Only the Sabres could find a way to overshadow the news that they had traded their franchise goaltender.
News of Pat LaFontaine’s resignation came less than 24 hours after Ryan Miller and Steve Ott had been traded to St. Louis and managed to throw Sabres Nation into a tizzy. As the news broke fans and media alike scrambled to find an explanation for the decision with the Sabres’ news conference earlier today offering little clarity on the proceedings.
Ted Black confirming that LaFontaine’s departure was known for a few days prior Friday’s trade indicates that whatever discord existed had been brewing for some time. Exactly what the genesis of the divorce was is what’s being so hotly speculated.
Some indicate that LaFontaine was lobbying for retaining Miller and trying to re-sign him with the decision to trade him leading him to step down. Others are jumping to the conclusion that LaFontaine was leaned on to resign or else be fired by those in management. It’s also being suggested that perhaps Tim Murray isn’t planning on extending Ted Nolan and that LaFontaine was going down with Nolan and the ship.
It’s seems fairly obvious that there was a sizeable rift in the front office that ultimately led to LaFontaine’s departure. I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t based on a disagreement between he and Murray over Nolan’s future. Murray seemed to squash any speculation that Nolan wasn’t part of his plans in today’s press conference. Add to that John Vogl’s report from earlier and it would appear that Nolan wasn’t part of the disagreement.
What dots can be connected appear to point to some sort of broken relationship higher up the chain of command. Whether it was just sparked based on the decision to trade Miller or a more complicated scenario is probably going to remain a well guarded secret in the Sabres front office.
I have an inkling that LaFontaine may have been hired more for the positive PR that he brought as opposed to serving in a major role within the hockey department. If that is indeed the case it would be easy to see how LaFontaine could be put off by his lack of influence despite the title he held.
There’s also a good chance that there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen. LaFontaine headed a department that included Joe Battista (VP of Hockey Related Businesses), Craig Patrick (Special Assistant/Advisor) and Murray (GM). That doesn’t even consider whatever level of interest and influence Terry Pegula, Cliff Benson and Kent Sawyer show in hockey operations.
It’s my opinion – I repeat opinion – that LaFontaine’s decision to resign came as a confluence of a number of factors that could potentially have begun with his opinion on the decision to trade Miller but grew due to his lack of input in a sea of voices. If LaFontaine entered the job under the assumption that he would have a true voice in the decision making process but quickly learned he was being shutout it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he’d consider returning to his previous job with the league knowing he’d have an actual opportunity to make a difference.
What is evident to me is that this shouldn’t have a negative effect on how Tim Murray operates as Buffalo’s general manager. In fact, it could potentially streamline the chain of command when it comes to roster decisions.
I’ve never been high on having a President of Hockey Operations, particularly once the structure of the front office is in place. Yes, LaFontaine was necessary in hiring Murray and bringing Patrick to the organization. But once Murray was installed he should have been the one making the decisions with the roster and whether that is alongside LaFontaine or without him doesn’t matter much to me. What’s important is that Murray is in charge of the direction of this rebuild.
My beef with the President of Hockey Ops position has always been the potential to add confusion and additional egos. Now, the fact that there’s a VP of Hockey Related Businesses and that Ted Black didn’t seem to have much of an explanation for his duties might directly contradict that. Just the fact that someone who was last coaching an ACHA program – as impressive as PSU’s program was – is not a VP with an NHL franchise is scary to me.
It should be noted that the ACHA is a tremendous organization and programs like Penn State rival the structure and professionalism of NCAA DI programs in how they operate. The work Battista did while he was at PSU is nothing short of incredible. I just find it hard to believe that it prepared him to make the jump directly to an NHL front office.
The point that I’ve gotten away from is that despite the loss of a fan favorite with such massive name recognition, this shouldn’t serve as a debilitating development. If he chose to leave because of a trade involving two unrestricted free agents, one of which wasn’t likely to re-sign, then maybe the team is better off without him. Murray is the important figure here. So long as his decisions aren’t being undermined and the direction he wants to take the team continues then there should be no dissension in the fan base.
Murray’s first move was a major one and he did well with the return. It’s his ship to steer now and just because the first mate is gone doesn’t mean all is lost.