- Craig Custance
It was a moment of self-awareness that demonstrates why Pat LaFontaine might have been an inspired choice to run the Buffalo Sabres' hockey operations. Sabres owner Terry Pegula told a story during the news conference of a meeting with LaFontaine in which he asked the former star if he would be interested in being a general manager.
Surprisingly, LaFontaine said no.
"I don't have the experience right now in the general manager's job. I know people. I know the people out there who know how to do the job," LaFontaine said. "I think putting together the right people to build that team ... that's my strength."
And so, with LaFontaine leading the way, the Sabres are in the market for a general manager.
Naturally, most of the discussion has centered on Rick Dudley, who would be a natural fit. Dudley was the coach in Buffalo at the start of the 1991-92 season, LaFontaine's first with the Sabres. He also played for the Sabres.
Dudley is currently the assistant general manager of the Montreal Canadiens and would give LaFontaine exactly the experience he is looking for when it comes to the GM position. What might make this job appealing to Dudley, besides being in Buffalo, is that LaFontaine's presence means he could keep a low profile, which he prefers. Dudley has a strong track record of scouting and building, something the Sabres need as they collect draft picks.
"He wants to build. He wants to win. He wants to win a Stanley Cup," said one team executive who knows him well. "There's no one more loyal to the franchise than him."
It would be a good place to start.
But the other advantage to having a high-profile former hockey star like LaFontaine as the public face of the team is that the general manager doesn't have to be.
If they opt not to hire Dudley, the Sabres can go out and hire one of the smartest, CBA-memorizing, contract-negotiating and player-evaluating assistant GMs in the league. If you look right now at the general managers who are successful, it's not necessarily the star former players. It's high-level thinkers like Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh) and Stan Bowman (Chicago).
If LaFontaine goes that route, these candidates should top his list: