The Buffalo Sabres joined the NHL back in 1970 and have amassed 29 playoff appearances since. They reached the Stanley Cup finals in just their fifth season in 1975 and again in 1999. But they have yet to reach that ultimate goal of being called the best in the league.
In 2013, it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that goal, either, as they’ve gotten off to the worst start in franchise history. As a result of the effort, or lack thereof, turned in during the first 20 games of the 2013-2014 season, the axe has fallen.
Sabres owner Terry Pegula announced on Tuesday that they have fired head coach Ron Ralston and long-time general manager Darcy Regier.
Pegula announced the move following the Sabres’ shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2. Despite finally showing signs of life, Pegula said the time to make a change was now.
"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."
In fact, Regier was one of the longest-tenured general managers in all of sports, having been hired by the Sabres in 1997 and presiding over many outstanding teams during his time.
But after a 4-15-1 start, it was clear to Pegula that fresh voices were needed in order to turn things around.
In naming replacements for Ralston and Regier, Pegula turned to old friends and familiar faces.
Ted Nolan, who coached the Sabres from 1995-97, will take over as interim coach, and Pat LaFontaine, who played for the Sabres for six seasons and had his jersey No. 16 retired by the team, will take over in the new role of president of hockey operations.
LaFontaine was the one who suggested that Nolan take over for now, but he also reiterated Pegula’s thoughts about a complete overhaul.
"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."
In terms of the culture in the locker room, LaFontaine provided more specifics.
"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."
While it looks like Pegula is bringing in the old to replace the old, he’s also turning to two people who he believes can best affect change. The Sabres aren’t going to become instant winners as a result of the changes, but it’s clear that LaFontaine has ideas that make sense moving forward.
The Sabres have gone over 40 years without tasting the fruits of victory from the Stanley Cup. In bringing back two men from a bygone era who achieved success during their time in Buffalo, Pegula may be going back to the old, but with a new and fresh perspective as well.