DALLAS — Ted Nolan knows it’s impossible to avoid the chaos in Sabreland. With the managerial change, upcoming trade deadline and uncertain future of the coach himself, the Sabres have more distractions than Buffalo has potholes.
Instead of foolishly assuming his players will ignore it, Nolan is telling his guys to use it as a reminder.
“Life sometimes sucks,” Nolan told center Cody Hodgson, “but what we’re doing on the ice is just playing a game, trying to put a little black puck inside of a net. All the other stuff you have no control over. The only thing you can control is playing this game.
“You let them play and have a smile on their face once in a while because after all it is only a game.”
While the Sabres smiled through the day Monday, the good vibe came to an end at night.
Dallas ended the Sabres’ three-game winning streak with a 3-2 win in American Airlines Center. Tyler Ennis scored twice and Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth was named the First Star with 36 saves, but the Stars gave Lindy Ruff the 600th win of his coaching career.
“Jhonas played great,” Ennis said. “We just didn’t play very well in front of him.”
Buffalo took the first four penalties on the game as the Stars opened with a 23-6 shot edge. Enroth kept it close and Ennis tied the game with 16:37 to play, but Alex Chiasson scored the winner on the power play with 9:35 left.
“It was too many penalties for our side in that game, and it killed us in the end,” Enroth said.
The loss added to the Sabres’ tough week.
“It’s definitely a character-building year, that’s for sure,” Hodgson said Monday in American Airlines Center. “We’ll look back on it in a few years and hopefully laugh.”
Fans certainly are not at that point now, however. Things are too tumultuous.
Nolan said Monday afternoon he had not yet talked with General Manager Tim Murray about the contract extension that is on the table.
“No, I haven’t thought about it,” the interim coach said.
The bench boss who twice had to wait to get back into the NHL is now choosing to take his time. Is there a deadline to decide on the multiyear contract, which was scheduled to be announced last Tuesday?
“No deadline,” Nolan said. “I’ve been really focused on doing what I’ve been asked to do when Pat LaFontaine first asked me to come here, so I’m going to do that.”
After failing to find common ground on a contract with the Sabres in 1997, Nolan was out of the NHL until the Islanders hired him in 2006. He lasted two seasons in New York and was gone until Buffalo brought him back in November. This time, the Sabres are trying to keep him.
“Yeah, it’s nice to be wanted, for sure,” Nolan said in his final words on the situation.
Nolan’s hesitation centers around the departure of LaFontaine, who abruptly resigned as the president of hockey operations Saturday. The Hockey Hall of Famer has not surfaced since departing, and he apparently won’t comment when he does.
LaFontaine and the Sabres have settled the remaining years on his contract and signed a non-disclosure agreement, according to Sportsnet.ca. The Sabres declined to comment on the report, saying everything they needed to say was in the news release announcing the resignation.
Lindy Ruff patrolled the other bench Monday night, serving as a reminder that Buffalo used to be a place where continuity and predictability reigned. Those days are long gone, and many of the young players in the Sabres’ dressing room hardly know that time period existed.
“There’s been a lot of changes the last couple years, so in that sense we’re kind of getting used to it,” center Tyler Ennis said. “We can’t focus on that stuff. Hockey is an unbelievable way to make a living. It’s fun even though it’s been a rough year. It’s exciting for all of us to just step on the ice.”
“For a time that’s pretty anxious and nerve-racking, we’re having fun and dealing with it the best we can.”