There are hundreds of individuals that might be qualified to coach for an NHL team. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans and followers that wish they could coach an NHL team, while sitting in their armchairs, couches, beanbag chairs, arena seats, and computer chairs. Only 32 individuals have received the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL Coach of the Year, and one of them is headed to Latvia.
Ted Nolan, the 96-97 Adams winner as coach of the Buffalo Sabres, has accepted a position to coach the Latvian National Team. He had spent the last two seasons as the Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Rochester Americans, and reportedly beat out former Amerks coach and fellow Adams Award winner Mike Keenan. His credentials were so high, he was offered the job without even having a formal interview.
Nolan, 53, is a native of the Ojibwa First Nation, and spent two seasons coaching the Sabres before a tumultuous series of events took place, resulting in Nolan walking away with his trophy and not accepting another NHL position for 9 years. Offers for positions with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders shortly after his departure went rejected. During his short 2 year Sabres tenure, Nolan and GM John Muckler, the Sabres 96-97 NHL Executive of the Year winner, frequently clashed. Muckler was subsequently fired, which began the reign of current GM Darcy Regier. Nolan and Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek also did not get along, which culminated in an insulting, low-ball coaching extension offer from Regier. Nolan balked, and this ultimately birthed the Sabres current coaching tenure of Lindy Ruff.
So, what happened? How does one go from coach of the year, to just another one of us fans and followers the next year? Rumors and reports ran rampant at the time. Despite what anyone says, it remains fact that Nolan was able to take a Sabres team severely lacking in star-power (aside from Hasek), and turned them into a hard-working, gritty and grinding team that shocked the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs that season. Many players and coaching peers expressed their respect for Nolan, but his clashes with Muckler appeared to make other GM’s leery.
Nolan has been described to me as being very witty, charismatic, strong-willed, personable, authoritative, and extremely knowledgeable of the game. He recently sent out resumes to every NHL team, willing to accept any position available, all the way down to the ECHL. Nolan reported that only one team was respectful enough to respond with a “no thanks.” When the Sabres announced their purchase of the Amerks, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Ted, as Regier is still the Sabres capo 14 years after Nolan departed.
Hopefully, his new job in Latvia will be a successful venture, and become a path back to the NHL ranks. The past is the past, and he certainly deserves it. It is very unfortunate that he will be leaving Rochester, and I wish there was room for him in Pegulaville. Outside of hockey, Nolan runs the Ted Nolan Foundation, which raises scholarships for First Nation women, and promotes healthy lifestyle choices for young First Nations people.
Good luck Ted!