Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, right, listens as Pat LaFontaine, new President of Hockey Operations for the Buffalo Sabres, speaks during a press conference at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. The Sabres fired coach Ron Rolston and hired former coach Ted Nolan to replace him. Sabres owner Terry Pegula also announced that he fired general manager Darcy Regier and hired LaFontaine as president of hockey operations. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Charles Lewis) TV OUT; MAGS O
Pat LaFontaine was one of my all-time favorite hockey players. My interactions with him were few but I always was impressed with him -- be it in an interview about hockey, his charity work or even a personal discussion about memorabilia. As many others have said, LaFontaine left you thinking he really cared about you.
Needless to say to any fan born before 1985, LaFontaine was a superb hockey player. He was the rare player to combine an edgy style with outrageous talent; normally hockey players come with one or the other. The result: a well-earned place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I loved the idea of his joining Sabres management. His reputation with people -- to the best of my knowledge anyway -- was outstanding. Heck, I'd get to talk to him!
Saturday he mysteriously left the team, and at this time reports are conflicting about why and how it happened. When I heard, I was sad.
Last night I remembered, however, a sports fan's truism that no matter what happens to the people that comprise a team, it's the team we love the most.
LaFontaine leaves and who knows how or even if he'll be replaced. I know that while some ideas will seem better than others, ultimately whatever happens is something I will defend.
Because it's the team I like the most.
As a player LaFontaine left the Sabres and played for the New York Rangers. I never cared about him as a Ranger. My favorite Sabre ever is Daniel Briere. I never rooted for him in Philadelphia. Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry will always be in my heart as great Mets; as Yankees they were stick figures in pinstripes.
It's about the team.
Perhaps LaFontaine's departure stemmed at least in part from general manager Tim Murray's wish to trade Ryan Miller, or just the follow through. In my opinion trading Miller was a definite right move. So many times in the last decade I've wanted the Sabres to be real about their overall quality and make cold, unsentimental moves to improve. Often those moves came far too late, or never at all.
Darcy Regier was the face of all that, and now he's gone and many fans -- most -- are excited for a more aggressive attitude from the team about roster change. If LaFontaine left over Miller then in what to me is a very important area he really was no different than Regier.
It may have been more of a general dissatisfaction over not getting to make final hockey decisions, as has been reported, and this casts a wider net than simply making it about Miller. That idea is confounding. How did LaFontaine not know clearly what the chain of command would be? How did he come upon Murray, who struck me and many others as a calculated, wheeler-dealer type on the very first day in the job?
How many questions should LaFontaine have asked of candidates for the GM job before getting to this one: What do you think we should do with Ryan Miller? For me that answer is a small number. All of this speaks to LaFontaine being delusional, naive or some other thing.
I'm not happy LaFontaine left, unless his judgment combined with his high stature unnecessarily complicated or even constricted important decision-making. He'll go "play" for another "team" now, and just like when he did that as a hockey player, I won't care that much.
It's about the team. That's who we're born with.
I hope Murray gets his space. He plays for my team now.