Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday's announcement that Lindy Ruff is out in Buffalo is unquestionably the end of an era.
Some NHL franchises are models of stability.
When that word comes to mind in this sport, two organizations should immediately pop into your head. In Nashville, general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz are all the Predators have known. They've endured more ownership changes (one) than coaching changes (zero).
The other organization you should think of? Buffalo.
(Yes, Detroit is another great example, but it's easy to forget the way the Red Wings have created organizational stability because of the insane success they've enjoyed on the ice. Makes me wonder -- fair or not -- if they would be just as stable if the team leaned more towards average more often.)
The stability in Buffalo has been remarkable. Ruff held the gig for 15 years and won 571 games before he was let go Wednesday and replaced by Rochester (AHL) coach Ron Rolston.
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Ruff was the coach for over 5,600 days, in a climate where teams are usually not patient enough to let a coach get to 20 percent of that number. He survived year after year, despite only making playoff appearances in eight of 15 seasons, and facing more playoff disappointment than playoff success.
While things haven't been perfect, Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier have been pretty successful when it comes to building a team that can at least compete for a playoff spot every year. While this move by Regier means he will be under some pressure to engineer a turnaround from a 6-10-1 start to the season, it should by no means diminish what either man has accomplished with the Sabres.
Hired two weeks before Trotz, Ruff was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, and second to only San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich among North American coaches. Other franchises -- even successful ones -- haven't been as lucky, no matter the sport. Guys like Mike Scioscia, Popovich, Trotz, Bill Belichick, and Marvin Lewis are the dying breed of sports coaching.
The era of the long-term coach has gone away.
Look at that list. Scioscia's Los Angeles Angels are a perennial contender, as are the Spurs. Belichick wins every year with the New England Patriots. Trotz and the Predators are an annual playoff team now, one that sells out a building that rarely sold out in the not-too-distant past.
Franchises like the Sabres just aren't very common. It took Trotz and Poile some time, but they've built a consistent playoff team in Nashville, one that continues to get better and has reached a point where it's a very good draw in a market a lot of people had questions about when it joined the NHL.
Calling it a "tough" decision, Regier said Tuesday's 2-1 home loss to Winnipeg was a "tipping point." Fans in Buffalo have obviously grown tired of the mediocre play, and even though Regier recently got a contract extension, he has to think he is on thin ice with the struggles the Sabres are having on the ice.
Ruff will probably coach again in the league. He's done too many good things in the league, and coaches with 571 career wins -- assuming they want to continue coaching -- are hard to turn away from.
Regier strongly denied the notion Ruff lost the team, noting that the former coach was given a chance to address the team before it departed for Thursday's game in Toronto. He said there were "handshakes and some hugs" after Ruff spoke to the players.
The Sabres' problems are pretty clear. Ryan Miller's save percentage is a respectable .915, but Buffalo has yielded 56 goals in 17 games, a minus-nine goal differential. Rolston's first task is going to be to tighten a defensive group that has yielded way too many shots -- second most per game in the NHL -- to be successful on a consistent basis.
Thomas Vanek is off to a great start with 12 goals and 25 points, but the Sabres' porous defense has them in danger of wasting that effort.
Rolston is an accomplished coach at various levels, having done well in his first season and a half at Rochester after a good run with USA Hockey, where he coached the National Team Development Program and also worked numerous international events.
This was a great run for Ruff, and he did well to win as much as he did in a small market. However, the team was clearly underachieving this season, and it's hard to argue against the decision to make a change, or the timing behind said change. There's still time to do something positive with the season, but the Sabres need to move quickly.
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