I couldn't take it anymore. Like many other fans, I figured the core was on the verge of seeing a major change; Right - bye, bye Thomas Vanek. That the end of the Rolston / Regier era had to be near. Right again. It was a Sabres fan thing. It wasn't just me, we all had been waiting for these changes, literally, for years and FINALLY they happened. It was still hard to believe, though, as Owner Terry Pegula announced the additions of Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine to the organization. One a beloved, but jilted ex-Head Coach, the other a heart and souler who around Buffalo will always be known as a true Sabre. Both men were perfect to turn this team's fortunes around. They brought a new life and purpose to the franchise. Immediately, the team was thrown into training camp mode. Nolan had to learn about the players and their tendencies. Even today, there are constant call-ups and demotions to and from AHL Rochester and to and from the press box.
Slowly, but surely, some of my pre-season predictions started to come around. Ted Nolan has the Tylers -Ennis and Myers- playing some of the best hockey of their young careers. Nolan pushed Ennis to be more physical and to go into the tough areas. Ennis has done so and is being rewarded for it, putting up nine points in the 20 games since Nolan took over, compared to six points in 20 games under Rolston. Tyler Myers hasn't skated this well since his Calder Trophy winning rookie year and his physical game has picked up as well, showing that he does still have the ability to turn into the all-around threat Buffalo thought they were getting when they gave him that monster deal just over two years ago. Parts of the seasoned core began to pull together as well. Drew Stafford has looked as strong as ever, consistently making his presence known up and down the wing. Steve Ott, still being mentioned amongst trade rumors, has been the Captain this team and this city have been waiting for. Trading him would be a huge mistake. He is a natural leader who possesses skill and a great ability to get under the skin of his opponents. He is the type of player you love to have on your team and hate to play against. He is irreplaceable to this organization. Ryan Miller has been nothing short of phenomenal this last month. I will admit that I thought we should have moved him out when Vanek was traded, but Miller is proving that Buffalo needs him to help make this rebuild quicker and more bearable. Moving him out would create a monster void for the remainder of the season that Buffalo will not be able to fill very easily for the next couple of seasons. The key to Miller isn't just his great play, it's the great play of the team. There has been a marked improvement under Nolan.
Nolan left Buffalo on sour terms. The well documented rumors of issues with Dominik Hasek and Regier's lack of a legitimate contract offer to Nolan, then the reigning Coach of the year, had left Buffalo wondering just where the hell their coach went. Upon his return, he has created the most balanced attack Buffalo has had in some time, leaning on a combination of youngsters like Mark Pysyk, Zemgus Girgensons and Marcus Foligno and veterans such as Matt Ellis, Henrik Tallinder and Christian Ehrhoff. For the first time in what seems like years, the players are visibly having fun - laughing on the bench and saluting the crowd after every home game. This is what Ted Nolan brings to your team. He's taken the same group of players that Regier, Ron Rolston and Lindy Ruff had at their disposal and turned them into a team that throws everything they have at their opponent. The worst team in the league for most of the season, the Sabres are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games. In fact, a miserable 4-15-1 run to open the season under Rolston has been turned into a more respectable 7-10-3 record since the arrival of Nolan.
There is still a lot of work to be done. There are several prospects to develop and a trade deadline and off-season in which decisions must be made on 10 unrestricted free agents as well as other members of the organization. What Buffalo is going through is a change of culture. It's a change in their beliefs and how they approach the game. Nolan and LaFontaine bring something to the table that had been lacking for several years: accountability. It's a very simple recipe at this point - you are expected to work your ass off and no less. Nolan, in one pre-game press conference said, "We may get out-skilled, but we should never be outworked." That is exactly what this team needs to hear and what this city wants to hear. This site is meant to cover all teams and all cities, but I think it's important to share how lucky I feel to be witnessing the beginning of something special here in Buffalo. This is a proud city that loves its hockey. That pride is beginning to grow again.