After allowing the firing of former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff to digest for a few days, it is now time for the organization to ask themselves more questions. The Sabres must also decide what lies ahead. One question on the top of fans and analysts minds is, did the Sabres let go of the right man?
Make no mistake about it, Ruff is a good coach. With that being said, every coach gets fired. Ruff took over as the bench boss of the Sabres in 1997 and remained there for a remarkable and unprecedented (at least in profession sports today) 16 years. Ruff took the team to the conference finals in his first season. Then, the Stanley Cup Finals in his second followed by two more conference finals in 2005-06 and 2006-07. In 2006-07 he captured the Presidents Trophy.
Ruff got the most out of the teams that he had when the organization was not willing to fork over big dollars for stars. So the results were seen as a success. However, when Terry Pegula took over the team in February 2011, expectations greatly rose and Ruff was not able to deliver.
Ruff finished his time with the Sabers with a record of 571-432-78-84. However, in the last five years the team qualified for the playoffs just twice and lost both times in the first round.
When asked before the season what had been his key to his longevity, Ruff had said he reinvented himself. This was a telling remark as the Sabres stumbled out of the gates. If Ruff had already tried to reinvent himself and this was the result, there was no way he could reinvent himself again and change his message and the team’s fortunes. As the struggles continued, Ruff’s frustration was evident and came across to everyone in his post game interviews. So his message got stale and a change was needed. With that said, was Ruff the right guy to take the fall or is the general manager, Darcy Regier, the one who should have taken the fall?
With Ruff gone the man on the hot seat is now GM Regier. For so long the combination of Ruff and Regier have been described as: attached at the waist, yet that was broken this past week. While the results have not been there on the ice, Regier has been spending. According to Cap Geek, the Sabres have just $6-million in cap space. They are the ninth highest spending team in the league and yet, as of Feb. 23, they sat 14th in the Eastern Conference standings with just 13 points. How much of this lack of success falls on the coach and how much falls on player management decisions?
Regier has made some questionable moves since his pocket book expanded. He acquired Robyn Regehr, at an annual price of just over $4-million, even though his numbers had been on the decline since 2005-06 when he had 26 points.
Regier also paid out $4.5-million (through 2017-18) to Ville Leino through free agency in the summer of 2012. Leino was coming off a 56-point season, a career-high, with the Philadelphia Flyers, but in his first season he registered just 25. This season, he has yet to play and there are some reports that his hip injury may keep him out all season.
Finally, Regier also signed former Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers to a massive deal where his annual cap hit is $5.5-million. However, Myers is set to make $12-million this season and earned a signing bonus of $10-million. Despite his young age of 23-years-old, Myers too has regressed since his rookie campaign. In his first season 2009-10, Myers recorded 48 points and a plus 13 rating. The following season he registered 37 points; followed by 23 and this season, has three. In 2010-11, Myers was an even rating, and while he did finish last season as a plus five, this year he is already a minus six and been a healthy scratch in two games.
These misses on the part of Regier have to put his job in serious jeopardy. While many focus on the interim tag given to new coach Ron Rolston, it might not be so much about his performance behind the Sabres bench, but rather about the uncertain future of Regier. The reason Rolston may have that tag, may be because if the organization cannot turn things around on the ice, they may clean house in the offseason and want to give the new general manager a chance to pick his own guy. Either way Regier survived for now but is nowhere from safe.
The New Guy
This is a great opportunity for Ron Rolston, even though he is stepping into some big shoes. He has served as the head coach of Team USA’s National Development Program and knows many of the players after taking over as the Sabres’ AHL team, the Rochester Americans, coach before the 2011-12 season. In his first year, he led the team to a record of 36-26 and a second-place finish in the North Division during the regular season. This season, before being promoted he had a record of 27-19 with Rochester.
What’s Next For Lindy Ruff?
This will not be the last we hear of Ruff. There is no doubt that another organization will give him a chance with his track record. It really depends on what Ruff wants to do. If he wants to take time and recharge, maybe evaluate himself, the way Ken Hitchcock did, then he can do that.
One opportunity that may present itself in the near future is perhaps coaching Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Stockholm, Sweden in May. This has long been a landing spot for proven coaches who are let go during the regular season and has re-launched many careers.
There is also much speculation that he will still be part of Team Canada’s Olympic staff for 2014 in Sochi, Russia, if NHL players attend, based on his relationship with the program and fellow Canadian coaches.
Whether it is in the NHL or internationally, Ruff will land somewhere. He will get an opportunity, and for him, hopefully he can capture the Stanley Cup that has eluded him during his 16 years as a head coach.