The word ‘nostalgia’ came from combining the Greek words for “returning home” and “pain.”
On Wednesday morning, Ted Nolan was emotional about his return “home” to the Buffalo Sabres. The guy who was pushed out the door after winning the Jack Adams Trophy in 1997 will once again coach the Sabres. For now. In an interim role. To double the nostalgia, the guy who hired him played on his top line until concussions also forced him out of town.
The news came fast and wacky on Wednesday. First there was word that the team was creating a President of Hockey Operations position. Okay, good. Then we heard Darcy Regier would be fired. Interesting. By the time Ted Nolan’s name popped up, Sabres fans assumed the news was mere parody. This is all happening? Right now? Why?
There is room for optimism, but in firing Ruff and Regier and essentially replacing them with LaFontaine and Nolan, Terry Pegula has swapped two losers for two other people who have never won anything of consequence. I know that’s an argument that doesn’t hold much clout, but in a town rife with nostalgia and ineptitude I find no comfort in the feeling that Terry Pegula’s first requirement for employment is having the words “Buffalo Sabres” somewhere on your LinkedIn profile.
So they’re getting the band back together in Buffalo. This is what sports teams do sometimes. I get it, but Pegula’s nostalgia has felt problematic from the onset of his ownership. Grasping for the warm familiarity of Sabres teams past is tough to line up with the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Complacency and emotional ties kept Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff employed in Buffalo well past their use. Seeing their replacements hired with nostalgia in mind is just as worrying. This is not the same as Colorado’s reunion tour. The trophy case is still empty in Buffalo. It always has been.
Watching Pegula explain his reasons for hiring LaFontaine on Wednesday was as absurd as it gets. The two met to talk about concussions in hockey and the Sabres owner was so impressed that he offered LaFontaine a job. After 16 years of Darcy Regier’s shortcomings, after the Summer of 2007 and defending Ruff’s job at all costs, a hangout sesh with a former player was all you needed to finally cut the cord? There was obviously much more to it, but it’s hard not to imagine the Sabres owner swooning at the table. The timing of it all feels off. There’s a game on Friday. You let Regier trade Thomas Vanek. Will you be leaving Ryan Miller’s fate up to the next former Sabre you meet in line at Joe’s Deli?
Pegula’s “no emperor” line on Wednesday is a nice way to pass around both credit and blame for the current state of the Sabres, but it’s bunk. Teams operate on the strength of many, but the final call comes from on high. Pegula was the guy who turned a lunch date about concussions into a job interview. He’s still the one pulling the strings, no matter how many autonomous collective monologues he addresses to the media. The team’s org chart makes more sense now, but he’s still up top.
Clothed or not, Terry Pegula is the emperor running this kingdom because empires need ruling. They demand it, really, otherwise it all falls apart. Perhaps keeping Ruff and Regier for so long was an indication Pegula wasn’t ready for the scepter when he bought it in the first place. Now, more than two years after buying the Buffalo Sabres, Terry Pegula’s finally decided to rule. Now, we get to see what he’s wearing.