Ruff Stuffed in Buffalo: What’s Next?

The firing of Lindy Ruff must be seen as a counter-shock to the Buffalo Sabres system: a wake-up call to players and management alike that mediocrity will not be tolerated as long Sabres owner Terry Pegula runs the show.

The fact that the Sabres were in last place with a point percentage of below .400% (both firsts in Lindy Ruff’s coaching career) after winning the first two games of this present season was a shock even to hardened Sabres fans. Still the slow start can be seen as the culmination of the inconsistent team performance which had been going since 2007.

Metaphorically speaking, the Sabres were on a fence; destined to decide whether they were going to be contenders or never weres. Sadly, for Lindy Ruff’s sake, the team chose the latter and Ruff got the axe.

The decline and fall of the Sabres also affects Ruff’s standing in the pantheon of hockey coaches. Before the present season began, using my new rating system, Lindy Ruff was ranked 10th (between Alain Vigneault and Dan Bylsma) among all active coaches with a career value of +41. However Ruff only ranked 17th (between Paul Maclean and John Tortorella) among active coaches in Average Season Rating. When you factor in his performance during this season, his career value will quite possibly take a tumble. According to my system Ruff stands to lose eight points of his career value (a significant loss) and his ASR will suffer accordingly as well if Buffalo fails to stop the slide and escape the Northeast Division basement.

Darcy Regier is in the cross-hairs too and his choice of Ron Rolston to replace Ruff (say that three times fast) may be his last bid to retain his position as Sabres GM. Rolston had been head coach of the Sabres AHL affiliate Rochester Americans. He had only one full season of head coaching experience with the team, leading them to a first round elimination in the 2012 AHL playoffs. (If you applied my GM rating method to Rolston’s AHL coaching career his career value would be a +5).

The main thing about Rolston is his lengthy coaching record in working with young players. He did 12 seasons of assistant NCAA coaching work for Lake Superior State University, Clarkson, Harvard, and Boston College. He didn’t get his first head coaching gig until 2009/10 when he led the U.S. Under-17 Team (where he did poorly).

The Sabres are heavily-laden with young players who need to jell and mature very quickly. The choice of Rolston is consistent with the present NHL trend of reaching down to the minors to find young coaching talent. In short: hiring a young lion to lead young lions. Guy Boucher, Glen Gulutzan, Mike Yeo, and Dan Bylsma are prime examples of this.

This trend bodes ill for Lindy Ruff if he is contemplating finding another NHL coaching gig. The sole exceptions to the prevailing trend have been the return of Ken Hitchcock, Darryl Sutter, and Bob Hartley to the NHL coaching ranks. Hitchcock and Sutter performed brilliantly whereas Hartley right now is struggling in Calgary. At present there don’t seem to be many potential coaching possibilities right now. The only one I can think of might be Colorado.

Since 2010, Colorado has wallowed in mediocrity under Joe Sacco. Even though he was given a two-year extension last year, contracts are made to be broken and one wonders how long will the Avalanche management be patient with Sacco’s lack of success? Presently Colorado is in 12th place in the Western Conference. Even if Joe Sacco is fired, would Lindy Ruff be the right answer? Sacco is been a hard-edged coach and Lindy Ruff is even harder.

It may be a sad possibility that the NHL has seen the last of Lindy Ruff and if that is the case then this represents a sad end to a solid, enduring coaching career.

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