Familiarity may cloud judgment on choice of Rolston

Ron Rolston’s return was somewhat expected. He wasn’t a total catastrophe during his stint as Buffalo’s interm bench boss and he was rewarded with the removal of the interim tag at a vote of confidence as Buffalo’s head coach moving forward.

While not too many people were happy about it, I’ve been left wondering one thing: Isn’t this exactly what everyone wanted?

The sluggish start to the regular season eventually led to the axe falling on Lindy Ruff with Rolston stepping in to fill Ruff’s 15-year old shoes. He did so with a carryover coaching staff and what ended up being a significant portion of the Rochester Americans opening day roster in front of him. With the season wrapped, the Sabres let both Kevyn Adams and James Patrick walk away, leaving the door open for Rolston to bring in a coaching staff of his choosing. Therefore, once the 2013-14 season begins, the Sabres will have a brand new coaching staff behind the bench; precisely the type of cast they have clamored for over the past few seasons.

Obviously Ron Rolston isn’t the sexy choice for anyone. He’s a relatively mild mannered guy who won’t make too many press conference highlight films. Some have said he’s a carbon copy of the GM and I can’t say I disagree. This is probably why everyone is so upset at the choice of Rolston as the permanent coach. Not so much because he doesn’t have the potential to be a good coach, but because his name isn’t Patrick Roy and he was likely cherry picked by the browbeaten GM for the role. Continue reading

Rolston sheds interim tag, named Sabres bench boss

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. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card

A fired coach, traded captain, booing fans and missing the playoffs typically doesn’t not make for a very successful season. That was certainly the case for the 2013 Buffalo Sabres.

While there were a few bright spots amongst the doom and gloom, the lockout shortened season is certainly one to forget for the Sabres. Before shutting the door completely I wanted to grade out the team and players on how the year played out.


Coaching: It had been rumored that Lindy Ruff’s message had grown stale some time ago. Finally, after a number of listless losses, Ruff was fired after nearly two decades coaching the Sabres. Frankly, it just looked like the team had tuned him out and needed a change. While Ron Rolston arrived and helped to energize the roster, his presence wasn’t enough to lift the Sabres back into playoff contention. Entering the offseason, many are wondering if Rolston will have the “interim” tag removed from his title and command the bench for a full season. Grade: C

Powerplay: It is almost as if the Sabres don’t consider the possibility of an odd-man rush against while on the power play. It also seems likely that trying the same thing over and over again (zone entry) is not the definition of insanity. The power play simply wasn’t good this season and endured a massive dry spell in the thick of Buffalo’s ugliest stretch of losing. They would get an F but they managed to score every now and then. Grade: D+

Penalty Kill: Buffalo decided to run a unique, if not peculiar penalty kill which basically turns into a 1-1-2 in the zone and rotates with the puck. After Ruff’s departure it appeared as if things began to change, but the base of the kill still worked off the 1-1-2 set up seen earlier in the year. I personally didn’t like it as the second forward was rarely in the right position to deny passes across the zone. Grade: C-

Management: A lot was made over the end of the season press conference and other silliness. My focus is on what Darcy Regier did for the hockey team and if he made them better or worse. He traded away two veteran defensemen and his captain and came away with a first round pick, five second round picks, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. Overall it was a solid haul for what was given up (Leopold and Regehr) but the pieces acquired really won’t have much impact for at least two more seasons. Add in the firing of Ruff and it was a pretty tough four months for Regier. While he handled himself well I find it hard to see how he still has the reigns for this rebuild. Grade: C Continue reading

Rolston’s debut spoiled by familiar flaws

Hopefully you didn’t expect Ron Rolston to show up for 24 hours and sprinkle a magic cure-all on the Sabres roster. There certainly wasn’t much of a difference between the final game of the Lindy Ruff era and the first game of the Ron Rolston era.

A quick, uptempo start was erased by a poor second period littered with turnovers, penalties and a squandered lead. Ultimately the Sabres dropped another game (their second to the Leafs this season) and fell further into a hole that is looking near impossible to climb out of.

Firing Lindy Ruff was probably one of the toughest decisions Darcy Regier ever had to make. However, it was a necessary move that probably needed to be made sooner. Naming an interim head coach did a few things for the Sabres, namely keeping all options open once the season comes to a close.

You also might be able to speculate that having Ron Rolston take over on an interim basis keeps Darcy Regier untethered to any hire and may play a role in the expiring shelf life for the general manager. If Rolston has little impact on the roster, the writing would be on the wall for the Sabres to part ways with Regier at the end of the year.

As for Rolston, his impact wasn’t going to be felt in game number one. He officially took over just 24 hours previously and only had a morning skate as an introduction to his new team. Even tomorrow’s game against the Islanders will likely be a challenge as he will still have very limited ice and video time to impact his roster with.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation would be to wait until Tuesday night’s contest against Tampa Bay. By then Rolston will have had two full days of practice in addition to today to install some of the systematic tweaks he will want to run. Hopefully by Wednesday he has a firm grasp on running the team. Continue reading

A new path for the Sabres as Ruff’s time ends

After 170 coaches came and went since Lindy Ruff was first hired, the time finally came for the Sabres organization to take things in a different direction. It certainly seems like an overdue decision.

Lindy Ruff truly is a terrific hockey coach. It was said by Ted Black that no one has done so much with so little over the past number of years. You really can’t contend with that logic. Calling the shots for a club handcuffed by an internal budget, forced to deal with trade deadline acquisitions that often left many wanting more, Ruff was able to cobble together a number of impressive campaigns.

Perhaps his most impressive work came before the lockout when the Sabres were truly hampered by their lack of an owner and further lack of talent on the ice. His post-lockout success has been intermittent but still significant. A pair of conference finals and a President’s Trophy was built on the strength of a deep, talented roster that keyed on a puck possession system. Two further playoff berths came with an arguably lesser roster but were visibly stamped with Ruff’s brand of hockey.

Of course it was probably that brand of hockey that may have done him in. The post-Drury/Briere era has been riddled with inconsistency and bland hockey. More often than not fans and media reverted to pointing at the stale message coming from behind the bench or the front office as the same ugly issues cropped up year after year.

This season was no different. An inconsistent stat devolved to a tailspin that needs to be corrected. The team hasn’t been able to defend or provide consistent scoring. The same slumping players are experiencing the same slumps they have over the past handful of seasons with no answer as to how to snap them into reality. At his press conference yesterday, Ruff truly looked like a man with no answers.

For the first time in his long tenure I truly thought he was at the end of his rope. Turns out that was exactly where he was. The past five seasons have come with two playoff berths but have also been accompanied by mismanaged goaltenders, the lack of progress from young players and long spells of listless, uninspired play. Sixteen more games of the same song was finally enough and I can’t say I’m in disagreement. Continue reading