This week there have been multiple reports from sources like TSN's Bob McKenzie saying that the Buffalo Sabres have narrowed their list of general managers down and will begin their second-round interviews soon.
Since the GM search began in early November, the Sabres have been a decidedly better team, going 7-9-3 during that stretch. While that's not a great record in and of itself, it looks like a division-winning pace compared to the 4-15-1 start the team had.
Beyond even that, interim head coach Ted Nolan seems to be getting something out of a lineup for which Ron Rolston was laughed out of town, and that alone should be enough to get him a chance to remove that interim tag.
Pat LaFontaine has stated that the newly hired GM will have the ability to choose his first coach, hence the interim tag on Nolan. That choice is the smart one, as no GM wants to be saddled with a coach that cannot or will not use the team's players in accordance with the GM's vision.
Now, with the GM search likely coming to a close in the next couple of weeks at most, the question becomes simple: Will Ted Nolan be kept on as head coach?
The most obvious factor associated with that question is who the new GM is likely to be, and, according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, it seems that Jim Benning, the assistant GM for the Boston Bruins, is the favorite and will likely score the job.
Benning's hire would be a very positive thing for Nolan's job prospects moving forward. Nolan's first tenure in Buffalo coincided with Benning's time with the team as a scout. Benning also has learned under Peter Chiarelli, who has gotten the job done with another defensive-minded, role-player-loving coach in Claude Julien.
But more important that that is how Nolan has turned this current team around.
In the weeks since his arrival, there is more of a buzz surrounding this team than the last year combined. While the buzz certainly isn't based on the fact that there is a Stanley Cup contender playing in Buffalo, it is, at least in part, based on the notion that they may have found a way out of the hole they dug themselves into.
The prospects and draft picks have been discussed ad nauseum as of late, and despite the recent surge, the odds that the team finishes with a top-three pick in June's draft hasn't changed much. But the problem with having all of these picks and youth is you need someone on the bench that can translate their talents on the ice night after night.
If Nolan has done anything, it is to show that he can get more out of his players than he has any right to, and this Sabres team will need that for years to come. The team seems looser, and players are just playing hockey now instead of thinking their way through the game.
The poster child for Nolan's return is likely to be Tyler Myers, who has easily been one of the Sabres' best players the last 20 games and has shown he may be able to find that trajectory he set in his rookie year.
In his 19 games, Nolan has shown his ability to take a team of misfits and make them at least fun to watch.
But despite the fact that Nolan has earned a chance at the coaching job full time, he'll need to show a few things to remain long-term.
While it is undeniable that Nolan has gotten a lot out of this team, he's done it with a lot of "Nolan guys." The biggest test is going to be how well he is able to coach a team that is not made up of "Nolan guys."
No matter who the GM is, the Sabres need to grow from the bottom up, and the young guys will eventually need to show what they can do.
Zemgus Girgensons has shown he is the real deal and will pester opposing defenders as a top-six forward for years to come. Mark Pysyk, while seeing his minutes ride a roller coaster, has shown he is at least a top-four defenseman, if not better.
But beyond those two, not many of the Sabres' young guys have had a sustained look since Nolan arrived. Nolan's biggest question mark moving forward will be his ability to integrate the hoard of youth waiting to crack the NHL lineup.
Nolan has shown he can coach veterans, but in order for this team to take the next step toward Stanley Cup contention, he needs to show he can do it with prospects as well.
A team that can have John Scott playing 12 minutes in a game is not one that can compete for a Cup.
But regardless of the significant question mark, Nolan has earned the chance to show that he can develop youth, and that he can take this team to the next level.
What he does with that chance is up to him.
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