With the Dallas Stars’ hiring of new bench boss Lindy Ruff last Friday, the team’s probability of improvement next season just skyrocketed. Ruff will be the perfect elixir for what ails the Stars. He brings toughness, discipline and a defensively minded system to the rink, each of which the team sorely needs.
- Western Canadian tough – Playing for the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers over a 13 year career, Lindy Ruff embodied the type of hard-nosed, stay at home defenseman the likes of which are all but extinct in today’s NHL. Does anyone remember his about-face tackle of Islanders goalie Billy Smith in the ’80 Stanley Cup playoffs after a slash to the back of the leg? Suffice it to say Ruff doesn’t take guff from anybody. He’s a far cry (and a much-needed one) from the persona of the man he replaces, Glen Gulutzan.
- Proven teacher – All coaches teach their players, but only in the NHL do they actually join their team on the ice for practice which allows for clear, visual demonstration of how to execute a play (and more importantly for the Stars, how to defend your own zone). A coach can talk strategy until he’s blue in the face, but players respect a guy who bears the experience and a few battle scars earned at the NHL level.
- Track record of success – In a 16-year tenure as Sabres head coach, Ruff won 571 regular season games, 57 playoff games and the Jack Adams Award for the 2005-06 campaign. Oh, and longtime Stars fans will also recall he led the Sabres to the Cup finals against Dallas in 1999. Expected by analysts to be steamrolled in short order, the pesky and gritty Sabres instead lasted until triple overtime of Game 6 when a controversial “goal stands” call involving Brett Hull’s skate in the crease won the Cup for the Stars. (Ruff was somewhat vocal and a tad irate about his feelings on that play, too.)
- A system that fits the roster –The Stars have an upper echelon goaltender in Kari Lehtonen. Ruff’s system demands a workhorse goalie capable of shouldering a heavy load and standing on his head (e.g., Dominik Hasek, Ryan Miller). What the Stars don’t have are proven rugged defensemen who defend their zone with physicality and a touch of nastiness, save for Brendan Dillon. Ruff’s first task is to mold the current corps into a tight-checking, stingy unit, or phasing out those who don’t fit that mold and bringing in players that do.
It’s a smart hire for new Stars GM Jim Nill, one with a high probability of success. Ruff might be rough on his players at times, but he’s certainly capable of transforming this roster into a more hardened, disciplined squad reminiscent of the Stars’ glory days.