The Buffalo Sabres have decided on who will take the fall for their terrible 2014-2015 season and it’s Ted Nolan. The Sabres announced the firing of the head coach, the second firing of a head coach in as many years, on Sunday. The team also confirmed that they would not be renewing the contracts of assistant coaches Bryan Trottier and Tom Coolen.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray never quite hit it off with Nolan and has some unsurprising if unintentionally hilarious things to say as he announced the firing.
“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.”
The Sabres were, of course, a 30th-place team. Their 23-51-8 record was good for a dismal 54 points, marking the second consecutive season Buffalo finished the regular season with the worst record in the NHL. Funnily enough, this year was better than last year’s paltry 52 points.
“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,” continued Murray. “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.”
The relationship between the coach and the general manager inevitably came up and Murray accurately described things as not great.
“We didn’t hate each other, we spoke,” said the general manager. “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.”
Obviously Murray believes it’s “normal” to strip the team of its good players, thus generating all that talk of “tanking” as it appeared Buffalo was looking for that vaunted last place finish because of the riches associated with the current crop of NHL Entry Draft prospects. It’s very likely the Sabres planned to tank the season once they learned disaster loomed.
Whatever it was, Murray’s house-cleaning didn’t exactly leave Nolan with a snowball’s chance in…Buffalo. The writing was on the wall, but it’s again hard to blame the coaching here. The fractured relationship between coach and GM did one of them in and, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the one who deserved to fall.
Nolan went 40-87-17 behind the bench for the Sabres on this run. When he previously coached Buffalo in the mid-1990s, he won the Jack Adams Award (1997) and things were very, very different. That 1996-1997 club featured leading scorers like Derek Plante, Brian Holzinger, Donald Audette, and one Michael Peca. They finished first in the Northeast Division.
So the coach of a tanking franchise is gone and the general manager lives to fight another day. He’ll likely draft a star player, one that could help turn the tide of these Sabres. And he’ll walk away the hero if that happens. Justice? Hardly. But that’s hockey.