When Ted Nolan returned to the Buffalo Sabres as interim coach, many believed it would soon mark the return of Patrick Kaleta to the team's roster as well.

Kaleta, who was waived by the team Nov. 2 and ended up in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans, fits to a T the "hardest-working team in hockey" mantra that Nolan championed during his original tenure in Buffalo.

Assuming the demotion to the AHL—which came after a 10-game suspension for a cheap shot to the Columbus Blue Jackets' Jack Johnson—gave him pause and made him think about cleaning up his game a bit, Kaleta could step back in and provide the hard hits and penalty-killing prowess that made him a serviceable player in the National Hockey League in the first place.

It was all lining up to play out that way with Kaleta returning to the blue and gold, until fate handed the Buffalo native an unlucky draw.

Kaleta suffered the injury Friday night during the Americans' 5-3 win over the Lake Erie Monsters, in a collision with Monsters goaltender Calvin Pickard, reports Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Pickard made the save and Kaleta went up and over the goalie. The back of his right leg  right near his ankle or top of the skate  slammed hard into the cross bar as he somersaulted over Pickard and then fell to the ice. He essentially ended up in the net.

Kaleta stayed sitting on the ice for a minute or two afterward, with trainer Rob Frost assessing the injury. When he did get up, he was unable to put any weight on his right leg and needed help from Frost and Kevin Porter to get to the bench. He was still in the medical room well after the game.

The injury was later confirmed to be a torn ACL by Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, and by the Rochester Americans.

The injury will keep Kaleta out for the remainder of the 2013-14 season, as Paul Hamilton of WGR Sports Radio 550 and Oklobzija reported.


Kaleta will now have another 10 months to think about the reason behind his suspension, being dumped onto the waiver wire, and why 29 other teams in the league didn't take a chance to snag him off it.

While the injury is a major setback for him on the ice, the time away from the game may be just what he needs to better understand his role on an NHL roster.

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After a few days of speculation following the Buffalo Sabres' home-and-home with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres have effectively purged most of the youth on its roster this morning, per their official Twitter account. 

The Sabres have sent Rasmus Ristolainen, Johan Larsson and Mikhail Grigorenko to Rochester of the AHL while sending Nikita Zadorov back to London of the OHL

Grigorenko, who was sent down on a conditioning assignment, will be back within 14 days, according to Kevin Oklobzija of The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Beyond him, it seems Larsson and Ristolainen will be spending most of the remaining season down in the AHL, while Zadorov will remain in the OHL

Up from Rochester to take these now vacant roster spots will likely be Patrick Kaleta, Luke Adam, Brayden McNabb and Alex Sulzer. Kevin Porter and Chad Ruhwedel also may get a shot. 

In essence, the Sabres will go from the youngest team in the NHL to somewhere in the middle of the pack, and the rebuild will be put firmly in the hands of the guys who were pushed out in favor of the youth at the beginning of the season. 

So the question that presents itself is clear: Is this the right move for a rebuilding team?

The word "rebuild" seems to come with the somewhat flawed assumption that any youth who can reasonably play on the NHL roster should be there in favor of guys who likely will not play into the long-term future of the team. While that can be the case, it's not always the right decision. 

The Buffalo Sabres find themselves in a precarious position moving forward, because Ted Nolan is not a developmental coach. He's a "get the most out of what you have" coach for sure, but he's never been known as a developer. 

And let's be honest: The Sabres aren't turning it around and making a playoff push with the guys they're calling up. They actually may be worse with them. 

So these moves seem to tip the Sabres' hand moving forward. 

First, they definitely are hoping for a top pick in the 2014 Entry Draft. Sam Reinhart is the obvious target, with William Nylander and Leon Draisaitl being considerations if the Sabres were to lose the draft lottery. 

Reinhart, at worst, projects to be a top-six forward. At best, he could be a top-three forward with franchise-changing potential. In other words, he's an excellent piece in a rebuilding puzzle. 

Second, it seems that Nolan may truly be only an interim coach. This team is not going to compete by playing older guys simply because they've been around longer. Sooner or later the reigns need to be turned over to the youngsters stocking the cupboard. 

While that may not necessarily need to happen this season, it has to sooner rather than later. 

A team cannot hope to rebuild using fringe veterans, so these guys will be back, and likely in prominent roles. The only question is when. 

Regardless, expect the Sabres to stay in more games, but a spade is a spade, and a team with this many third-liners is not going to have much success.

And with that, the rebuild forges on, and probably a lot differently than many would have expected. 

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18

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Buffalo Sabres fans have long called for Ted Nolan to return as coach of the team.

Coach Ron Rolston's days with the team were very obviously numbered during a dreadful start to the 2013-14 season that has seen the Sabres outplayed and outcoached at every turn. And with each loss, each questionable decision from the bench, the name of Ted Nolan was bandied about with even more ferocity on message boards.

So while it may be shocking to see his face on the ice again for Sabres practice, it's really no surprise he is the man owner Terry Pegula and team president Ted Black have brought in to replace Rolston, a coach so bland that you either hated him or you forgot his name in between games.

Similarly, it's no surprise another beloved name from Sabres past, Pat LaFontaine, is the man being brought in to take former general manager Darcy Regier's seat at the table—even if he isn't actually taking his title or role within the organization.

The additions of Nolan and LaFontaine may turn out to be good hockey moves for the Sabres, and they may eventually lead the team down the road to hockey's promised land. But there's no doubt that in the short term, the carefully calculated play has energized a Sabres fanbase that has been getting more and more apathetic about the team by the day.

The timing of the moveafter the team's first home win in 10 tries this season, and just their fourth win in 20 games totalwas odd, indicating it has been in the works for quite some time. The game against Los Angeles Tuesday was the first off a week-long West Coast road trip, and a move of this magnitude couldn't have been done while the team was flying home from California.

The pageantry of it all—Pegula and Black sitting on the dais at First Niagara Center, introducing familiar faces to Sabres fans with pomp and circumstance—is a public relations move with very little downside for the organization.

On social media, the organization has made a concerted effort to engage nostalgic fans—posting photos of Nolan and LaFontaine from the '90s throughout the day Wednesday and changing the team's official Facebook cover photo to text that reads, "Welcome Back! Pat & Ted."

The posts, predictably, earned thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, spreading the cloud of cheerfulness that was over Pegulaville Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the team has a lot of leeway with Nolan in making him the interim head coach rather than just giving him the official tag. If the team makes drastic improvements, he can continue to lead it into next season. If the situation deteriorates quickly, he can be let go and the "real" coach can be brought in to pick up the pieces.

And in creating a position ("president of hockey operations") for LaFontaine instead of making him the general manager, it gives the organization a familiar face in the front office for fans to be hyped up about while still allowing (eventually) decisions to be made by a general manager who is more qualified for the position.

Nolan may not be the coach of the future, and LaFontaine's role in the public eye may diminish once the general manager search comes to an end, but bringing them in now in the short term is a shot in the arm for a weary fanbase that wouldn't have been delivered had an unknown-to-the-masses head coach and general manager been trotted out Wednesday instead.

The chances that the product on the ice is going to improve dramatically in the 62 games that remain in 2013-14 are slim. If it does, wonderful. If it doesn't—well, that's just part of the blueprint toward getting that lottery pick and continuing the rebuilding process.

No harm, no foul.

But in the meantime, what the organization will have gained is the renewed excitement of fans who are now flooding message boards with proclamations of adoration for Pegula instead of calls for his head.

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In a move that was both equally unexpected and long overdue, the Buffalo Sabres announced the firing of long-time general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston Wednesday in a morning press conference, according to the team's official website.

In their place step former Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine as the president of hockey operations and former Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who will be taking over on an interim basis. 

It's safe to say that this move was well received by Sabres fans, as LaFontaine is one of the most revered players in the history of the franchise (the No. 16 jersey hanging from the rafters of the First Niagara Center is proof of that), and Nolan was known for getting a lot from a little during his first tenure in Buffalo. 

So what can Sabres fans expect from this point forward?

First, LaFontaine will commence his search for a new general manager to replace Regier. An interesting storyline to keep an eye on is how much say that GM will have in roster moves moving forward (see the Colorado Avalanche). Assuming the Sabres use a traditional structure, their next general manager will get the keys to the youngest team in the NHL and a plethora of top-60 draft picks in the next couple of years. 

With that said, let the speculation begin. Three names that will lead the pack at the start will be Rick Dudley, Jason Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald.

Dudley, an assistant GM in Montreal, is the popular pick at this juncture. He both played and coached in Buffalo and was the architect of the 2003 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. As of this moment, according to the Buffalo News' John Vogl, the Canadiens have not commented on whether or not the Sabres have contacted them about Dudley, but you have to imagine they will, and soon. 

Both Botterill and Fitzgerald are from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, with both holding assistant GM designations. Botterill focuses more on the salary cap and the day-to-day operations of the team, whereas Fitzgerald is more involved in scouting and other developmental aspects. 

As with every NHL front-office position, there will be dark horses for the position as well. Enter Neil Smith and Mark Messier. 

Smith, the former GM of the New York Rangers in the 1990s, is widely seen as a great GM, but he has not been in or near the position since taking the New York Islanders job for a hot minute—about 40 days—in 2006. Given that most of his experience is from before the salary-cap era, you have to wonder if he has the ability to be a successful GM in the new cap-driven NHL. 

Messier is an intriguing choice, but he doesn't have any experience in the position, so his hiring would be a huge risk. But the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward, and Messier's involvement may pay dividends for a team that needs a new image badly. 

The other focal point for the new front office will be to maximize the pieces Regier has left them with. 

At the top of the list is the nine top-60 picks the Sabres have between the next two entry drafts—five in 2014 and four in 2015. By no means do the Sabres need to use all of those picks, and you better believe Pat LaFontaine knows that. 

Beyond that, the Sabres have plenty of tradable commodities as the trade deadline approaches, with the most notable being Ryan Miller. 

It's unlikely that today's events have changed his mind much on his future in Buffalo, and LaFontaine's job will likely be split between the GM search and trading Miller. 

With Miller having another scintillating night against Los Angeles last night, his trade value continues to rise while other netminders, including the Kings' Jonathan Quick, are getting hurt in bunches. Miller's play continues to amaze, and team with a need may overpay for his services, if only for the rest of the season.

With that in mind, and considering the fact that Matt Moulson, Henrik Tallinder, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff and Drew Stafford may garner a lot of interest, the Sabres' draft pick cupboards could be bursting by the time the draft rolls around in June.  

On top of all of this, Nolan will bring his hard-working style into the young Sabres locker room and should at least make the team harder to play against. Nolan isn't tasked with performing miracles, but both he and LaFontaine both said the word culture a bunch this morning, and it's clear that they feel that if the Sabres are going to be successful, they need to change the culture that's there now. 

Overall, it seems that the Sabres have taken a few huge steps in the right direction. Colorado is the last team to implement a system like this, and they have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far in 2013-14. Yes, it helps that they have three top-three picks on their roster, but Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have made a huge difference already in that team. 

One has to hope the Sabres follow suit, and if they win the Sam Reinhart lottery this year, they may have a quicker turnaround than many would have thought last night. 

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.

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With the Buffalo Sabres’ front office moves on Wednesday, we now know with certainty what they are not. We’re still a long way from knowing what they are.

In firing Darcy Regier, the Sabres axed the longest-serving general manager in team history. He was 40 years old and a bright, up-and-coming executive when hired; he’s two weeks shy of 57 today, and Buffalo’s failings as a team are mostly synonymous with his mistakes as a manager.

One of those mistakes—perhaps even the one that finally did him in—goes out the door with him.

It’s arguable that Ron Rolston should never have been given the head coaching job in Buffalo. Rolston was a longtime assistant coach in college hockey, and his only professional experience was a couple of middling seasons as the bench boss of the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

But Rolston was hired as the interim coach last season, the Sabres’ performance briefly spiked, and that was enough for Regier to hire him full-time. Regier stuck with his choice, too, even as the Sabres lost four times as many games as they won.

That’s all in the past now; whatever path the Sabres end up taking going forward, the men plotting it will not be Regier and Rolston. What is still at issue is who the replacements for both will be, and that question was not answered with the names the Sabres hired Wednesday.

Pat LaFontaine, the new President of Hockey Operations, will be hiring someone to replace Regier; he will not be stepping into the management role himself. Ted Nolan, the new interim head coach, gets that interim tag in no small part because the manager-to-be-named-later will doubtless want some say in who is running his bench.  

That’s why the biggest move is still to come. What the Sabres have right now is a transitional regime, people who will lay the groundwork for what is to follow but won’t necessarily be the primary architects of it.

LaFontaine himself was honest about his limited experience in the press conference announcing the moves, which was streamed live on the Sabres' official website. He was very briefly part of the New York Islanders management team, coming and going during Neil Smith’s six glorious weeks as the team’s general manager. He’s been around the game in various roles since, but has very little familiarity with the day-to-day management of an NHL team.

Likely, much of the latter will fall to assistant general manager Kevin Devine, a former World Hockey Association player who was promoted last year after several seasons as the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting.

This is a caretaker administration, and the job in front of them seems clear. The Sabres’ season is already all but over, and their role is to clear the decks, maximizing the return on various departing veterans (almost certainly including pending unrestricted free agents like Ryan Miller).

Ted Nolan should be able to help. The NHL’s Coach of the Year in 1996-97 has only had two seasons behind a major league bench since then, both with the New York Islanders, a team that promptly collapsed after Nolan was fired. He’s a good bet to get the most out of the Sabres’ vets the rest of the way.

But without question, the biggest decision wasn't made Wednesday. The interim work being done by LaFontaine and company matters, but what will determine whether or not the Sabres’ rebuild succeeds is the quality of the man hired as the team’s general manager.

Whoever it is has a big job ahead of him.

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In the midst of a woeful season and a full-scale rebuilding process, the Buffalo Sabres made some major shakeups to the front office Wednesday.

Owner Terry Pegula announced that Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston had been relieved of their duties as general manager and head coach, respectively.

Taking over for them will be former Buffalo Sabres captain Pat LaFontaine, under the title of president of hockey operations, and former Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan as interim head coach. The shocking move was officially announced during a Wednesday morning press conference at First Niagara Center.

Nolan was the Buffalo head coach from 1995-97, compiling a record of 73-72-19. The team won the Northeast Division title under his guidance in 1996-97, and he was awarded the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's top coach that season. He left the team following that season, however, with personal tension between him and star goaltender Dominik Hasek cited as the reasoning.

LaFontaine played for the Sabres from 1991-97 and set a team record for scoring in the 1992-93 season with 148 points. He previously worked in the front office of the New York Islanders, as senior advisor to owner Charles Wang during the 2006-07 season.

During Wednesday's press conference, LaFontaine said he will be working to find Regier's long-term replacement.

Regier had been the Sabres general manager since 1997, and he had been the target of a large amount of criticism from the team's fans in recent years.

Sabres president Ted Black said this move is part of the team's process toward becoming a championship contender in the future.

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The Buffalo Sabres roster is about to get even younger, and—we hope—a little more talented.

Monday afternoon, the Sabres posted this photo to their Twitter feed:

 

 

The veiled announcement brings questions, as the most recent news the Sabres organization has officially released about Armia is that he would be assigned to the Rochester Americans once his injured hand healed.

“We’ll probably send him down, he’s got to play some games." Sabres coach Ron Rolston told WGR 550 last week. "It would be tough throwing him right into this league.”

Armia suffered a broken hand during the preseason. He was officially sent to Rochester on Nov. 5, but has yet to play for the Amerks.

The Sabres' first-round draft pick (16th overall) in 2011, the 20-year-old Armia has a lot of offensive upside. Playing for Assat in the Finnish Elite League for the past three seasons, Armia scored 55 goals in 149 regular season games. His highlight reel from the 2012-13 season shows some fancy stickwork and the ability to fire a quick and accurate wrister.

On a Sabres team that is looking toward the future and desperately needs scoring, seeing what Armia is capable of at the NHL level will be a good indicator of where the team will go in seasons to come.

If he is relegated to a fourth line, though—as 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko has been for much of his short career—and his growth is stunted from an early age, a quick ascension to the NHL could be the worst thing possible for the young player.

Whenever Armia makes his debut with the Sabres, the franchise and its fans must hope that he comes out of the gate with a flash rather than a fizzle. Rolston and the rest of the coaching staff have the opportunity to, at least partially, direct that with how he is utilized. On a line with other talented young players, such as the woefully misused Grigorenko or Zemgus Girgensons, he may have a chance to make highlights—and a difference—immediately.

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As Patrick Kaleta's 10-game suspension for a violent check on Jack Johnson came to an end, Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier made the decision Saturday to place the forward on waivers, rather than reinsert him in the lineup.

 

 

With the Sabres attempting to rebuild from the bottom up—filling the roster with young prospects who need positive role models on the ice—the decision to cut Kaleta free from the team was a no-brainer. The Buffalo native may be a fan favorite for his rambunctious style, but he is also a loose cannon who has shown he has little to no discipline on the ice.

If no other team picks up Kaleta, he will end up with the Rochester Americans. Perhaps the humbling experience of returning to the American Hockey League will be a wake-up call for a player who desperately needs one after multiple fines and suspensions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brendan Shanahan and the rest of the NHL's Department of Player Safety have had their eyes on Kaleta—a consistent member of lists of the league's "dirtiest players"—for some time. If he can't learn to keep his reckless behavior in check, suspensions are just going to continue to get weightier.

Regier made the correct call Saturday to splash cold water on Kaleta. Should another team pick him up, the Sabres say "good riddance" to a player who may never learn. Should he remain with the organization, perhaps the hometown boy will eat some humble pie and come out of the experience as a better man.

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