TAMPA, Fla. — Coach Ted Nolan had a meeting with the Buffalo Sabres here Tuesday morning and then sent them off for the day with one key message: Take your minds off hockey.
The NHL trade deadline is today and the Sabres have gone through an emotional wringer. That’s been caused, of course, by the trade of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott and the controversy surrounding the abrupt departure of Pat LaFontaine, Nolan’s close friend and the team’s president of hockey operations.
The club was physically tired after arriving here at nearly 3 a.m. following Monday’s 3-2 loss in Dallas. And there was certainly plenty of mental exhaustion going around too, so Nolan canceled practice.
“We’ve got a bunch of young kids who don’t really know what happened and why. I can give them some direction and leadership right now,” Nolan told reporters in the lobby of the Westin Harbour Island hotel. “Some don’t know if they’re going to be here. Who knows who’s going to be here tomorrow? Right now they’re here together, so I decided to give them a day where they could enjoy being themselves.”
There was no group activity planned, like the Sabres sometimes do when they come to Florida. But several players were seen in the lobby heading outside in summer wear to enjoy the sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s.
“I decided today to let them do something outside of hockey,” Nolan said. “Let them go to the dog races or go fishing or go walk in the beach, enjoy the sunshine and just be themselves today to try to get hockey out of the system.
“We go to the rink, we’re going to talk hockey all the time. There’s some other things that can be a little bit more interesting than talking hockey 24 hours.”
One talking point Tuesday remained Nolan’s contract status, and he was grilled on the topic by a crew from TSN that was sent from Toronto to Florida to chronicle the selling Sabres on deadline day. For the record, Nolan was more upbeat about the topic than he was over the weekend in Buffalo.
“There’s a lot more important issues than getting my contract signed,” Nolan said. “People are looking at it. It’s in the proper hands. … I have no concerns with my personal situation right now. It’s all about this team and how we get through this period.
“Tim Murray and the staff are really focused on the trades. We don’t need to be negotiating a contract at this point. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here. I’m trying to do the best job I possibly can and worrying about the team.”
The Sabres will return to the ice today around noon in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where they will play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
Nolan & Co. will simply await word from Murray which players will need to be sent packing, and Nolan said he’s not getting very involved in all the trade talk.
“I’m a coach. I’m not going to make trades, I’m not going to worry about the draft,” Nolan said. “I want to coach the players I have, and Tim and his staff are very capable of making some good trades. Whatever happens the next 24 hours, I’ve got to deal with who’s here.”
The Ottawa Senators put former Canisius College star Cory Conacher on waivers Tuesday, thus giving the last-place Sabres the first chance to claim the speedy forward when that deadline passes at noon today.
The 5-foot-8 Conacher, a native of Burlington, Ont., is Canisius’ all-time leader in goals and points. His cap hit is just $871,250.
Conacher, 24, has been a disappointment in Ottawa this year with just four goals and 16 assists in 59 games, but his 20 points would still make him the Sabres’ sixth-leading scorer. The disappointment is magnified by the fact the Sens gave up goaltender Ben Bishop to get him and Bishop has thrived with Tampa Bay, evolving into a Vezina Trophy candidate.
“My whole career has been about proving people wrong,” Conacher told reporters in Edmonton, where the Senators played Tuesday night. “I love Ottawa and I love the team and it’s going to be tough, whether I get picked up or not, to leave these guys.
“If I get sent down, if I get picked up, whatever it is, I’m going to do my best to stay in this league and, if I’m not in the league, I’m going to get better every day to get back here.”
Conacher was a revelation for the Lightning last year with a fast start after the lockout, and had nine goals and 24 points in 35 games before the trade to Ottawa. He finished sixth in the voting for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.