Ted Nolan seemed as enthusiastic Monday morning as he did the day he took the Buffalo Sabres coaching position on an interim basis five months ago. He’ll be behind the bench for the next three seasons without that interim label.
The team announced Monday morning that Nolan had signed a contract extension and that he is now – and once again – the full-time coach. Nolan and general manager Tim Murray addressed the media after the team’s practice on Monday at First Niagara Center.
Nolan re-joined the Sabres on Nov. 13. He previously coached the team to a 73-72-19 record during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons. He became the franchise’s first Jack Adams Award winner following a first-place Northeast Division finish in 1997.
“One of the things I mentioned when I first got here was if I could pick a place to go, this would definitely be the place and I’m excited about being here,” Nolan said. “If there’s a city that deserves a championship, this is the one so hopefully through Tim’s knowledge and getting us the right players, and hopefully I can coach them good enough to win, that’s what it’s all about.”
Nolan later spent two seasons as head coach of the New York Islanders, guiding the Islanders to a 74-68-21 record during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. He has a 163-170-48 overall record in 381 NHL games coached.
He thanked owners Terry and Kim Pegula for the opportunity as well as former president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine for bringing him in on an interim basis.
Nolan confirmed that the deal is for three years and that the process started at least three weeks ago. He said he always wanted to sign a new contract but it was put off due to the NHL Trade Deadline and other factors.
“I would’ve signed it probably on that spot because I was so excited about being here,” he said. “But I’m just really thankful that we got it done.”
Murray said he checks in all the time on the atmosphere in the locker room, including before and after both practices and games in order to get a read on how the players feel about Nolan and what the interactions between the players and coaching staff are like.
“He’s been in a lot of situations here that haven’t been great and a lot of nights, I liked the way our team competed,” Murray said. “We have to get him better players. In some games, we hang on and get a shootout loss or something like that. I think with better players and the way he coaches, we’ll get a better result. But in trying times, I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen and I’ve watched closely.”
Murray praised Nolan’s ability to work with younger players and how he provides them multiple opportunities as they try to develop consistency at the NHL level. While Nolan has done a lot to help the development of those young players, Murray will also look to have a good veteran presence on the roster.
“We’re not all going to be young. Our veteran guys like playing for him too, so let’s not pigeonhole him as a young-guy coach or something like that,” he said. “In a losing situation, I have liked what I’ve seen.”
It’s been a difficult season for the Sabres as they currently sit in last place in the League and have already been eliminated from postseason contention. There are still eight games left in the season and the evaluation process continues to find out which players the organization will look to move forward with.
Nolan believes that things won’t get easier anytime soon, but that they’re on the right path.
“We went through a lot of tough times and we’re going to go through a little bit more tough times. I really believe you’ve gotta go through those rough waters in order for the smooth waters to come,” he said. “Just because we got this deal done today, we’re not going to get to the smooth waters. It’s going to take a little time to really turn this thing around.
“In order to turn it around, it’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some patience, it’s going to take some understanding and it’s going to take some time for the young guys to mature.”
Nolan is looking forward to a “good partnership” that will also involve other members of the hockey department. Nolan is the third coach the Sabres have had in the past two seasons. Removing the interim tag and signing him to a contract extension represents a big step in starting to shape the organization in his and Murray's vision. It also brings consistency behind the bench.
“No. 1, free agents want to go to teams that have a chance to win. So we have to change that. No. 2, obviously, they like stability, they like to think the people that are in charge can change it if you’re not there yet,” Murray said. “We will be a destination for certain players that are looking to play higher than were they’re playing now and they have to believe that by playing here that we can get better. I think this is the start of it for sure.”
As far as the assistant coaching staff goes, Nolan said he’ll have discussions with Murray after the season ends regarding those positions.
Right now, the Sabres could have as many as five first-round selections in the next two NHL Drafts. They could also have as many as six second-round picks in the next three drafts. Rookies like Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen have already made an impact and with more talented young players waiting in the wings, Nolan sees this opportunity as a very enticing one.
“What makes the job so exciting is looking down the road,” he said. “What we have now is what we have now but you see some chunks of coal here and you polish them up, they’re going to be some pretty good diamonds down the road.”
Nolan believes that he and Murray have a good idea of the types of players they want in the organization. It starts with hard-working players and those that want to give a solid effort every day both on and off the ice.
“Tim’s pretty straight-forward and I’m pretty straight forward, too. I think what we both like is, we like competitive people,” Nolan said. “We want competitive people. If you haven’t got them, you don’t win. We can be as fancy as we want, but if you haven’t got that compete and you haven’t got people that play with a certain amount of passion, you’re not going to do it. So I think that’s where we agree 100 percent.”
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