Lafontaine, Nolan face the challenge of breathing life into stumbling Sabres - The Buffalo News

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Lafontaine, Nolan face the challenge of breathing life into stumbling Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres provided an early Christmas present Wednesday to the organization’s increasingly restless fan base.

In a blockbuster move that consoled and excited loss-weary fans, owner Terry Pegula shook up the organization by firing both hapless short-time coach Ron Rolston, who moved up from Rochester in February to replace veteran coach Lindy Ruff, and longtime General Manager Darcy Regier.

Replacing Regier and Rolston are two fan favorites from the team’s glory days. Hall of Fame center Pat LaFontaine will be president of hockey operations and former coach Ted Nolan takes over as interim coach.

What is noteworthy about Wednesday’s moves is that in July 1997 it was Regier, who was new to the job of general manager, who made the decision to get rid of Nolan less than a month after Nolan was named coach of the year by the National Hockey League.

At the time it was rumored that Nolan, who had clashed with then-General Manager John Muckler, was difficult to work with.

Obviously, LaFontaine, who played for Nolan, does not have any problems working with his once and future coach. And by the smiles on the faces of the men at the table as Nolan spoke, whatever the problem was is no longer a concern.

Buffalo fans want a Buffalo kind of guy in charge, and Nolan didn’t disappoint. “I may have left [Buffalo] physically but emotionally and spiritually I never left,” he said. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Of course, getting along well is one thing. Winning hockey games is quite another.

The team had fired coach Lindy Ruff in February, hoping Rolston would provide the necessary spark. That move clearly backfired. The Sabres managed to win Tuesday night, their first victory in 10 homes games, but the team remains the worst in the NHL.

Whether this particular combination of leaders will be able to motivate and inspire the team to pull itself out of the sub-basement in which it now resides remains to be seen. But one thing is certain – it couldn’t get any worse, and something needed to be done.

We applaud Pegula for putting the brakes on the team’s long, slow, painful slide from defeat and dejection into debacle.

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