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Rolston sheds interim tag, named Sabres bench boss

May 7, 2013

Perhaps you’ve heard. Ron Rolston was officially named as head coach this morning after what I can only assume was a tiresome, no stone unturned coaching search.

Darcy Regier has tabbed Rolston as the man to lead the Sabres for at least the 2013-14 season as they begin to retool and rebuild a roster that carried the organization to the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. While Rolston isn’t the sexy choice to fill the role as permanent head coach, he isn’t necessarily the wrong choice – which is what many Sabres fans out there likely believe.

Rolston’s skillset is that of a teacher. He led the USNTDP team for a number of years before coming to the Sabres organization to coach and develop young talent in Rochester. Lindy Ruff’s firing put him in a bad spot as his time as interim coach came with muddled success and a roster that did not meet the standards of a competitive NHL team.

That last point is the one that happy, apathetic and angry fans need to focus on. A flawed roster not only helped lead to the firing of Lindy Ruff, but gave Rolston a weak hand to play during his time as the interim head coach. Rolston was kept on as head coach by the man who made the decisions to build this roster and that man is still in charge. Darcy Regier hasn’t lost his Teflon coating just yet and is preparing to lead a rebuild that will kick into high gear at the draft. Whether or not Regier is the right man for the job is the more pressing question and should be of greater concern than who is going to be behind the bench this season.

The debate over Regier’s effectiveness and whether or not he deserves to still have a job at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza is a lengthy one and is slowly but surely filling towards the negative. Realize that Rolston, who was ultimately chosen by Regier, isn’t necessarily the worst person for this job.

Bear in mind that his skillset is in developing young players and it is a safe assumption that he will have plenty of those on the roster next year. Mikhail Grigorenko will likely enjoy an expanded role next year and there’s a good chance that Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson also make their Sabres debut during the 13-14 campaign. In addition, Tyler Myers, Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb will all have the opportunity to have Rolston as their coach for a full season. For three players who could use some developmental help in various capacities, this isn’t a bad thing.

Not to mention that this isn’t something that should surprise anybody. Regier is a balanced, methodical general manager who rarely makes a shocking decision. All of his decisions are thought out well in advance and it isn’t as if Rolston was a shot in the dark hire. Regier hired Rolston prior to the 2011-12 season to cultivate the organization’s young talent and obviously he sees enough out of Rolston to allow him to move forward with the Sabres. While many fans are probably pissed because he isn’t a big name and isn’t a coach who is the assumed answer, understand that he not only built a strong enough resume over the last month or two of this season with the Sabres, but also with the Amerks over the past two seasons.

In addition, if Rolston is here to begin the rebuild there isn’t anything out there that confirms that he’ll be here long-term. I don’t mean Lindy Ruff long-term, but I mean that he isn’t guaranteed to be the coach who will be in place when this process is completed. For all we know he will be part of the plans for the next year or two and perhaps a new GM is brought in over that time period and that GM decides to replace Rolston with a coach of his choice. What Rolston is here to do is grow the young talent and get this process headed in the right direction. For those tasks, he isn’t a poor choice.

One other thing that Rolston seemed to bring out was some fire from certain players. Ville Leino was probably the most noticeable –albeit he only played in eight games. Still Leino, was far more active and effective in his very brief appearance this season and many of his quotes indicated that he wasn’t too disappointed in Lindy Ruff’s departure. If that sentiment is felt beyond just one or two players, perhaps Rolston isn’t as horrible of an addition as some think.

Rolston also seemed to have a much better feel for what he needed to do with his goaltenders. Aside from the meltdown against the Rangers, both Miller and Enroth appeared to be handled quite well and I think that speaks well for the approach Rolston takes. Also take into account the chance that Ryan Miller could be moved this summer which opens the door for Enroth to split time with Matt Hackett in the Buffalo crease. Good goaltender management will be crucial when operating a platoon such as that.

My main concern – and something that I hope is brought up at Rolston’s press conference – is who will be chosen as his assistant coaches. As much good that James Patrick and Kevyn Adams have done, it seems like their time behind the bench needs to end. I specifically look at Tyler Myers and wonder which of his issues stem from the tutelage he’s gotten from Patrick.

Either way, Rolston needs to go out and find his own assistants. Patrick and Adams were Ruff’s guys and Rolston should have the opportunity to select a pair of assistant coaches who will not only compliment his coaching style but will aid in improving the special teams units (which struggled mightily under Ruff and Rolston) along with offering additional support to a roster which will probably be rife with young talent.

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