Buffalo Sabres: LaFontaine's Departure Looks Bad, but Should Not Impact Future

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2014

Tim Murray, right, addresses the media after being named as the new General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y. At left is Pat Lafontaine, President of Hockey Operations for the Sabres. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)
Nick LoVerde/Associated Press

With a chance to reflect on the events of the past 72 hours, Buffalo Sabres fans probably have a lot more questions than answers. 

Friday, Ryan Miller and Steve Ott were traded to the St. Louis Blues for two players likely to be moved by Wednesday's trade deadline, a largely unknown prospect and two draft picks. 

Saturday, president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine stepped down after being on the job for just over three months, with the official reason being that he wanted to get back to his job with the NHL in New York. 

Sunday, general manager Tim Murray and Sabres president Ted Black held a press conference where the main takeaway was that Ted Nolan likely has a job as the Sabres head coach, if he wants it. 

Quite the roller coaster, to say the least. 

While the trade and the topic of Nolan's future are extremely important in the both the short and long term, LaFontaine's resignation has dominated the headlines since the official announcement Saturday night. 

Yet, unlike the other two developments, it's unlikely this has much, if any, of an affect on the Sabres' future. 

LaFontaine held a position only a few NHL teams even have, and the Sabres seemed to piggyback off of the fanfare surrounding the creation of the same position in Colorado for Joe Sakic last spring. Sakic hired Patrick Roy as coach and essentially stripped general manager Greg Sherman of everything but his title, putting the team in his hands.

The same cannot be said of LaFontaine's position. 

Despite being the head of the hockey arm of the franchise, with his decision to pursue a traditional GM when he was hired, many questioned his role moving forward with the franchise. 

With the hiring of Tim Murray last month, that question needed a real answer. It seems LaFontaine started to ask that question but didn't like the response he was getting. 

Chris Botta of Sports Business Journal tweeted Saturday that LaFontaine was not pleased with the role he was going to be relegated to moving forward. This was a problem, albeit a stupid problem given that this should have been addressed prior to this, but a problem nevertheless.  

Basically, what it seems to come down to is this: LaFontaine wanted a role like Sakic's, with the GM there to serve essentially as an adviser, and he hired Murray, a first-time GM with a ton of personnel experience, to make that structure easier to facilitate.

Apparently, Terry Pegula had other ideas. 

This is not especially surprising because, if you remember, Pegula had asked LaFontaine to be the GM when he hired him in November, but LaFontaine said he wasn't cut out for that role. At that point, it really wouldn't have mattered if the team had brought in a GM to advise him—LaFontaine wouldn't have inspired much confidence in his ability to create a team with a first impression like that. 

Instead, Murray was hired, and it seems he was given the keys to the car and LaFontaine was not happy about it. 

Being relegated to essentially a figurehead, LaFontaine probably felt he was scorned and stepped down, leaving Murray in essentially the same position he was in before: the guy in charge. 

That is probably the only takeaway from this in the long term, too. 

Is this embarrassing for the organization? Absolutely. Does it kick the fans while they are down? Of course.

It's never good to have a high-level executive come in and create a ton of positive buzz around the team, then step down three months later under the impression he was misled. If NHL teams had stock, the Sabres' would fall even further after something like that happening. This is cause for concern and should not be completely overlooked.

Yet, realistically, if Murray was going to take the reins anyway, LaFontaine wasn't going to have much day-to-day input to begin with. Furthermore, it also seems like Tim Murray is the guy you want moving things forward. 

With Murray's no-frills demeanor and the stable of prospects and picks the Sabres own right now, the future still looks incredibly bright. Sure, it would have been great to have LaFontaine along for the ride, but Murray has given Sabres fans no reason whatsoever to think that he will not be able to bring this team back from the dead by himself. 

The only question now is what Murray is going to do about Ted Nolan. 

Publicly, Murray has supported Nolan, saying yesterday in his presser that he wanted him to coach the team beyond this season. This is going to be the lasting part of this saga, and it will likely stretch on into the offseason. 

It was said in multiple places this weekend, but with all the new questions, it is important to remember that if there is anything to hang your hat on, it's that the three months LaFontaine was with the Sabres gave them Tim Murray. 

So, is this bad in the short term? Yes, of course, but the fact that they're hitting the reset button should diminish the lasting effects, if there are any at all. 

In Timmy we trust.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.


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