Sabres president: LaFontaine leaves lasting legacy

Sunday, 03.02.2014 / 6:45 PM
Joe Yerdon  - Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Pat LaFontaine had a short, but lasting, impact on the Buffalo Sabres, team president Ted Black said Sunday, addressing LaFontaine's unexpected resignation.

LaFontaine's resignation of his president of hockey operations position was announced via club release Saturday evening. LaFontaine is returning to the NHL to assume his previous position as vice president of development and community affairs.

"[Buffalo owner] Terry Pegula hired me in November and my primary objective was to lead the Sabres organization through a time of transition," LaFontaine said in a release Saturday night. "I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish in a short period of time and want to thank Terry and Kim Pegula for the opportunity and their support during my time with the Sabres. I also want to convey my best wishes to all of the players in the Sabres organization and to wish them the best of success in the future. Most importantly, I want to convey my heartfelt appreciation to the great fans of the Sabres for the way I have been treated here as a player and as an executive."

Black and general manager Tim Murray spoke about the LaFontaine move on Sunday night at First Niagara Center.

"Pat was here for three months. It is one person, we wish him well moving forward," Black said. "We appreciate what he's done. He brought us [general manager] Tim Murray. He brought us [advisor] Craig Patrick. He brought us [coach] Ted Nolan. He was here for a short amount of time. He made those impacts. He wanted to go back to the NHL and he resigned. I don't know that it impacts the greater mission and will deter us. I think we're very excited about the return that Tim got on the trade for Ryan [Miller] and Steve [Ott], as difficult as those decisions are. It fits in with what we're trying to accomplish with a rebuild."

LaFontaine's resignation came a day after the Sabres traded Miller and Ott to the St. Louis Blues for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2016 third-round pick. The timing raised questions as to whether or not Murray and LaFontaine agreed on how to proceed rebuilding the team.

Murray said LaFontaine was not consulted on the Miller trade because of LaFontaine's impending departure from the club. But, Murray, who was hired by LaFontaine on Jan. 9, 2014, insisted that there was no disharmony in the front office.

"No, we were on the same page," Murray said. "I was brought in here for the rebuild and we were on the same page with that. I've been here for six weeks and probably on the road for four of those scouting. Every phone call I got concerning trades was relayed to Pat. There was never any indication that we weren't on the same page."

LaFontaine, who starred for the franchise as a high-scoring forward, assumed the role of president of hockey operations after the firings of Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston on Nov. 14, 2013.

The first major decision of LaFontaine's tenure was to hire Ted Nolan as coach on an interim basis. Nolan had been out of the NHL since 2008, when he was dismissed by the New York Islanders. At the time of his hire, Nolan was coaching the Latvian national team, a position he continues to hold.

The Sabres have gone 14-19-7 under Nolan, a marked improvement from the 4-15-1 start under Rolston.

With the departure of LaFontaine, there has been much speculation about Nolan's future with the organization.

"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 from him.

"I just want people that want to be here to be here. If he wants to be here, I want him to be our coach," Murray said of Nolan. "I can't speculate whether he does or not and I'm not going to beg anybody to come and work here. I want people that want to be here, I want players that want to be here and we want Teddy to be our coach going forward."

The GM says for now, though, all of his focus will be on the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline, which arrives at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

"For me, it's just about the hockey and it's about continuing to talk trade, it's about continuing to get ready for the draft, it's about continuing to evaluate the hockey staff," Murray said. "I just have to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm going to be grateful forever that Pat hired me and gave me my first GM job."

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