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Kevin Oklobzija, USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres, who have the NHL's worst record at 4-15-1, overhauled their hockey department on Wednesday morning, hiring Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan and firing coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier.


LaFontaine, the team's star center in the 1990s, will be president of hockey operations and Nolan returns as Sabres interim coach.

"It's interesting how things come full circle," LaFontaine said.

Regier and Rolston were relieved of their duties after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout victory against the Los Angeles Kings at the First Niagara Center.

Regier, who turns 57 on Nov. 27, has been in charge of the Sabres' hockey department since he was hired as general manager in the summer of 1997. Owner Terry Pegula had entrusted him with the chore of rebuilding the franchise.

But with the team off to the worst start in franchise history, "Fire Darcy" chants were often deafening during home games. On Tuesday night, Pegula finally did what the fans demanded.

"My goals for this organization have not changed," said Pegula, who proclaimed upon purchasing the Sabres in February 2011 that the team's sole purpose for existence was to bring the Stanley Cup to Buffalo.

Rolston, 47, has been the Sabres head coach since Feb. 20, when he was promoted from the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans to replace Lindy Ruff. The Sabres went 19-26-6 during his tenure but just nine of those victories came in regulation.

Nolan, 55, was the NHL's coach of the year in 1996-97, when the Sabres won the Northeast Division title with the battle cry of "the hardest working team in hockey."

"There's no one that can bring a group of players together -and I've seen it first hand - than Ted Nolan," LaFontaine said.

LaFontaine said he has a short list of candidates to replace Regier as general manager, and that the new GM will be given the authority to hire a coach.

Ironically, that's the same scenario Nolan faced when Regier took over in 1997. Despite being named coach of the year, he was offered just a one-year "get-to-know-you" contract from Regier, and he turned it down. Regier was aware of the turmoil between his predecessor, John Muckler, and Nolan and didn't feel comfortable offering a long-term contract.

Nolan hasn't coached in the NHL since a two-year stint with the New York Islanders in 2006-07 and '07-08.

He said his job is to change the culture, which surely means getting his players to enjoy hard work. "We'll compete ... make it an exciting place," Nolan said.

He fought back tears in discussing his passion and love for the Sabres organization.

"There's no words inside me to express how excited I am," Nolan said.

Nolan has been coach of the Latvian national team since August 2011. He will coach Latvia in the Sochi Olympics. That team includes Sabres left winger/center Zemgus Girgensons.

Kevin Oklobzija writes for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

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