Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine are obviously comfortable pulling the trigger on minor trades as was shown by the acquisition of Linus Omark from the Edmonton Oilers. But as the Omark deal looks to go south and Omark himself sits on the verge of being cut, the Buffalo Sabres‘ fans are wondering how much longer it will take LaFontaine to bring in a new general manager to make some substantial roster moves.
The Sabres are currently the worst team in the NHL and — much to the dismay of the hockey fans in Western New York — it does not look like much is being done to change that. Unfortunately for the fans, winning games is not really part of the agenda right now. Ted Nolan is going through every available player on the Sabres roster and giving each player a good look before determining if that player will stay with the team, spend some more time with the Rochester Americans, or be used in a trade. If a player has absolutely no trade value and no future with the Sabres, then that player will be cut.
The fans in Buffalo do not seem to understand that Nolan and LaFontaine first have to correct the 16 years of damage that former general manager Darcy Regier and former head coach Lindy Ruff did to the entire organization. In order to attract the kinds of players that Nolan needs to win, there first has to be a winning environment that permeates the team and makes free agents want to come to Buffalo. The fans continue to complain about the lack of progress that seems to be taking place, but they do not appreciate the huge task that Nolan and LaFontaine have in front of them just to make the team look appealing to the players that can bring success.
Part of that successful environment is a strong general manager. When the new Sabres general manager is finally put in place he will have several tasks to complete and some of them will be immediate.
The thing that could be holding up the general manager search in Buffalo is the notion that the new general manager will have to hire Nolan as the Sabres’ full-time head coach. As of now, Nolan is the interim coach and that is making fans anxious. LaFontaine and owner Terry Pegula know that not making Nolan the head coach will cause a fallout with the fan base that will take years to repair. Not only that, but Nolan has shown that he can do the job and should be given the chance to build Buffalo’s first Stanley Cup champion.
The new general manager must find a way to sign goaltender Ryan Miller. This is the final year of Miller’s contract, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent when the season is over. Nolan has to get Miller to believe that the Sabres can win a Cup in the next three to four years, and the new general manager must begin contract negotiations immediately to retain Miller. Jhonas Enroth is a capable backup and could be a decent NHL starter, but Miller is an elite goaltender that can carry the team to a championship.
The Sabres need gritty players with the ability to be creative on offense. Right now, the Sabres have players that can be gritty, but very few players on the team have any kind of creativity when it comes to designing scoring chances. A Nolan kind of player is one that can grind in the corners to get the puck and then make a creative play to score a goal. The new general manager will have very few good players on this roster to work with, and a complete overhaul has to be coming if the team is going to win.
Sabres fans who understand the game of hockey and know how the NHL works should be extremely excited at the future prospects of the team. It is useless to complain about the team losing at this point because the roster that is in place now is not the one that will eventually be a Stanley Cup contender. All Buffalo needs is that competent general manager who can work with Nolan to create another “hardest working team in hockey” and, this time, bring home the hardware.
Sabres fans wait to see who the general manager will be, and Pat LaFontaine knows that the announcement has to come soon.