Perhaps to the dismay of Sabres fans it is official. Ron Rolston has had the interim tag removed and is the 16th coach in the history of the Buffalo Sabres, joining the likes of Scotty Bowman, Punch Imlach and Ted Nolan to name a few.
Why He’s The Guy
Rolston took over the bench from Lindy Ruff for the Sabres Dec. 21st game and guided the team to a 15-11-5 record after they stumbled out of the blocks to a 6-10-1 start and now has a multi-year contract, although length was not announced.
The announcement to promote Rolston to the full time gig came at a press conference on May 7. “I am familiar with the players and their capabilities,” remarked Rolston at the Press conference.
General Manager Darcy Regier was asked if they had interviewed other candidates to which he responded, “We had intended to interview others when we brought Ron in as interim coach. As we moved through the season we noticed he was a very good fit for the team and it’s future. In addition, we can now hit the ground running, spend more time with players and have them better prepared going forward.”
It is true that Rolston does have an advantage having the prior knowledge of the team. In addition, since Rolston spent nearly two season’s with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, he is not only familiar with the current roster, but also the players that are in the system.
A reoccurring theme with the press conference was the notion of “freshness.” Fans and followers of the team have come to almost demand it, but Regier and Rolston were able to point to where they believed the “freshness” will come from. “The young players will add to the Freshness. We will create a good buzz and closeness so that the guys are playing for one another,” said Rolston.
As for Regier, he pointed to changes at the end of last season. “We saw some at the end of last year. Guys like Mark Pysyk will push hard to be on this team and have a role and there will be others. We’ll add more, but it is also about when players will be ready, that is another thing. We need a good leadership core and it starts with work ethic and that will create freshness.”
Breaking down these statements, it seems as though the changes, if any, will be in personnel and that players from within will create the change that fans are looking for. The question is will it be enough to turn the team around? Both the general manager and coach re-instilled that players will have to earn opportunities.
Much like Regier’s press conference last week, Rolston preached patience and that there will be a process to building the team to not only be a playoff contender but to make a long run and win a Stanley Cup. However how long will this process take? Both men wouldn’t put a timetable on it.
Rolston was also asked about the team’s two big names, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. He said he would like them to be in the line up for opening day but that “they had decisions to make.”
Another name that was brought up was Tyler Myers, who after his rookie campaign has seen a decline in his performance. Yet Rolston still has confidence in the young blue liner. “He is really on a good path. He understands where he needs to grow, especially this summer, to be an elite defenseman in the league.”
One area that will be under heavy scrutiny will be if Rolston can find a way to tap into that potential that Myers has shown so that he can live up to his heavy contract.
A player that Rolston did point out was Mike Weber and his role as a leader when talking about accountability. “Weber took a big jump this year especially in terms of a leadership role.” The coach pointed to successful teams as all having an accountable room, something he hopes to establish.
With these statements there is a lot that will certainly be questioned. If Rolston feels there was not enough accountability from the current leadership group and he is going to establish his own, what does that mean for guys like Miller and Vanek, who just minutes earlier he wanted in his opening day line up? Are these hints at player personnel change or just words to satisfy the fan base?
Regier’s talk about a good leadership core furthers the speculation that both Miller and Vanek could be on the way out, if the right deal comes along.
Rounding Out His Staff
Rolston addressed the rest of his staff stating that he will evaluate his assistants and anticipates decisions on their futures by the end of the week. Rolston gave credit to the assistants he worked with acknowledging that it can be difficult to be left over from a previous staff. He also noted that the three assistants James Patrick, Kevyn Adams and Teppo Numminen were very professional to work with.
With everything that was discussed, it is still hard to determine what exactly the Sabres plan to do moving forward. They stress that they will have a fresh look but at the same time don’t seem to want to stray away from the way things are. Either way Rolston now has his opportunity to shape the team to his liking but he cannot be afraid to make changes and take chances or else the team is doomed to remain mediocre.
An avid sports enthusiast, Darren presently is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Golf Association of Ontario. He has served as a Sports Editor with Etcetera Publications and colour commentator on TV Cogeco’s junior hockey coverage. He has covered a wide range of junior and professional sports including: hockey, golf, baseball and football to name a few.