York Islanders job for a hot minute—about 40 days—in 2006. Given that most of his experience is from before the salary-cap era, you have to wonder if he has the ability to be a successful GM in the new cap-driven NHL.
Messier is an intriguing choice, but he doesn't have any experience in the position, so his hiring would be a huge risk. But the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward, and Messier's involvement may pay dividends for a team that needs a new image badly.
The other focal point for the new front office will be to maximize the pieces Regier has left them with.
At the top of the list is the nine top-60 picks the Sabres have between the next two entry drafts—five in 2014 and four in 2015. By no means do the Sabres need to use all of those picks, and you better believe Pat LaFontaine knows that.
Beyond that, the Sabres have plenty of tradable commodities as the trade deadline approaches, with the most notable being Ryan Miller.
It's unlikely that today's events have changed his mind much on his future in Buffalo, and LaFontaine's job will likely be split between the GM search and trading Miller.
With Miller having another scintillating night against Los Angeles last night, his trade value continues to rise while other netminders, including the Kings' Jonathan Quick, are getting hurt in bunches. Miller's play continues to amaze, and team with a need may overpay for his services, if only for the rest of the season.
With that in mind, and considering the fact that Matt Moulson, Henrik Tallinder, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff and Drew Stafford may garner a lot of interest, the Sabres' draft pick cupboards could be bursting by the time the draft rolls around in June.
On top of all of this, Nolan will bring his hard-working style into the young Sabres locker room and should at least make the team harder to play against. Nolan isn't tasked with performing miracles, but both he and LaFontaine both said the word culture a bunch this morning, and it's clear that they feel that if the Sabres are going to be successful, they need to change the culture that's there now.
Overall, it seems that the Sabres have taken a few huge steps in the right direction. Colorado is the last team to implement a system like this, and they have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far in 2013-14. Yes, it helps that they have three top-three picks on their roster, but Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have made a huge difference already in that team.
One has to hope the Sabres follow suit, and if they win the Sam Reinhart lottery this year, they may have a quicker turnaround than many would have thought last night.
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