It has been more than a month since the Buffalo Sabres cleaned house in the front office, firing longtime serving general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston. Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan returned to replace Rolston, and iconic Sabres great Pat Lafontaine joined the club as president of hockey operations. Since inheriting the task, Lafontaine has been actively searching for the club’s next GM; a search that is not yet over, and has included many promising candidates.
Based on what we know, Lafontaine has expressed interest in a plethora of current assistant GMs from around the league, including: Jim Benning of the Boston Bruins, Rick Dudley with Montreal, Pittsburgh’s Jason Botterill, the Nashville employed Paul Fenton, Ottawa’s Tim Murray, and Brad Treliving who assists Don Maloney in Phoenix. And those are just the ones we know about.
Deciding who is the right man for the job in Buffalo is clearly no easy chore, nor should it be. The Sabres have a long history of patience with front office staff, and even coaches. Former GM Regier served for nearly two decades (17 years to be exact), which is only slightly longer a tenure than former head coach, Lindy Ruff, who witnessed more than one-hundred NHL bench bosses get axed before his number was finally called (sometimes the same guy several times). The point is, in Buffalo, they deal in long-term solutions with staff, which is an ideology that makes a decision like this all that much harder.
The new trend in the NHL is to hire the up-and-coming star, rather than the older more experienced GM, and it appears as though the Sabres are in the process of determining who the next great GM will be. The Hawks and Bruins have set the tone with similar thinking, hiring the previously inexperienced (at the GM level) Stan Bowman and Pete Chiarelli, respectively. It worked out in Chicago, and in Boston. However, this strategy has also backfired, most notably in Toronto with John Ferguson Jr.
Hiring former star players is another popular trend that has swept through NHL front offices. The Colorado Avalanche aren’t complaining now that they’ve handed the reigns to Joe Sakic and Pat Roy who are responsible for building a winner with the organization they once delivered two Stanley Cup titles as players. For the Sabres, Lafontaine is that guy (minus the Stanley Cups).
The Sabres would be better served to make a decision quickly, but the challenge is, they must make sure they’ve made the right one. Time is of the essence for Lafontaine’s club. The Sabres need to take a philosophical stance on some tough-calls over the next few months, including the future of goaltender Ryan Miller, and the coincidental trading of veterans for futures. A GM with a vision is needed direly to provide perspective on franchise altering moves that will ultimately play a part in determining the success of that GM’s tenure, and the long-term success of the franchise’s on ice product. While the search persists, the Sabres are somewhat handcuffed, frozen at continuing in the rebuild and trading of assets, which funny enough, was an assignment that Darcy Regier was handling very well.
Filling Darcy’s shoes won’t be easily done, thus, there is a commendable reason for the lengthy ongoing GM search by Pat Lafontaine: The Sabres want to, in fact, must get this right.