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.
As I said in my breakdown of his hiring, Roslton isn’t a bad choice for the Sabres. He built enough support over the past two-and-a-half years in Buffalo and Rochester to prove his worth as a coach to Regier to deserve the job. In addition, he will have a pair of assistants (perhaps more depending what he wishes to do with guys like Doug McKinney and Jim Corsi) of his choosing alongside him.
The Sabres spent the last three months of the Season with a makeshift coaching staff comprised of two survivors of a mid-season firing and a new interim coach from the AHL. Rolston will now enter the 13-14 season as a rookie NHL head coach (after a 30+ game tryout) with a pair of assistants that he has chosen for his staff. That is no different than what John Cooper (Tampa Bay) Dallas Eakins and Patrick Roy (Colorado) will need to deal with this season. The only difference between Rolston and those three is that his name didn’t carry the same Q rating. Rolston also happens to have a quarter season of NHL head coaching experience under his belt which happens to be more than Cooper, Eakins or Roy, believe it or not.
The problem here is that Regier has survived. He truly is Teflon as no matter what type of egg lands on the Sabres’ collective face, he remains clean. Sometimes I have fun with the fact that Bucky Gleason has rolled out a number of similar columns calling for Regier to be replaced. Fact of the matter is that he’s making the right point. Sometimes he happens to take an interesting route to do so (see Pyatt, Taylor). It doesn’t appear that Regier explored his options very deep and went with the safe, easy, familiar choice in Rolston. While Rolston could catch lightning in a bottle with his staff choices and help lead a turnaround – thus vindicating Regier’s pick – the overall impression is that Regier just went with another boring choice as he continues down a questionable path in the eyes of fans and media.
Early this season I questioned if part of Buffalo’s issues stemmed from the way Lindy Ruff executed his system and if Regier’s soul mate wasn’t the right man for the job anymore. My 35-person straw poll actually showed that the majority felt Ruff and his staff weren’t getting things done. Now, it seems pretty obvious that the overall construction of the team is indeed flawed and the architect (Regier) also needs to be taken off the job. I fear that management hasn’t been able to identify that and the Sabres may keep spinning their wheels because of it. But to say that the choice of Rolston was a completely incorrect decision strikes me as a somewhat flawed argument.
Most Sabres fans were right to say that Ruff and Regier had grown stale in their roles over the past few seasons. They were right to say that it was probably time for the pair to be replaced. They got half of their wish as Ruff departed but now they’re unhappy with his replacement. I suppose that really shouldn’t be a surprise considering Sabres fans would likely chase Wayne Gretzky out of town only to ask why Mario Lemieux wasn’t riding the next train to replace him.
Sabres fans don’t necessarily need to prepare for suffering, they need to prepare to exhibit some patience. Perhaps Rolston isn’t the man who will lead the organization to the promised land. He may not even stick around beyond the 13-14 season. But he represents the very change so many have been waiting for. Now it is time to embrace that and wait to see what Rolston is capable of doing with his hand-picked staff.