The Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday revamped their front office, firing general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston, and hiring Hockey Hall of Fame member and former Sabres star Pat LaFontaine to fill the newly created role of president of hockey operations and Ted Nolan as their interim coach.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula said the decision to fire Regier and Rolston was made Tuesday, following a 3-2 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings.
"Why now? I guess I just decided it was the time," Pegula said. "We worked together. Sometimes you get to the point where a change is needed. Darcy Regier had a heck of a run with the Buffalo Sabres. … It's not like he was a failure."
LaFontaine has full control of all aspects of the hockey operations department. He had been working with the NHL since October as the League's vice president of development and community affairs.
"It's going to take a team from top to bottom, and we don't have all the pieces in place," LaFontaine said. "I asked Teddy to come in and change the culture [in the locker room], get everyone on board. I'll work on my side and put the pieces together. My goal is to get the best men out there and build a championship-caliber team."
LaFontaine further described his idea of culture change:
"I think it's a philosophy and a direction," he said. "Not only do you want to change the culture as far as where you see this team going, but it's in the locker room, the front office and the hockey department that they want to be part of culture change together. Anytime you have new leadership, you have to prepare the troops. ... We've got a lot of work in front of us. We have to be patient, smart, selective. It's not going to happen overnight, but I can tell you this: we'll get the right people."
LaFontaine said he will not be the team's general manager and will lead the search for the next GM.
"I don't have the experience right now in the general manager's job," he said. "But I know people, and I know people out there who know how to do the job. I think putting together the right people to build that team and working together, that's my strength. … I think my strengths are people and making sure everyone's on board and doing their job. I told [Terry], I said I could probably grow into that [GM] position but right now I think I could best serve you by building the hockey operations side of things."
LaFontaine played for the Sabres from 1991-97, totaling 158 goals and 385 points in 268 games; his 148 points in 1992-93 remains the single-season franchise record. He was captain during his final five seasons in Buffalo and his No. 16 has been retired.
"It's a step for our organization. It's a huge step." captain Steve Ott said. "We have some highly respectable pieces at the very top level all the way down. It's probably not an easy job for Mr. Pegula to do what he did, but it's a job in the essence of making this organization peak at a higher level."
Regier had been general manager since 1997; in his 16 full seasons, the Sabres went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times, including four trips to the Eastern Conference Final and a trip in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.
"You feel bad for Darcy and Ron," said goalie Ryan Miller, who was drafted by Regier in 1999. "I don't like to see people losing their job. I have a lot of respect for Darcy, he's obviously believed in me over my career. I wish him the best. Hopefully this is a situation for the Sabres as an organization to reset a little bit. Darcy has been here a long time and maybe it's time for a little bit different perspective and some other kinds of influence coming in."
Nolan coached the Sabres from 1995-97; he won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 1997 after leading the Sabres to a 40-30-12 record, but was fired after that season. Nolan said assistant coaches Teppo Numminen, Joe Sacco and Jerry Forton would remain in their roles.
"I don't know there's enough words inside me to express how excited I really am," Nolan said. "I may have left [Buffalo] physically, but emotionally and spiritually I never left. It's a big part of who I am."
He had been coaching Latvia's national team since 2011 and is set to coach at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"Ted brings that calming influence of being around for so long and coaching," forward Matt Moulson said. "I think his main message was our compete level and making sure guys are accountable for that. Like I said, I heard a lot of great things about him but I don't think I heard a bad thing. He'll be an exciting guy to play for."
Rolston was named coach in February when Lindy Ruff was fired. In parts of two seasons Rolston went 19-26-6. This season the Sabres are 4-15-1, last in the League standings with nine points.
"He did the best he possibly could," Ott told the Buffalo News. "He came in prepared every single day. He was professional every single day."
Rolston is the third NHL coach to be fired this season. The Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette on Oct. 7 and the Florida Panthers fired Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8.
"That's the trend in pro sports," Miller said of the firings. "It's up to the players to perform. No matter how many young guys we have, you have to find ways to win and perform. That's the nature of an NHL player. You can't use excuses. This is on the players, moves like that. I especially feel bad for Ron because he was just getting started and just getting his feet under him. He was trying to clean up a lot of different areas on the ice. I thought he was a good coach and wish him well.
"We're going to go in a different direction here and I hope it's a wake-up call for everybody."