Worst Buffalo Sports Moments # 20 - Nolan & Hasek

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

What team gets rid of freshly named Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year in the same off-season. You guess correctly, the Buffalo Sabres. How did that happen?

Denis Lemieux: You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.

Goalies are not stable people.  Having played the game for as long as I have and the levels and locations, I have never met a normal one.  The best part, the crazier the goalie is, the better he is.

Dominic Hasek is argueably the greatest athlete to ever put on a Buffalo jersey and now is a member of the NHL Hall of Fame.  Buffalo basically stole Hasek from the Black Hawks.  Hasek was traded to Buffalo for goalie Stephane Beauregard and for a latter draft pick that turned out to be Eric Daze who had a solid career.   Hasek was worth the price of admission alone to many games starting in 2003.  This article will focus on the 2007 season and particulary the off season.

Ted Nolan was the assistant coach for the Hartford Whalers before being tapped to be the next Sabres head coach heading into the 96-97 season.  In his second season behind the behind the bench, he led the team to the Northeast Division title. He was rewarded with the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach.

It was when the playoffs began when everything hit the breaking point.  It was no secret that during the entire season tensions arose between Nolan and Hasek.  Nolan was a young coach who was not gifted at X and O's but squeezing out every last effort players had in them.  Some players respected getting pushed while some, Hasek, did not.  This tense relationship headed upstairs where GM John Muckler had to insert himself.

Time to set the scenario for what was the weirdest set of events.  After giving up a goal in the third game of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, Hasek pulled himself out of the game.  Hasek said he felt pain in his knee and heard a pop.  This opened up the door for journeyman Steve Shields to man the goal tending duties.

Former Buffalo News columnist and Hockey Hall of Fame columnist wrote an article stating Hasek had "poor mental toughness."  Kelly approached Hasek for an interview after game five and Hasek lost his mud.  Hasek became irate screaming at Kelly, pushing him, and ripping off his shirt.  Should the captain and specifically the head coach understand this may occur and have a buffer next to Hasek?  Or coach asking Kelly to please stay away.  Sure, but this did not happen.  Mike Peca was new to captaincy no way could have expected Hasek to confront Kelly.  I imagine he was more aware of relationship with media and players after this incident.

Hasek did issue an apology but the rest of the season headed south.  Shields did lead the Sabres past the Senators and was the starting goalie in the second round against the Flyers.  In the meantime the NHL issued a three game suspension to Hasek and the Sabres fell down 0 - 3 to the hated Flyers.  When Hasek was able to return pulled himself out of game four after the pregame skate.  Hasek informed the coaching staff he felt a twinge in his knee and never played another game that season.  I have to add that Shields played a great game and Buffalo won game four only to lose 6 - 3 and exit 4 - 1.

After the season is was time for Muckler to see where the team goes from the hot pile of mess the Sabres turned into.  Hasek made in very clear it is Nolan or Me.  At the 1997 NHL Ceremony Hasek is quoted "it would be better for me if he (Nolan) did not return."

Muckler wins the NHL's 1996–97 Executive of the Year and was abruptly fired.  Unfortunately in comes Darcy Regier.    Here is where the story of Nolan sleeping with Hasek's wife is completely bogus.    Nolan's initial two year deal has come to and end.  Regier has the option to keep Nolan or look for another coach.  Regier offers Nolan a one-year extension worth $500,000.  This offer would have never been made if the rumor were true.  Nolan also fresh off winning an award from the NHL receiving the coach of the year is insulted for only given a one year deal.  Nolan feels that he took a team of "ham and eggers" or "bunch of blue collars" which is a nice term for lacking true talent to the conference finals.   Regier needing to set the tone withdraws the offer.  This ends the two year reign of Nolan coaching the Sabres,  Nolan was later quoted"I honestly don’t know what made Dom feel the way he does," Nolan said  "I tried to treat everybody fairly, but as far as kissing up to players, I’m not one of those guys."

Muckler has pull in the NHL.  Words spreads of how Nolan threw Muckler under the bus.  Nolan is labeled a GM killer and poison.  Nolan is offered the head coaching position with Tampa Bay and the following year an assistant coach job with the Islanders.  Nolan turned down these offers.  Many claim racism that Nolan is not offered another opportunity for ten years after his time behind the bench in Buffalo.

Hasek goes on the Wings and wins the Stanley Cup his first season in Detroit.  The first European goalie to do so.  Is one short of the all time Venzia trophy (best goaltender and 7 Plante) with 6.  Wins the gold medal with Czechoslovakia at the 1996 Olympics.  After a stint with Ottawa returns to Detroit and wins a second Stanley Cup.  Hasek's tenure with the Sabres ends nasty as Hasek demands a trade to Detroit and Detroit only handcuffing the Sabres.  He was dealt for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a first round selection in the 2002 Entry Draft who turned out to be still playing for the Winnipeg Jets Jim Slater.  Hasek is elected to the NHL Hall of Fame.

Ted Nolan has a two year run with Islanders in 2006 - 2008, front office with the Rochester Amerks, Latvian head coach who had a great showing in the Olympics this year.  Right now Ted is a coach on an island in Buffalo.  No really ally in the front office and not well liked by players.  Ted is given a three year contract and I do not expect Nolan to last that long.

Muckler gets the coaching gig for the New York Rangers right away.  In 2001 becomes the GM of Ottawa.  Senators reach the Stanley Cup once but lose to Ducks and was relieved of his duties June of 2007.  Muckler will have a role as an adviser to the Coyotes.

Larry Quinn. The president at the time this all transpired and the bile in my stomach will not allow me to write more on Quinn.  Currently trying to be on Buffalo School Board.

Lindy Ruff replaces Ted Nolan and coached from 1997 - 2013.  Lindy currently is coaching for the Dallas Stars.

Darcy Reiger came to Buffalo after a stint as the assistant to the Islanders. In his second season as the GM of the Sabres, the team lost the controversial foot in the crease game and the Stanley Cup to the Dallas Star.  Reiger like Ruff was let go in 2013.

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