Lindy Ruff was the second-longest tenured coach in pro sports, behind Gregg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. He has coached 1,165 games in the National Hockey League, all of them with the Buffalo Sabres.
But Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets was his last with the franchise. The Sabres announced that after 16 years, what many Sabres fans thought was impossible has happened:
Lindy Ruff has been fired. As 170 coaches have been since he was hired on July 21, 1997.
He was seen as Teflon, escaping his demise every new campaign like James Bond from a villain’s clutches. The Sabres made the conference finals four times under Ruff, including a trip to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. He won the Jack Adams in 2005-06. But they also missed the playoffs six times, most recently last season under new (and rather aggressive) owner Terry Pegula.
Two weeks ago, GM Darcy Regier told the Buffalo News that “it won’t be the coach” that paid for the Sabres’ 3-6-1 start.
Well, it was the coach.
The Sabres were in a tailspin, and Ruff seemed out of answers.
After practice on Wednesday -- which Ruff ran, by the way -- he said, "If we’re going to be like this, it isn’t working the way we’re going."
This lack of answers goes back to last season when it appeared the core of the team seemed to tire of Ruff’s act.
Derek Roy was one Sabres players that spoke up publicly about Ruff calling out his players after the season. He’s in Dallas now.
Previously, Ruff would survive starts like the Sabres’ 6-10-1 start. Regier would defend him, as he did, and Buffalo would scratch and claw its way to the playoff bubble.
But these are Terry Pegula’s Sabres. And despite his affinity for the coach – like all old-school Sabres – there’s a standard of excellence he’s demanded that isn’t close to being met. As he said at his introductory presser, two years ago on Friday:
"Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup.”
Ruff’s had his chances to win one. Now it’s someone else’s turn.
(By and by the way: For those who don't believe the fans have a voice in the NHL, this firing happened after the Sabres were lustfully booed on their home ice. Much like when the Toronto Maple Leafs heard their fans chanting for Ron Wilson's head and then fired him.)
The wager by Pegula and Ted Black is that a change in voice in a talented locker room will kickstart this rudderless team. It’s not a bad wager, if they feel Ruff lost the room.
But he’ll find another room. Quickly. This is going to make Randy Carlyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs after his firing in Anaheim seem like a years-long process. Hell, would it surprise anyone if Ruff suddenly emerged downstate on Long Island if Jack Capuano can’t turn around the Islanders?
Ryan Miller wanted changes in Buffalo. This is bigger than any promotion, demotion, signing or trade the Sabres could make. This is the end of an era, a rebooting of the franchise. This is the day Lindy Ruff was fired.
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