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Sabres fire coach Nolan after 23-win season

by Joe Yerdon / NHL.com

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres have made a coaching change for the second consecutive season.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray fired coach Ted Nolan on Sunday, along with assistant coach Danny Flynn. Murray announced the contracts of assistant coaches Bryan Trottier and Tom Coolen would not be renewed.

Buffalo (23-51-8) finished last in the NHL with 54 points. It's the second consecutive season the Sabres finished with the worst record in the NHL, but they improved from last season when they went 21-51-10 with 52 points.

"I didn't foresee us being a 30th-place team," Murray said. "Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys I had a big part in that, there's no question and I own that. But up to the trade deadline I was open to keeping guys, I was open to maybe discussing contracts with guys that were coming due, but the place we were in was the place we were in.

"We had one pretty good run where the team played well and the goaltending was outstanding and I think we went on quite a losing streak after that, I think maybe 14 games or something like that. That's a hard question. If we finish 24th and showed great improvement, is it possible that wouldn't have happened? I guess that's possible."

Nolan was hired as interim coach on Nov. 13, 2013 by former Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine after former general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston were fired. Murray inherited Nolan as coach when he was hired as general manager on Jan. 9, 2014, but named him the full-time coach and signed him to a three-year extension on March 31, 2014.

"It was never about that he wasn't my guy," Murray said. "It's 'Can we have a great relationship?' Again, I take a lot of the blame. We didn't have a great relationship, we had a decent relationship. We didn't hate each other, we spoke. But going back to player personnel decisions, going back to him not being consulted on trade deadline those are things that I think are normal that maybe somebody else doesn't think is normal. My normal and somebody else's normal aren't the same and I understand that."

It was at the NHL Trade Deadline when the Sabres traded forwards Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn to the Montreal Canadiens, traded goalie Michal Neuvirth to the New York Islanders for goalie Chad Johnson, and sent forward Chris Stewart to the Minnesota Wild for a second-round pick at the 2017 NHL Draft.

Those moves led to a host of players being recalled from Rochester of the American Hockey League, including forwards Johan Larsson, Philip Varone, and Mikhail Grigorenko.

"I don't know if I was disappointed [in Nolan]," Murray said. "We decided to go with young guys in a rebuild and surround them with some high-character veterans and we've done that. We still finished in 30th place. There's been a lot of changes here and that's on me. I'm not going to question his coaching decisions here in front of you guys. It's a decision that was made and there's a big picture to it. I'm not going to stand here and run Ted Nolan down, so if that means I'm not completely answering a question based on specific things, then so be it."

Murray said there is no timetable on when the Sabres will hire a new coach.

"I want to have the biggest pool of good candidates that I can get," Murray said. "I don't know how long we're going to wait. ... If I get a call out of the blue and it's so-and-so and he'd like to interview and he comes across as a great interview and he's got great pedigree and everything else and you have to make a snap decision, then that could happen. But I don't know who's going to be with their teams that they're with now, who's going to be let go; I have no idea on that. That's why there's no timetable. That's why it's a wait-and-see process."

Nolan ended his second tenure with the Sabres with a record of 40-87-17. During his first experience coaching the Sabres in 1995-96 and 1996-97, he went 73-72-19 and won the Jack Adams Award in 1997.

"A bad fit? No, I don't think it was a bad fit. I don't think it was a great fit," Murray said. "We both said after, it's too bad it didn't work out. Is it chemistry? Maybe it's just chemistry. Maybe it's just two different personalities. You need chemistry on the ice and you need chemistry off the ice and who's to blame for that? He's not to blame for that.

"You have to find a perfect fit to be really successful and maybe it wasn't just a perfect fit. That doesn't make it bad, it just wasn't a perfect fit. And am I going to find a perfect fit? If I don't and I'm doing this again next year, well then somebody else will get to make that decision when the perfect fit I'm supposed to be isn't the perfect fit, and I understand that.

"I know this isn't a popular thing. Again, to me it's about getting better. I feel that this was an opportunity, maybe, for us to improve and keep the improvement going and that's no disrespect to Ted."

Goalie coach Arturs Irbe remains with the Sabres.

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