Takin' a T/O With BT: Ted Nolan—Another Nine Years Waiting?

xx yySenior Writer IJuly 14, 2008

Once again, Ted Nolan is left looking for work.

This afternoon, after two seasons with the New York Islanders, Ted Nolan was released from the final year of his contract, leaving the former Jack Adams winner out of work.

Once again, it can be traced back to his relationship with the teams' GM.

Back in 1994-95, Ted Nolan wasn't a very well known name. Some might have known him as the former Detroit Red Wing who spent the 1981-82 and 1983-84 seasons tallying five goals and fifteen assists in sixty games.

Others may have remembered his 18-game stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins the following year (1984-85) where he accumulated a measly two points. Or, he may have stuck in people's minds as the veteran of seven AHL seasons and three AHL teams.

However, If you followed the Hartford Whalers at all that season, you'd know that the man who took the Sault Ste. Marie to three Memorial Cup appearances between 1988 and 1994—and one win, in 1993—was their assistant coach.

The Whalers finished the strike-shortened year miserably, with a record of 19-24-5—meaning the Brass Bonanza wasn't heard very often that season.

Despite the Whalers' performance that season, Nolan was offered the Head Coaching position with the Buffalo Sabres, who had finished eight points ahead of the Whalers in the standings the previous season.

After replacing John Muckler, Nolan's record was less than outstanding in his first season. The team went 33-42-7 and missed the playoffs, finishing fourth in the Northeast, due in most part to a lack of talent. Aside from a ninety-one point season from Pat Lafontaine and Dominik Hasek's strong play, the team was mediocre.

Need proof? Lafontaine's closest competitor for the team scoring title was Randy Burridge, who had a career-high 58 points. Their fourth-leading scorer that year was Garry Galley, who broke the 40-point barrier for the second time in his career.

Brad May was also in the top ten in team scoring for what has to be the first time in his career, at number six.

I guess you could say that it was a bad year for the Sabres.

The following season, however, was a completely different story for Nolan's Sabres.

Along with a brand new logo, the Sabres had a brand new identity—kind of.

Although they didn't feature a ninety-point man (or an eighty, seventy, or sixty point man—Derek Plante had 53 to lead the team), the Sabres received outstanding goaltending from Dominik Hasek—who compiled a 37-20-10 record along with a .930 save percentage and a 2.27 goals-against average—and strong defensive play, as Nolan helped lead the Sabres to a 40-30-12 record and a birth in the NHL playoffs.

Things quickly soured, though—once the Sabres reached the promised land.

The relationship between Hasek and Nolan had been strenuous throughout the season, and a perceived goalie controversy didn't help matters.

In Game Three, the Ottawa Senators netted the opening marker against Hasek—who immediately left, leaving the net to backup Steve Shields. Hasek claimed to have felt a "pop" in his knee, and was relegated to watching as Shields led the Sabres past the Senators.

Hasek was then suspended for the first three games of the following series against the Philadelphia Flyers for a confrontation with Jim Kelly over an article detailing Hasek's knee injury, leaving the Sabres in a hole.

Despite Shields' best efforts, the Sabres eventually lost the series, as Hasek elected to sit out Games Four and Five of the series following his suspension.

A tumultuous offseason followed as, despite winning the Jack Adams trophy for literally taking a team of third-liners to the playoffs, Nolan was looked down upon by Hasek and then-GM John Muckler.

Despite Hasek saying that he'd be "better off without Nolan", Muckler was eventually fired before the 1997-98 season, and Darcy Regier was brought in. As Nolan's contract was preparing to expire, Regier offered him a one-year extension and a chance to replicate the previous years' magic.

Insulted at the short-term and low dollar amount (it's thought to be that this deal was worth around $500,000), especially given what he had done the previous year, Nolan elected to walk.

Despite an offer from the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders the following year, Nolan elected not to return to the NHL, eventually surfacing in the CHL with the Moncton Wildcats as Head Coach.

Nolan was unable to escape racial profiling. After facing it throughout his life, Nolan was subjected to an embarrassing amount of jeers, racial slurs, and the "Tomahawk Chop" in Chicoutimi against the Saugeens.

To a man that had dealt with race issues all of his life as a Native Canadian, this was truly a low blow, causing him to lash back at fans, accusing them of despicable tactics.

For Nolan, this had hit closer to home than normal, as some assumed that race was the reason he had not seen NHL ice in so long.

Be it race, or the way he left the NHL in his first go-round, Nolan would soon get a second chance.

Nearly ten years after his first NHL job, Nolan's name surfaced in reports that stated he was the heir apparent in New Jersey—another situation that relied on reliable role players and an All Star goalie. However nothing further came from it, and the Devils had never directed any outward desire for Ted Nolan.

Nolan proceeded on with his work in Moncton, and soon another NHL franchise took notice—this time it was the New York Islanders.

Nolan was first offered the position of Head Coach with the club midway through the 2006 season, but he intended to remain loyal to his obligation to see the Wildcats through their season—eventually ending in a disappointing loss to Patrick Roy and his Quebec Remparts (You may be familiar with his son's body of work).

Following the loss in the final, Nolan was brought aboard as Head Coach of the Islanders by owner Charles Wang on the same day the Isles brought in GM Neil Smith (June 8).

Just over a month later (July 18), Garth Snow was named the new GM.

The next two seasons would be the exact reverse of his time in Buffalo—the first season he led an upstart Islanders team to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with a victory on the last day of the season, while the following season the Islanders finished with 13 fewer points (79) and well out of the playoffs.

So now that he's out of a job because he couldn't tangle with another GM (Garth Snow cited "philosophical differences" as the reason for this most recent split), where does this leave Ted Nolan?

Hopefully, not out of a job for too long.

Despite his rap for being a difficult case for GMs to deal with, Nolan has earned his way back to the NHL through hard work, and on an interim basis or not I think he's still got an awful lot to offer a team.

After all, if your favorite team ends up firing their coach in November, what have you got to lose?

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and for Bleacher Report and an NHL Community Leader. You can contact him through his profile, and you can read his past work in his archives.




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