Nolan Gets Second Chance
Ted Nolan has been something of an enigma for NHL fans over the past decade or so. In 1996-97, his second season with the Buffalo Sabres, Nolan won the Jack Adams award after coaching his team to an Eastern Conference semi-finals birth (the Sabres ended their season with the third worst record in the East in 95-96). Nolan walked away from the opportunity to take a one-year contract extension deal from Sabres GM Darcy Regier, and later turned down offers to be both the head coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning (in 1997) and an assistant coach with the New York Islanders (in 1998). Until today, Nolan had not received further offers for coaching jobs in the NHL. Many had speculated that Nolan's difficult character had limited his opportunity to coach in the NHL. The term "burned bridges" is often associated with his name, while Nolan himself has cited racism as a possible culprit:
“I don’t know if it is racism, but if we had 28 Indian owners I bet I'd get a job.”
--Source: Shane Peacock
While I don't doubt that racism is present in the NHL at all levels, I reject the notion that Nolan has been left on the outside simply for that reason. Many who support the theory falsely suggest that Nolan was fired, or immediately expelled from the Sabres organization following the 1997 post-season. The truth is that Nolan scoffed at what was offered to him and he walked away. Of course, the offer may have been insulting in some way, warranting Nolan's actions, but in the end it was Nolan who chose to decline the offer. I think his comments regarding racism and how it has affected his until-very-recent-employment-status in professional hockey are unfounded for a couple of reasons. If racism was rampant enough in the NHL to prevent Nolan from acquiring a new job, how did he land a job in the first place? Was Buffalo the only team in the league not to be afflicted by the scourge? Secondly, why did Nolan turn down a job with the Lightning in 1997? Again, the terms may have been poor, but he can't say he wasn't given a chance at another job. As for why no other team, until today, offered Nolan a head coaching position, my guess is that the rumours surrounding his hard-headedness had circulated amongst GMs and owners in the league and it ended up biting him in his ass. Not hiring a good coach due to rumours about his ill-humour sounds stupid, but many GMs in the NHL (and any other pro sports leagues) are just that. If the drafting habits of GMs can be so backwards and illogical, why not their hiring practices for coaching staff? Ultimately, Nolan may have sensed his reputation had been turned to mud in the NHL and perhaps made the racism comment in hopes to deflect some of the negativity.
I am happy to see Ted Nolan make a return to the league. Too often there seems to be a closed minded attitude in the NHL where teams will continuously recycle the same old personnel (Pat Quinn and Mike Keenan, I'm looking at you), despite their lack of success. Nolan has proven his mettle as an NHL and junior hockey coach in the past, and seems to be, by all accounts, a good human being (as evidenced by his work with First Nations youth and his foundation). The Islanders need a fresh start and had already made a much needed change at GM in their off-season before acquiring Nolan. He should make the Isles a better team, and hopefully can pave the way to a newer, if not more diverse, group of coaches in the NHL.