Pat LaFontaine has only been in his new role as president of hockey operations for the Buffalo Sabres a few days, but he's already thinking of how he'll improve the club. The biggest item on his to-do list is hiring a new general manager, but there's work to be done in the interim.
Among the biggest decisions on the player personnel side is what to do with Ryan Miller. The star goaltender is due to become a free agent at the end of the season and is unlikely to want to be part of a rebuild in Buffalo, which could take some time.
That means a trade is fairly likely. As one of the biggest chips the Sabres have to offer, the team has a chance to make a splash. Should the search for a general manager take longer than expected, LaFontaine sounds like he would be willing to do the deal himself.
“If a GM calls him now and says we would like to trade for Ryan Miller, [Lafontaine] says ‘we're not necessarily going to wait until the new GM is hired to make moves if we think we can do them,'” CBC's Elliotte Friedman said during Hockey Night in Canada's Hot Stove segment Saturday.
This should have general managers' ears perked up around the league. LaFontaine doesn't have much front office experience and it is very difficult to know how he would handle a trade negotiation, especially one as large as this.
With a Miller trade representing one of the most important deals of the rebuilding process, patience might be the best idea at this point. If LaFontaine is focused enough on getting the right general manager for this club, he should allow the Miller decision fall on the new GM's shoulders.
Now, the clock is ticking a bit here. Miller is playing some fantastic hockey and his value seems to go up by the day.
LaFontaine told Friedman he has a relatively small list of candidates he is going to meet with and that a decision on the new general manager could come “sooner than later.” Hardly definite, but probably indicating that he won't let this decision drag out.
Among the candidates Friedman and fellow Hot Stove panelist Glenn Healy threw out as the most likely candidates, several assistant general managers were noted including Jason Botterill of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rick Dudley of the Montreal Canadiens, Paul Fenton of the Nashville Predators and Jim Benning of the Boston Bruins. Still, LaFontaine hasn't been very forthcoming about his list, so there very well could be more in the mix.
Any of those individuals could be a good choice, but no matter who gets the job, devising a game plan for what to do with Miller will be the top priority when the hire is finalized.