The Sabres announced Sunday they’d fired head coach Ted Nolan of his duties after nearly two full seasons in his second stint with the team. The former Jack Adams Award winner had the league’s worst coaching mark this year, but blaming Nolan for that is like blaming a NASCAR driver for not winning a race with a shopping cart.
The Buffalo Sabres fired head coach Ted Nolan early Sunday evening, ending the former Jack Adams Award-winner’s second stint with the organization after nearly two full NHL seasons:
NEWS: #Sabres GM Tim Murray today announced Coach Ted Nolan has been relieved of his duties as head coach.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) April 12, 2015
The 57-year-old’s Sabres squad was the NHL’s worst team this season with a 23-51-8 mark, but pinning all or most of the blame on Nolan for that would be like faulting a NASCAR driver for not being able to steer a shopping cart to a championship title. Some coaches can make lemonade out of lemons, but Nolan was made to stand in front of a lemon tsunami and asked to compete as his 29 other NHL colleagues do.
It was never going to happen. It was designed not to happen.
This is how bad the Sabres were: of those 23 wins this season, eight came in the shootout, where Buffalo had an 8-5 record. That’s right, out of 69 regular-season games that ended in regulation or overtime, Buffalo had 15 wins. And given that GM Tim Murray made clear his intent to strip the roster to the bone in an effort to land a cornerstone young star in this summer’s NHL entry draft, that meant everything went according to plan. Unfortunately for Nolan, he was never going to be part of that long-term plan. When Nolan rejoined the franchise in November of 2013, it was as an interim replacement for his predecessor Ron Rolston, and when you get hired before your GM does, you usually don’t have much in the way of job security.
Almost every veteran player of value the Sabres could trade, were traded this season. Wins down the stretch were cause for alarm. And in that topsy-turvy environment, Nolan kept his cool and didn’t lash out at management for taking his paddles away and pushing him up a creek painfully familiar to the league’s bottom-dwellers. He deserves credit for that.
But if he was shocked when last the Sabres let him go in 1997 after his Jack Adams-winning season, Nolan can’t say the same this time around. He has seen the end coming for months now, and he’s likely already raring for another chance with a team that isn’t limboing under the competitive bar in the name of long-term growth.