Buffalo, N.Y. • Sabres forward Drew Stafford has witnessed plenty of turmoil during his eight seasons in Buffalo.
Following Stafford’s rookie season in 2007, the Sabres lost co-captains Chris Drury and Danny Briere to free agency. Last year, long-time coach Lindy Ruff was fired.
What occurred during a 24-hour stretch this weekend has become the topper, leaving Stafford shaking his head.
"I thought I had seen it all," Stafford said. "But, I guess, there’s always room for more surprises. And this one’s definitely a shocker."
On Friday, Stafford had difficulty keeping his emotions in check after star goalie Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis. A day later, he was blindsided upon learning of Pat LaFontaine’s abrupt resignation as president of hockey operations.
"It’s tough," Stafford said. "It’s another challenge, a little more adversity that you’ve got to put on top of the pile."
As if the Sabres needed any more distractions during a season in which upheaval and dysfunction have been common threads for the NHL’s last-place team.
At 2-13-1, Buffalo got off to its worst start in team history. Leading scorer Thomas Vanek was traded to the Islanders in October. The Sabres opened 0-8-1 at home, before enjoying their first win on Nov. 12. Three days later, general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston were fired.
Miller getting dealt along with captain Steve Ott, were widely anticipated moves because both were in the final years of their contracts. LaFontaine’s departure was a surprise, coming a little more than three months after his arrival was hailed as a positive turning point for a struggling team. "It’s a lot for our fans to swallow in a short amount of time," Sabres president Ted Black said. "It creates uncertainty. And it’s something that fans are going to be upset by."
Black failed to divulge any further details regarding the resignation except to reiterate LaFontaine wanted to resume his previous role working with the National Hockey League.
Black called the resignation a disappointment, but denied speculation that there had been any discord between LaFontaine and front-office staff or owner Terry Pegula.
LaFontaine has not returned messages, and on Sunday, his cell-phone mailbox was full.
What’s clear is that his departure marks the latest setback for a franchise that has had difficulty establishing a winning course in the three years since Pegula bought the team and vowed to build an immediate contender. The Sabres are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for a third straight season, and in the midst of a rebuilding plan that began with the purge of numerous high-priced veterans last year.
Black said the objective has not changed, and the team’s transformation will continue under general manager Tim Murray.
"Pat was here for three months. It is one person," Black said. "I don’t know if that impacts the greater mission or will deter us."
Murray was hired by LaFontaine in January, and now assumes much of his former boss’s responsibilities.
It was Murray, who negotiated the Miller trade. And he is also fielding offers to make further deals before the league’s trade deadline on Wednesday.
Next on Murray’s priority list is negotiating a contract extension with interim coach Ted Nolan, who was brought in by LaFontaine for a second stint in Buffalo.Next Page >
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