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Can Ted Nolan get the most out of Sabres' future skill players?



Reputation is a darn powerful thing. In hockey, you don't have to look far to find evidence. The Devils continued to play Martin Brodeur last season despite him being one of the worst statistical goalies. Commentators said Marian Gaborik didn't care about winning – until he did.
Ted Nolan has a reputation for favoring grinders. It came from his first stint with the Sabres, a team that was dubbed the “hardest working team in hockey.” They were a ragtag group that scrapped and battled their way to being a mediocre team in Nolan's first season, then to a playoff win in Year 2. Of course, most reputations have some truth and plenty of fallacy.

Nolan's clubs has the best goalie in the history of the NHL. That helps when it comes to overachieving. But that's not really the crux of the point. The implied part of Nolan being known for coaching a group of grinders is that he favors grinders. That he would rather play a hard-nosed, no-skill, clubs-for-hands fighter than a highly skilled scorer.

With the rebuild in full swing and the draft upon us, it makes you wonder: Will he be able to get the most out of Sam Reinhart/Sam Bennett/Leon Draisaitl/Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel/Mikhail Grigorenko/Joel Armia/whoever the heck else could come along that has a pair of hands.

Here's the “some truth” part: Nolan does like hard working players – and it's pretty clear he will bench a skill player for a hard worker to send a message. But the fallacy is that he will not be able to get the most out of said skill guys.

During his first season as coach of the Sabres in 1995-96, a former No. 3 overall pick Pat LaFontaine scored 91 points in 76 games. He did so playing with a garbage pal and pylon on the wings.

Sure, LaFontaine was a veteran, but that club also had productive young'ins. Michael Peca, at age 21, scored 31 points. Jason Dawe, 22, had 25 goals and 25 assists. Brad May, 23, had 44 points. Derek Plante, 24, posted 56 points.

The next season, Nolan made the playoffs with 23-year-old Brian Holzinger scoring 51 points and Peca and Dawe playing major roles.
Of course, that was the mid-90s. He has changed a thing or two about his style, even saying recently that he wouldn't mind seeing fighting out of the NHL. That's a far cry from his drop-the-mits teams.  He has probably learned a thing or two since then.

So what can we draw from to figure out whether Nolan will be able to get the most out of the next wave of skill players?

Well, we have a chart. Hockeyabstract.com and Hockey Prospectus writer Rob Vollman invented the "Player Usage Chart."



Here is how the Sabres used their players last season. About one-fourth of the season was under Ron Rolston, but the numbers are mostly influenced by Nolan.

Focus on the young players – say, the under 24’s.

- The Sabres’ head coach used Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno against the toughest competition. Ennis was trusted by his coach played well. The blue bubble represents a positive puck possession player.

- Zemgus Girgensons, a rookie, was used against average competition and largely in a two-way role. Nolan did not protect his young center and, like Ennis, he came out as one of the Sabres’ positive possession forwards. Girgensons also showed a great deal of growth during the year.

- Cody Hodgson’s role is questionable. He should have been utilized in the offensive zone and against weaker competition considering his defensive struggles. However, it says that Nolan gave him a chance to play the tough minutes. Hodgson was not treated with kid gloves.

- Tyler Myers faced fairly tough competition and was used in more defensive zone starts, showing he was trusted by Nolan to play big minutes. Could it have been a case of not having anyone else? Maybe. But could have put someone like Mike Weber or Henrik Tallinder on the ice for those difficult minutes. Instead he went with his young player. Will he do that when the team really has a chance to win? That is hard to know. 

Now, take a look at the “grinders.” 

- John Scott was kept away from tough competition…big time

- Matt Ellis was used in a defensive role, as he should be. He was not taking offensive minutes away from younger, more talented players.

- Veterans Mike Weber and Jamie McBain were used in similar roles to Mark Pysyk. You could nitpick at that because of the poor performances of the two vets, but the point is that he did not shy away from putting Pysyk in a spot he also used experienced players in.

How about Time on Ice? Did Nolan play the vets more?

By Even Strength Ice time per 60 minutes:

Defenseman:
Christian Ehrhoff  - 23.6
Tyler Myers – 21.6
Jamie McBain – 19.9
Mark Pysyk – 19.1
Rasmus Ristolainen – 18.9
Henrik Tallinder – 18.7
Chad Ruhwedel – 17.8
Mike Weber – 17.6

Outside of Ehrhoff, the young players received pretty much the same opportunities as everyone else.

Forwards:
Steve Ott – 19.4
Tyler Ennis – 18.6
Drew Stafford – 18.4
Cody Hodgson – 17.9
Matt D’Agostini – 15.2
Zemgus Girgensons – 15.0
Marcus Foligno – 14.8
Brian Flynn – 14.2
Matt Ellis – 9.2
Zenon Kenopka – 8.7
Cody McCormick – 8.4

Ott is a fairly skilled player and a grinder, but Ennis, Stafford, Hodgson, D’Agostini (sort of), Girgensons are all more skilled than fourth-liners and they received the most ice time.

The Sabres may not choose to have certain young players in Buffalo. They might send draft picks back to juniors or prospects to the Rochester Americans. But it is quite clear that if Nolan is given young players, he will not hold them back. He may be tough on them, but he will get them in the game.
 

06/20/2014 9:42AM
Can Ted Nolan get the most out of Sabres' future skill players?
Please enter your comments below.
06/20/2014 11:02AM
Answer
No. This roster is a Joke. A PATHETIC JOKE. CHANGE IT! Start by scrapping 90% of this team including Ennis and get all new players.
06/20/2014 11:26AM
"Nolan's clubs has the best goalie in the history of the NHL"
Now this exactly what I mean about the embarrassing UNPROFESSIONALISM and HOMERISM running rampant at WGR, "THE FLAGSHIP"! In "THE HISTORY OF THE NHL?" RIDICULOUS!!! Hasek was a top 10 goalie historically... maybe... But one things for CERTAIN... That's THE FLAGSHIP'S LOVE AFFAIR with "THEEEEEEEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS"- WALMART! Now of course I am NOT the BEST GOALTENDER IN THE HISTORY OF THE NHL, but... WHO'S ELITE? WHAT'S ELITE? WHEE'S ELITE? I AM THE ELITE ONE!!! SAY MY NAME!
06/20/2014 11:34AM
Sabres Fan in Kingston
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is given that Ted Nolan is armed with a three year contract I certainly hope he can and will do so. It will be interesting to see who the assistant coaches will be to aid in the development of the Sabres over the next few years into not only Stanley Cup contenders but more importantly champions.
06/20/2014 11:35AM
"Well, we have a chart..."
Of course you do. Charts charts charts, stats stats stats... welcome to sports in the 21st century (a lot like accounting). And it will only get worse...
06/20/2014 1:09PM
He will ...
He will get the most out of the players only if he is give players with the toughness and skills. You have to have some talent to make others dig deeep to bring out their talents. Last season he had nothing but a handful of talent thet had nothing to be paired with. This year should be a little better!
06/20/2014 3:04PM
Can it....
Hey there GR55, Shove all this analytics garbage. Not EVERYONE who listens to your ever-increasingly moronic station is in their teens, 20's or early 30's...and not all of us are computer IT geeks either. We couldn't care less about statistics and graphs. We want SPORTS talk, not computer buz-words. And while I'm at it, this is for the station management- if there is any left. You must instruct your hosts, Sal Cappaccio, Mike Schopp and Chris Parker to RESIST THE NEED TO REPEATEDLY BRING UP THEIR CHILDREN during their alotted air-time. Sal is by far the worst offender...as in every Saturday at 11 am, within the first 5 minutes of his show, he feels the need to inform us of how awesome his son is and how old in months he is now. ENOUGH DUDE !!! Has it ever occurred to anyone of you hosts that maybe, just maybe, there might be some of us listening who, for whatever reason, are permanently unable to father children, or adopt...and perhaps we turn to sports talk as a brief respite from the mental anguish we carry with us every day. THINK ABOUT THAT !!!
06/20/2014 3:14PM
To the whiner who referred to Hasek as "just top 10....maybe"
I'm not here to defend WGR's journalistic entries, but I happen to agree with Matthew's opinion of Hasek. I suggest you check out NBCSN sometime, when they do their top 10 shows, for an independent opinion on top 10 all-time goalies. You may be surprised to learn that they also rank Hasek #1 all-time. I don't think they're associated with the Sabres. At the risk of knowing the inevitable response to the following suggestion, I know this is what you like to do, but try to tone it down a little. K, Sparky?
06/20/2014 3:20PM
Accountability
I really wish commenters had to sign-in in someway that made these comments not anonymous. -Kevin S.
06/20/2014 4:58PM
Shut up
Fools are those who know nothing but thinks he knows all..Go Sabres..Draft well
06/20/2014 6:42PM
your wrong
"Nolan's clubs has the best goalie in the history of the NHL" DOM was the best we or ant other team will ever see!
06/21/2014 9:45AM
Hey Walmart Guy...
Are you actually inferring that Hasek wasn't the best goaltender in the history of the NHL?? MAYBE a top 10? Get off the crsytal meth and bath salts man. You're fried.
06/21/2014 10:53AM
Pretty silent...as usual over there (I'm going deaf)
Has Leino been bought out yet? Let's discuss free agency and turning into an instant contender. The draft is only for Rochester American fans. Cup Crazy 2014-15. Plenty to spend.
06/21/2014 2:42PM
Numbers
are ruining the pure enjoyment of the game. Sabresprospects dot com will give you much better opinions of the draft class that WGR.
06/21/2014 11:24PM
Nolan is an excellent coach
But this team is literally the worst collection of garbage players I have ever seen assembled in the thirty or so years I've watched NHL hockey. It will be a miracle if this team doesn't finish last again this season, and it won't be due to the coaching, it will be due to a ridiculous lack of quality players. Give Nolan a squad of decent NHL level players and he can outcoach most opponents and at least match the rest. The fact is, Nolan is the only proven quality commodity the sabers have right now.
06/22/2014 1:39AM
HE WILL NOT!
Because WALMART doesn't have skilled "NHL" PLAYERS!!! CHECK OUT THE "ELITE ONE" NOW!!!! WALMART= "THEEEBIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS!" I AM THE ELITE ONE!
06/22/2014 9:56AM
Matthew
I watched almost every game during those Nolan years - if you think those teams were only about the goalie (who admittedly was the best in the league around that time), you must not have been watching. That was without a doubt the hardest working team I've seen play, and they played with great team work and passion. And they won their playoff series without that great goalie, who supposedly injured his knee in a key game against the senators (after giving up a quick goal...) yet somehow lept up and quickly skated off the ice (because as great as that goalie was, he was a head case). And keep in mind, the team Nolan built is the team Ruff rode into the finals, and during the playoffs that year, the overall team played better than the goalie (again, I saw it first hand). I think sabres fans more than anyone should understand a goalie only gets you so far - look at how underwhelming Miller was when he left Buffalo for St. Louis. To dismiss Nolans success during his first stint here is hack work and shows ignorance and/or bias.
06/22/2014 2:36PM
A "SMALL MARKET" TEAM MUST HAVE A "BIG BRAINED" OWNER AND GOALIES...
JUST WINS it's FIFTH, 5TH, CHAMPIONSHIP; "SAN ANTONIO SPURS." AllTHEwhile... WALMART= "THEEEEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER ORGANiZATION IN THE ENTIRE PRO SPORTS UNIVERSE!!!" ELITE MY REGIERIUM AZZ!! WHO'S ELITE? WHERE'S ELITE? HOW'S ELITE? Say my name. I am ELITE. Oh WHAT'S DOMINATion? 1.Patrick Roy 4 Stanley Cups with 2 different teams. 2.Ken Dryden 6 Stanley Cups 3.Martin Brodeur 3 Stanley Cups and MOST WINS EVER and MOST SHUTOUTS-EVER. 4.Jacques Plante 6 Stanley Cups. All I can say is... ELITE MY AZZZZZ!!!!!!!!! WALMART= "THEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS"!!!!
06/22/2014 5:54PM
Re: Can it....
You need professional help. You come across as an angry, jealous, mental case. I am in my mid 50's and have no children. And I could not possibly disagree more with every one of your comments. I am not the biggest fan of the wgr on air personalities or their reporters. But you mention by name the three, plus howard, that I actually like a little. Them speaking about their children does not bother me because I sometimes think that is the only subject they know even a little about. I am not an "analytics" guy, but I understand why other people are... Life is short. It is even shorter when you go through it angry and hateful.
06/23/2014 8:08AM
No, Nolan will not.
He is not a coach for developing players. He is a coach for a low-paying, low-balling hockey team that is simply doing its' part to entertain/distract the fans from the fact that their team has little talent. Fact is that in no other city does a lunk like Rob Ray become a local hero. In no other city does a Michael Peca become a team captain. Nowhere else does Jason Dawe, Richard Smehlik, Jason Whooley, Brian Holzinger...do I need to continue. Nolan carried the same act to the Islanders and how long did he last? Face it, Nolan is a one trick defensive pony who relied on a goaltender to "win" his games. I have no faith in the Buffalo Sabres to EVER change from this sad style of hockey.
06/23/2014 9:39AM
Wow
Where do these psychotic trolls com from that comment on this site? I'm sorry, SHOULD I TYPE IN CAPS LIKE THE 13YR OLD WHO SPENDS TIME ON THIS SITE BECAUSE HE CAN'T FIGURE OUT MOM'S PASSWORD TO ALLOW HIM ON THE ADULT SITES
06/23/2014 11:33AM
Re: Matthew
Whether you watched on TV or where there for every game of the whopping three seasons of the "Ted Nolan era", you obviously didn't pay that much attention to what was really happening. "Hardest working team" was a colossal misnomer that was simply put forth by the local media to sell an inferior hockey team to an ignorant population. To try and sell Ted Nolan as a success story without the huge asterisk of having perhaps the greatest goalie in NHL history is impossible because Hasek WAS there the whole time and saved Nolan from embarrassment far far too often to count. The truth of the matter when it is all said and done is this: Dominik Hasek will be called for the NHL Hall of Fame TODAY as one of the premier goaltenders of all time if not THE premier goaltender of all time. Ted Nolan, will NEVER make the NHL Hall of Fame. NEVER! 'nuff said.
06/24/2014 8:57AM
Let's just call the Sabres Team Latvia
The shot totals against explain it all. Enough said.
06/25/2014 9:34AM
re: "THEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS"!!!!
and behind them is the second biggest lOoser frachise..DA BILLS! A combined 100 years (a century) of nothingness. One would think that there would be a "World Championship" in there somewhere, just based on the law of averages..right? NOT! cause this is LOoSERVILLE.
06/25/2014 1:04PM
RE: "THEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS"!!!!
Hey SUNSHINE, EASY on THE BEASTS, EH? They HAVE PLAYED in 5 AFC championship games 66, 90 91 92 93 winning 4. In 66, had they beaten the CHIEFS, they would have been in the FIRST SUPER BOWL and would have been a better opponent than KC because their defense matched up better vs the Packers. Yeah competing with the likes of the Cheifs and Packers, 2 of the greatest teams in NFL history. In 90; 16 inches was the distance missed from being WORLD CHAMPS. And That's 4 straight SUPER BPWLS in case you forgot... and that's done in the most brutally contested league in THE WORLD, THE NFL. Fact is no one like's to admit that Ralph Wilson ACTUALLY PAID HIS STARS, FROM Stratton, Kemp and Gilchrist, to OJ, Fergie, and Rashad, to Smerlas, Smith, Kelly, Thomas and Bennett, to Bledsoe and Moulds and on and on. Now tell me... who WALMART PAID? Peca, Drury, Briere, Campbell? And how many Stanley Cups were they within "INCHES" of...? Pretty quiet out there... So, Friendo... pray for the BEASTS RETURN TO HEALTH and THANK GOD for the NFL, and then NEVER FORGET "THE BRAND"... WALMART= "THEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LOoSER FRANCHISE IN ALL OF PRO SPORTS HISTORY"!!! ELITE? WHO'S ELITE? WHERE'S ELITE? ELITE LEFT? WAS ELITE? SAY MY NAME... FORE EVER FOREM FOR YOU...
06/28/2014 12:56AM
Re: sunshine
Coulda, woulda, shouda...that's all ya got?..the results speak for themselves....NADA! The Knoxs were as committed as Ralph to winning but, hey they're both in Luzerville...I rest my case.
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