This is all very odd. It probably has something to do with my fever-ridden brain, but all of this feels as if it may vanish next morning. Am I going to wake up in bed with Susane Pleshette? Is Patrick Duffy going to be in the shower? Am I a kid with autism staring at a snow globe?
Terry Pegula finally took full ownership of the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when he relieved General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Ron Rolston on their posts. Regier had been GM for the Sabres for 16 years, winning no championships. In their places: Pat LaFontaine as President of Hockey Operations and Ted Nolan - TED NOLAN WHAT THE FUCK - as interim Head Coach. Now the last vestiges of Golisano and Rigas are gone. This is the real Pegula Day.
It could not be easy for the man. He showed deep emotional committment to Lindy Ruff and Regier on the day he took full vestment. He had to believe deep down in their abilities. To come to the realization that maybe your heroes cant save the world is, to borrow from Ruff's dialog, a tough one. But controlling a sports team means, quite often, having to dispense with the people you love and respect most in order to maintain peak performance. Pegula's sentimentality got the better of him. We should hope its a mistake he never makes again.
The Sabres have maybe acquired something they haven't had since the lockout of 2004, and that is vision. The infusion of LaFontaine may bring that grand plan the team had desperately been lacking for so long. Since Pegula bought the team they have wandered from one half-assed strategy to the next. They thought they could turn it around right when he bought the team in 2011, but couldn't quite make it work. No one could agree as to whether they were rebuilding or not after that. Did they start rebuilding last year? When they fired Ruff? When they hired Rolston? When they traded Pominville? The ship was without a captain.
Regier was always good at holding a thing together, but it felt like he was taking direction from elsewhere. He did well when someone else wrote the rules of engagement. Both Rigas and Golisano set financial goals for the franchise and had direct impact on personnel decisions made by the team. Pegula was adamant that wouldn't happen again, but assumed that the man taking orders was being restrained by the financial constraints as opposed to fulfilling the job at which he was his best. Pegula got a chance to see Regier's style of management for himself, free of interference, and saw a void. "Fuck. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I just wanted to believe in this guy."
Hey man, you always said you were a fan first. Well this is a first rate fan fuck up. We do this shit all the time.
The blessings of unimaginable personal wealth is that you can fuck up without any personal risk. Saying Pegula is getting a second chance at this isn't quite phrasing right, because the guy never really took the helm, nor does he necessarily have a finite number of chances to take. This is where the guy is giving it a shot. This is where his mark is to be made. The fact that LaFontaine and Nolan both have been with this franchise before and worked together on Long Island in a similar capacity should not be mistaken for another bout of crippling sentimentality (although there is a great risk of it being just that). The two of them bring definitiveness.
No one would ever accuse Ted Nolan of being ambiguous. His goal and ambitions are clear to the point of friction. He causes intense heat in organizations. Lucky for him he joins a franchise where all the boilers are out. There maybe isn't a greater myth, in the classic sense of the word, in Buffalo sports than that of Nolan's ability to draw blood from stone and passion from the uninspired. His team was The Hardest Working Team In The NHL. They may not be good, but at least they will beat the shit out of somebody. Plenty of the old schoolers will be out in force clamoring for the days of the mid-90s. They'll march down Washington Street carrying signs that read "Corsi Who?" and "Math Can't Win In The Streets." They will be put to bed by a lullaby of Bob Boughner and Brad May, sleeping to dream of an end to analytics.
Seeing this element pop up makes me uneasy. I could hold my breath comfortably within the time one of these 90s hockey-worshiping mastodons calls an opposing player a faggot. Not the classiest brigade in the order of battle. Perhaps though, this is part of the myth building. Nolan's last gig was Head Coach of the Latvian national team. International hockey is not the best arena for rock'em sock'em hockey, yet Nolan got his squad into the Olympics. Maybe the man has more than just a bag of hammers in his toolbox, even if that's not what many Sabres fans care about right now.
LaFontaine got fired from the Islanders for telling them what he thought. That act should shine as an act of bureaucratic valor unparalleled in hockey. He is now on the outs on the Island. Their loss. I don't quite know what his game plan is. He never got a chance to put it into effect with the Islanders, but whatever it was it pissed off Charles Wang to the point of termination. Tell me more, Mr. LaFontaine.
We are in a position of potential energy maybe unseen in Buffalo sports. U.B. football is on the rise and Bulls hoops has a new lead. The Bills have completely turned over, Ralph Wilson is incapable of fucking it up, and just maybe they have a quarterback. And now the Sabres have finally, mercifully done what they should have done three years ago in releasing Regier.
Happy Pegula Day.