Buffalo Sabres: Questions About Ted Nolan Loom as Extension Nears


Reports have surfaced this week that Ted Nolan’s three-year extension to stay on as the Buffalo Sabres head coach is being finalized (via Bob McKenize of TSN).

This is likely not a shock to most Sabres fans, as general manager Tim Murray has publicly stated he wanted Nolan to come back and they were working on an extension many times, especially since the departure of Pat LaFontaine earlier this month. 

Yet Nolan staying shouldn’t be as much of a sure thing as it seems to be. 

Nolan has done an admirable job with this team, given the position he was placed in by those who came before him. That goes without saying. However, a lot of questions about Nolan captaining the Sabres’ ship moving forward have started to creep into more and more discussions, and rightfully so.  

We’ve discussed Nolan getting his chance and showing he can be the guy for a rebuilding team a few months ago. A lot of those points still hold true in that the community loves him and he has done a lot to make this team watchable, not including the past few games of course. 

Yet the biggest question mark then still holds true now: Can he coach a team of young, talented players that need to be developed at the NHL level to reach their full potential?

The answer to that extremely important question is still very unclear. 

You can talk about his unwillingness to play young guys over veterans or how cavalier he is with line combinations all you want, but what it boils down to is Nolan is not what many have termed an “X’s and O’s guy.” (Sorry to quote Mike Milbury.)

What that essentially means is Nolan is not going to draw up different systems or make adjustments in game to combat what the other team is doing. You’ll never see Nolan doing his best Kurt Russell playing a Herb Brooks impression with a Sharpie diagram on the glass asking his team what that particular play gives them (“Options!”). 

In fact, Justin Bourne of the Score says it perfectly: “Nolan is one of those motivational guys who think if you’re losing, you’re not competing hard enough.”

Sorry folks, but it’s not that simple in the NHL. 

Hard work can trump talent, but, as the Sabres’ record shows, talent wins out most of the time. You can have a roster full of guys like Matt Ellis, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell—guys that will play their hearts out every night—but unfortunately, that also won’t win you many games. 

You need to do more than sit on your systems and hope that if you work harder, things will work out because the other coaches are making changes to ensure they will not. 

X’s and O’s can make an average player good and a good player great, and the right coach should be able to put their players in the best position to succeed. 

The most shining example of that may be Tampa Bay‘s John Cooper.

Cooper is brilliant and puts his players in the best position possible pretty much at all times. This post from Bolt Prospects pretty much says it all about him and his ability to not only coach, but to make the players he’s coaching better.  

Consider this: Ondrej Palat, a seventh-round pick, and Tyler Johnson, an undrafted free agent, both technically rookies this season, have scored (or will score, in Johnson’s case) more points in their rookie year than Steven Stamkos did in his. 

That’s not a coincidence. 

Nolan needs a lot more Cooper in him to make this team what it can be. Demanding hard work is necessary for a coach, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. 

Of course, these concerns can be somewhat alleviated by having top-notch assistants at your disposal, something that Murray has likely insisted upon during negotiations, but is that a position a coach wants to be in? That would essentially turn Nolan into a glorified cheerleader.

The tricky part about all of this is Nolan is a great person to have in the organization. He has earned that much beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Yet, with a top-two pick all but in the bank and big-time prospects like Nikita Zadorov, Mark Pysyk, Joel Armia, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mikhail Grigorenko knocking at the door, the team needs someone that is not going to play them on the fourth line with John Scott and Matt Ellis because “it’s fair.” The future lies in those guys, and the guys that are a few more years away─see JT Compher, Hudson Fasching and Jake McCabe. 

These guys need to be leaned on and used properly, and not watching from the bench as Matt Ellis steals another few minutes from them. 

Basically what it comes down to is this: Nolan has a lot to prove to show he is the guy for next year, let alone three years. Realistically, let’s face it, next year isn’t likely to be much better either, and if Nolan is in place to lead the ship to wherever Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel is docked, so be it. 

But to be content with a coach that just wants his team to work hard is only going to have the Sabres toiling for many more years to come. 

Buffalo fans deserve a lot more than more Mike Milbury rants leveled at their coaches. 

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

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