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

Sabres retain Ruff and Regier for 2012-13

Ted Black confirmed to a number of sources that the Sabres will retain Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff in their respective roles as general manager and head coach for the 2012-13 season. This should come as a surprise to no one.

I just posted some thoughts on how the pair did this season while wondering if it is time for them to be replaced. That post was written knowing that there was a better than good chance the pair would be retained. It was also written not knowing that this announcement would be made minutes before it going up. My goal was to evaluate where the two stood after yet another season without a playoff berth, not to speculate whether or not they would remain with the team.

The choice to retain Regier and Ruff was likely made sometime in December or January, when the injury bug had a firm grip on a team mired in a franchise-record losing streak. While nearly everyone in Hockey Heaven wondered if the organization would make a change at the top, Ted Black identified the course of action the team planned to take. By saying they were not married to any particular “core” players should have told everyone that Regier and Ruff were safe and it was the players who should be on watch.

To his credit, and Regier’s, they stuck with the plan. Regier moved a cornerstone member of the locker room while also trading away a useless defenseman and a highly touted prospect this season. I would imagine he had been working the phones to move additional players, but the offers probably weren’t there. Expect to see at least one or two players from the post-Drury/Briere era shipped off in the summer. Continue reading

Is it time for Ruff and Regier to move on?

The comments made by some players, namely Derek Roy, at Monday’s locker clean out makes me wonder what the shelf life of Lindy Ruff may be. I have little doubt that both Ruff and Darcy Regier will remain in place as the Sabres enter the 2012-13 season. The question that many are asking is should the two remain in charge of the Sabres?

Based on their track record over the past decade and a half –particularly since the lockout – I think the duo may be overdue to be replaced with a new general manager and head coach combination. But the organizational heading seems to be to proceed with the current coach and GM while allowing them to find the right players to win games.

It is ok if Terry Pegula, Ted Black and the rest of the executive staff think this is the proper course of action. I am glad they have identified a strategy that they wish to move forward with. Whether or not this is the right strategy is a whole different question. I do not disagree with the heading the ownership has chosen to take, I just wonder if Regier and Ruff are indeed the pair to get the job done.

There are two facts staring everyone in the face regarding this debate are the Sabres failure to make the playoffs and their failure to win a playoff series. The Sabres have missed the playoffs three times since the lockout and have made the playoffs four times. However, they haven’t won a playoff series since dispatching the Rangers in 2007.

Questions about the makeup of the roster, the team’s tougheness and the coaching style would still be questioned had the Sabres snuck into the playoffs this year. In fact, I would argue that the missing the playoffs argument would be moot with a third-straight berth under their belt. Of course they’re not in the playoffs and the balance between missing and making the playoffs remains pretty even. The roster is expected to change this summer, but maybe the management needs to change as well.

Darcy Regier

This summer very well may be make or break for Darcy Regier. He shot for the moon last year but didn’t get the expected results. Regier will have significantly less cap space to work with and will likely need to make a trade or two if he wishes to land a big fish in free agency.

With Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes off the books, Regier will need to find a bona fide checking center to replace Hecht’s defensive responsibility and the traits lost when Paul Gaustad was traded to Nashville. Regier does have four picks in the top 65 selections and could certainly use them to leverage a trade including one of his roster players.

Regier needs to identify the shortcomings his team had this year and shore them up immediately. He made a great move in acquiring Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer. Sulzer paid immediate dividends and is probably due for a new contract, but Hodgson is the big prize. He is a young, dynamic center who will need to play a big role next year. Regier still needs to find his team a true number one center, but that will be a tall task. Along with adding a little more size an toughness, Regier will need to have another successful offseason, despite operating with fewer resources. Continue reading

Reflecting on Ruff as two more coaches are gassed

With another pair of coaches getting the axe in the NHL, Lindy Ruff has now seen 166 coaching changes since he began his career with the Sabres.

With the Washington Capitals canning Bruce Boudreau and the Carolina Hurricanes gassing Paul Maurice, Ruff’s longevity looks more and more impressive. While Ruff hasn’t reached the promised land yet, he is widely considered to be a coach who would get a job the minute he was to be fired. Despite some debate that his message may be growing tired, you can only point to the recently fired coaches as a testament to that argument being false. Continue reading