BUFFALO – A Sabres icon bolted less than four months after returning to the team he loved. The franchise goalie and captain got traded.
The Sabres just endured perhaps the most trying weekend in their 43-year history. That was before the popular coach sounded like he might want to leave.
“It’s a lot for our fans to swallow in a short amount of time,” Sabres president Ted Black said Sunday, a day after Pat LaFontaine abruptly resigned as president of hockey operations.
Black understands LaFontaine’s stunning departure creates uncertainty for a team that had finally seemed to stabilize itself after becoming an NHL laughingstock.
“It’s something that fans are going to be upset by,” Black said inside the First Niagara Center.
Still, Black said, LaFontaine was only one person in a large organization.
“I don’t know if it impacts the greater mission and will deter us,” said Black, who found out LaFontaine a few days ago would be leaving.
Rumors are swirling the Sabres forced LaFontaine out in some sort of power struggle. Black was adamant LaFontaine, who wasn’t involved in Friday’s blockbuster Ryan Miller-Steve Ott trade, wasn’t fired from the position Sabres owner Terry Pegula created for him.
“Pat LaFontaine resigned,” said Black, who characterized Pegula as “disappointed.”
LaFontaine’s hand-picked interim coach, Ted Nolan, was rocked by his close friend’s exit. An emotional Nolan said earlier Sunday he didn’t want to discuss his future.
“It’s tough,” Nolan said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game in Dallas against the Stars. “I don’t even want to think about it right now, to tell you the truth. It’s that tough.”
Sabres general manager Tim Murray wants Nolan to stay. They’re still negotiating a contract extension with him, he said.
“We want him to come back,” Murray said. “I don’t know what he’s thinking. We’re just going down that road. So I guess I’ll get an answer shortly.”
Is Murray concerned Nolan doesn’t want to stay in Buffalo?
“I just want people that want to be here,” he said. “If he wants to be here, I want him to be our coach. I can’t speculate whether he does or not. I’m not going to beg anyone to come and work here. … We want Teddy to be our coach moving forward.”
Nolan acknowledged he has talked to management about a new contract.
“Right now is not about my contract,” he said. “It’s about the situation that just happened, what transpired in this organization, what happened to a very dear friend. We’ll leave it at that.”
He has said in the recent past he wants to keep coaching the Sabres.
“Several times I did,” Nolan said. “But right now’s not the time to discuss that.”
Nolan sounded like someone who knows he’ll be moving on soon. He said he’s experiencing an “emotional roller coaster.”
He hasn’t spoken to LaFontaine in the past couple of days and called his departure a “big surprise.”
“Everyone knows what kind of man Patty is,” he said. “They don’t come much better than him.”
With the team undergoing a major overhaul, he wants to concentrate on his players.
“That was the main reason I got here is to try to turn things around and coach the Buffalo Sabres,” Nolan said. “Right now, especially, I’m going to really concentrate on that because we traded our franchise player. We traded our captain. That’s tough enough as it is. Then, all of a sudden, a situation happens with Patty.”
Black said Murray will assume some of LaFontaine’s responsibilities. The Sabres won’t search for a new hockey president. Senior advisor Craig Patrick, a LaFontaine hire, will stay on.
Murray, who was hired by LaFontaine on Jan. 9, said he was on the same page with his boss and likes the club’s management structure.
“I’m going to be grateful forever that Pat hired me and gave me my first GM job,” Murray said.
Veteran Sabres winger Drew Stafford hadn’t experienced anything like the weekend in his eight-year career.
“You go seven, eight years of the steady really nothing happening until maybe like a deadline deal or something,” he said. “The last 24, 48 hours, I’ve never seen anything like it. So it’s pretty crazy.”
LaFontaine joined the Sabres on Nov. 13 after Pegula fired general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston. He also resigned from a senior advisor role with the New York Islanders after 40 days in 2006.
The 49-year-old’s going to back work as the NHL’s vice president of hockey development, a position he left to join the Sabres.