SBD/March 3, 2014/Franchises

Dysfunction Returns To Sabres Organization As LaFontaine Abruptly Resigns

LaFontaine's departure is the latest negative PR hit to the Sabres
The future of Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan and the situation surrounding Pat LaFontaine's resignation as President of Hockey Operations "remained uncertain" yesterday, according to John Vogl of the BUFFALO NEWS. The Sabres last Tuesday were set to announce that Nolan "was staying in town with a multiyear contract." But the news conference "never took place, possibly because LaFontaine’s shaky situation became known to Nolan." The "optimistic coach was outwardly downcast during the week." Sabres GM Tim Murray, who appeared with President Ted Black at an afternoon news conference, said that he "wants Nolan back but didn’t know what the coach was thinking." Meanwhile, LaFontaine’s friends "continued to express shock and search for answers regarding his exit." Sources said that he "expressed a genuine love for the job and was excited about the team’s future." Sources said that LaFontaine "was let go." Black "deflected the question." He wrote in an e-mail last night, "As per comments at the press conference and as was in the release yesterday, Pat resigned." Black "understands why fans are upset and dismayed with the appearance of dysfunction inside the franchise." A source said that Sabres Owner Terry Pegula is "aware of the image problem but wants to look toward the future and believes winning will make people forget the angst" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/3). Black said, "It's a lot for our fans to swallow in a short amount of time. It creates uncertainty. And it's something that fans are going to be upset by." Black said that LaFontaine's resignation is "a disappointment, but denied speculation that there had been any discord between LaFontaine and front-office staff" or Pegula. The AP's John Wawrow wrote LaFontaine's 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" (AP, 3/2).

CONFLICTING OPINIONS: In Buffalo, Mike Harrington cited reports as saying that LaFontaine "was in the middle of a power struggle in the team's executive division, while a source ... insisted LaFontaine simply had second thoughts about the job and was interested in returning" to N.Y. in his role with the NHL. Sabres players on Saturday night "were stunned to learn the news." But LaFontaine's departure "had clearly been brewing." He was one of the scheduled speakers for Friday's Power Play Luncheon in the Lexus Club at First Niagara Center but "was a late scratch as the crowd was told he was not feeling well." LaFontaine also was "not seen nor heard from Friday during the activity" surrounding the trade of G Ryan Miller and C Steve Ott (BUFFALONEWS.com, 3/1). TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie reported LaFontaine "disagreed with" Murray "over whether to make the deal." Lavoie wrote on his Twitter feed, "The last straw was the Ryan Miller trade. Pat LaFontaine was pushing to give Miller an extension. Tim Murray was pushing for a trade" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 3/1). The CBC's Don Cherry said of LaFontaine, "The general manager went over his head, or under his head, whatever you want, and went to the owner to make that trade. Why would the general manager do that to Pat LaFontaine?" Cherry added, "Pat LaFontaine, the great guy he is, said, 'Look, you do that to me, I'm gone.' That's too bad" ("HNIC," CBC, 3/1).

PEGULA LEAVES FANS IN THE DARK: The BUFFALO NEWS' Harrington notes Sabres fans "want answers about LaFontaine and they’re not getting many." Pegula as usual "was most notable for his absence." Pegula "loves the accolades and he was certainly front and center in bringing LaFontaine back to extinguish the Blue and Gold tire fire in November created by" former GM Darcy Regier. But as soon as "things go sour, like the firing of Lindy Ruff last year or the widely panned retention of Regier, Pegula takes the exit stage left and lets Black dutifully take the bullets." Harrington: "Unacceptable" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/3). In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason wrote in a front-page piece it "could be a while before anyone finds the logic in Pat LaFontaine abruptly parting ways" with the Sabres 3 1/2 months after he "showed up on a white horse and sharing a saddle with Ted Nolan." The Sabres were "spinning the idea that he resigned." Gleason: "Sorry, but like many things the Sabres say, I’m reluctant to believe them." Clearly LaFontaine's relationship with Pegula & Co. "quickly imploded before he walked, or was pushed, out the door." The Sabres "appeared to have a good, strong leader" in LaFontaine, who "brought intelligence, class and integrity the organization desperately needed." Gleason: "And now this? ... Who’s running the show now?" Right when it looks like the Sabres "are going in the right direction, the organization makes a U-turn" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/2).

WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: In Buffalo, Amy Moritz noted HarborCenter Dir of Hockey Technology Ryan Vinz on Friday night "ended up being" the Sabres backup goaltender. Vinz said, "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what I was thinking. I was just running around." He signed a "one-day amateur try-out contract, which means there was no big payout for his one-game as a Sabre" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 3/1).
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