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Is Ted Nolan right for the Sabres' rebuild?











Talk about a 180.

Last off-season the Buffalo Sabres hired a coach whose background was in player development. They decided Ron Rolston's ability to reach young players would help them reach their long term goals. Owner Terry Pegula bailed on that idea just 20 games into the season and opted to give an Old Hockey Coach a try.

On Monday, General Manager Tim Murray and Pegula signed Ted Nolan to a three-year agreement to remain behind the bench.
 
How can we tell whether the new plan will work or if we'll be talking about the next coach 20 games into 2014-15?
 
You could compare the results to Rolston and try to draw conclusions about how he performed with the same club, but shoe doesn't exactly fit. The Sabres changed philosophy with coaches, sending prospects to Rochester or junior such as first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko. They brought up Matt Ellis and claimed Matt D'Agostini off waivers. Naturally, the veterans showed a little more wherewithal
 
You could compare wins and losses or goals for vs. goals against or puck possession - but you won't find a huge gap in those things either. Rolston's era - between the end of last year and this season - finished with a .431 point percentage. Nolan, since taking over, has a .370 point percentage.



*Sabres Fenwick Close (puck possession) chart for the entire season. See much difference from start to end?*
 
You could compare effort, hustle, heart, grit. But...how can you do that? If none of the actual results are different, if some players are better and some are worse, if they still are not good, how can you really say?
 
Comparing him to Rolston is simply a faulty approach - especially if you're aiming to support a particular narrative.
 
We can only take what we know about his motivational tactics and strategical skills.
 
We have heard from current and former players alike that Nolan was loved in the locker room - and their anecdotes have been sold more than those Taco Bell breakfast sandwiches during March Madness. Ironic when the team just inducted the best player in its history to the Hall of Fame - one who questioned Nolan's judgement.
 
That does not dismiss all the success stories or the fact that he won the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year. It only should leave you questioning the pitch.
 
You should question whether Drew Stafford is really better or just returned to being who he is. Same with Tyler Ennis. It should make you wonder where Cody Hodgson went or whether Marcus Foligno will ever reach his ceiling. Tyler Myers has been better at times, but even acknowledged that he started a personal reconstruction weeks before the November Change.
 
At best, you could all the player-to-player results inconclusive.Most of the players flat-out lack talent or motivation and there is little any coach could do. That was kind of the point of the roster's build to begin with, right?
 
If we can not exactly tell from results or players' progression, how about Nolan's decision making? Logic is logic, whether it is with banging two rocks together or building a spaceship.
 
There have been ups and downs here. On the plus side:
 
- Moving Zemgus Girgensons to center. He belonged there all along and compares to some of the league's best two-way centers in a long-term projection.
 
- Playing Cody Hodgson at wing to protect some of his defensive shortcomings
 
- Asking Tyler Myers to carry the puck more.
 
- Playing Jhonas Enroth more while Ryan Miller was still in Buffalo
 
- Attempting to give younger player like Girgensons offensive zone time
 
- Not fighting a bunch for no reason
 
On the not-so positive side:
 
- John Scott on defense
 
- Using Zenon Kenopka for important Dzone faceoffs. In the 30 seconds following a Dzone faceoff, Kenopka, no matter how good at them, has an awful 17% Corsi percentage.
 
- Having Hodgson face the No. 1 Quality of Competition
 
There is probably more good than bad. In the future, he won't have to use Kenopka in Dzone faceoffs or Scott on D or Hodgson vs. top competition. But will he use another "faceoff specialist" who isn't good at actually playing the game after the puck is dropped? It's all yet to be seen.
 
When Nolan was asked at his press conference about strategy and philosophy, he simply said he wants players to compete. A refrain that, like other things, will be fine until the strategy matters.
 
The fact of the situation is that we will not know what type of coach Nolan really is until he has a good enough roster for the team to compete. Even if some prospects succeed or fail, we will not know whether it was his fault or other factors. If the team is terrible next year, we still won't know because it seems that is the plan.
 
So how should you feel about Nolan signing on for the next three years? You should feel good for him. He cares about the city, appreciates it and takes every opportunity to thank the people of Buffalo and fans. He strikes you as a man who cares about - and understands - other people and wants everyone to care about winning as much as he does (and did when he played).
 
Those are all traits to appreciate.
 
And until Nolan has a good group, that should be the approach. Through the next year-plus, appreciate that he is happy to be here and look for tea leaves to read. Then when the time comes - maybe three years from now - can can decide whether he is the right guy to lead this team to a Stanley Cup.
 

What was your top story line from the Bills win over Miami?
  Big day for Sammy Watkins
  EJ Manuel has a second straight solid game
  Dominating defense
  The Bills are 2-0
 
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