Looking back at Nolan’s first tour in Buffalo

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On Wednesday, the Buffalo Sabres made a major organizational shakeup by firing GM Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston, bringing aboard new president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine, and new interim bench boss Ted Nolan.

It’s the latter announcement that raised most eyebrows. Nolan, who hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2008, rose to prominence with the Sabres from 1995-97, capturing a Jack Adams award (at the tender age of 39) while leading the ’97 team to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

That’s not all Nolan is remembered for, though.

His departure from the Sabres organization was ugly, a public spat littered with allegations, feuds (most notably with Dominik Hasek) and bitterness that saw both Nolan and former GM John Muckler — who would be replaced by Regier, ironically enough — lose their jobs.

Here’s more on the ugliness, from Sports Illustrated (July ’97):

The Sabres, who won the Northeast Division last season, have decided to entrust their future to $4 million-a-year goaltender Dominik Hasek, the league’s most valuable player, instead of the NHL’s coach of the year, Ted Nolan. During the playoffs the volatile Hasek attacked a Buffalo columnist who questioned the severity of an injury that had kept him out of two postseason games (SI, May 5); Hasek later made it clear that he wanted Nolan out of town, saying he did not respect him. Nolan, whose contract expired on June 30, had the support of nearly every other Buffalo player, but management listened to Hasek. “I honestly don’t know what made Dom feel the way he does,” Nolan said last week. “I tried to treat everybody fairly, but as far as kissing up to players, I’m not one of those guys.”

General manager Darcy Regier, who was hired only last month, took a slap at Nolan when, at a June 26 press conference, he offered him just a one-year contract for an undisclosed amount. Nolan instantly rejected the offer, which was subsequently withdrawn. In the two days after the press conference, there were a pair of pro-Nolan rallies in Buffalo, each of which drew hundreds of fans. Jean Knox, widow of the franchise’s founder, Seymour Knox, attended one. “This never would have happened if Seymour were alive today,” she says of Buffalo’s failure to re-sign Nolan. “Ted Nolan would have a long-term contract.”

Nolan has no immediate job prospects. The Jack Adams Award as the top coach is a splendid line on a résumé, but there aren’t many NHL coaching opportunities available. Moreover, Nolan’s feud with former Sabres general manager John Muckler, whom team president Larry Quinn fired after the playoffs, might make potential employers queasy. “There could be that perception of me [as a G.M. killer],” the 39-year-old Nolan said, “but I’ve had a pretty good history of working with people.”

It appears Nolan was right about perceptions — despite winning the ’97 Jack Adams, it took him nearly 10 years to find another NHL gig before getting hired by the Islanders in 2006.

Despite this, it’s easy to see why LaFontaine opted to bring Nolan back into the fold. The two have a history of working together in Buffalo — in ’95-96, LaFontaine had one of his finest offensive campaigns, leading the Sabres with 40 goals and 91 points. What’s more, the 91-point campaign came after LaFontaine’s career was derailed by concussion issues and represented his last hurrah in Buffalo.

It’s worth noting that none of the Sabres regime from Nolan’s first tour remains. Regier is gone, ownership has changed and Hasek — while still a franchise legend — had his comeback effort rebuffed by the Sabres in June of 2012.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.