After nearly 25 years with the Buffalo Sabres organization beginning as a player in 1979, Lindy Ruff was relieved of his head coaching duties on Wednesday. Change was imminent for the Buffalo Sabres but you can’t help but feel shocked to some sort of small degree with Ruff’s departure. The man was an icon for not just the team, but in all of pro sports. Within the four major North American pro sports, only Gregg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs has held his job longer (17 seasons). But at the end of the day, Ruff’s time was simply up in Buffalo.
The ticking time bomb that is the Buffalo Sabres struck zero Tuesday night following their 2-1 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The team was booed off the ice and at (6-10-1) near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, you knew something had to give.
On Wednesday, Ruff operated a 90-minute practice, spoke with the media and prepared as if he were coaching the team in Toronto tonight. General Manager Darcy Regier, who hired Ruff in 1997, gave him the news at his home following practice.
“He understood it, he was extremely professional,” Regier told reporters at a press conference yesterday evening. “I think the prevailing factor was where we are, where we’re going, conversations I’ve had with Lindy, how he felt about where the team was.”
“I think last game was quite honestly a tipping point,” Regier added. “It was evident to me we were searching for answers to too many questions.”
Regier said Ruff asked him to have one last word with the team prior to their bus departure for tonight’s game in Toronto. He spoke to the team and hugs and handshakes were exchanged.
“It’s a very hard day but again for him, he’s a top-free agent out there right now,” said Sabres scoring leader Thomas Vanek. “I think any organization that is going to get him is going to get a great coach.”
Ruff finished with a 571-432-78-84 regular-season record with the Sabres and took them to the 1999 Stanley Cup final, before losing on the infamous Brett Hull toe-in-crease goal. He took the Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals the year he was hired and was winner of the Jack Adams for the NHL’s top coach in 2006.
Golatender Ryan Miller has played the better part of ten seasons under Ruff and told reporters that change may not be the worst thing for the team.
“Lindy’s been here a long time and I think that was good for familiarity,” said Miller, who has faced the most shots in the league thus far. “After a little while, maybe our group does need to see somebody else.”
Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston was promoted to be the Sabres interim head coach for the rest of the 2013 campaign. He will be behind the bench tonight, when the Sabres face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Regier pointed out that the firing was ultimately his decision following talks with owner Terry Pegula and other senior advisors. One has to wonder based on the loyalty shown between Ruff and Regier over the years if Pegula views them as a packaged deal. This may just be the start of bigger changes for the Buffalo Sabres. A clean slate shall we say.
Let the post Lindy Ruff era begin. Now we play the waiting game with Darcy Regier.
MEMORABLE LINDY RUFF MOMENTS
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Currently a writer for Metroland Media in Mississauga and contributor for The Hockey Writers on the Buffalo Sabres. Have covered the Memorial Cup, Belleville Bulls and the former Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.