Kukla's Korner Hockey
by @DaveDavisHockey on 11/04/10 at 03:27 PM ET
Buffalo isn’t a city known for feeling a lot of heat in November, but don’t tell that to coach Lindy Ruff and his 30th place hockey team.
The longest tenured bench boss in the NHL is getting desperate, and his solutions for pulling his befuddled group of underachievers out of the ditch aren’t working. But it certainly hasn’t been for lack of trying.
He showed the captain a seat in the press box. He benched one of his leading scorers for almost an entire 3rd period with his team down one goal. He leapfrogged over his veteran backup goalie for a critical home game, with Ryan Miller injured, and started an AHL netminder with 1 game of NHL experience.
But the magic touch isn’t there. Buffalo is in danger of missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, and things are now seriously starting to unravel a bit.
Sabres fans that were booing Zdeno Chara and Daniel Alfredsson every time they touched the puck are now doing the same to Tim Connolly. Ruff’s post-game press conferences are getting testy to the point where you’re waiting for him to go Tortorella on someone.
The Sabres have only 3 wins in 13 games, although it’s not like this group hasn’t gone through similar slumps before. Last season they went through a worse stretch with 3 wins in 15 games, yet when it was all said and done they were tops in the Northeast Division with 100 points.
But this team is in an obviously fragile mental state and it’s safe to say that feat won’t be repeated this time. You get the feeling that this isn’t just another slump. They’ve hit rock bottom and are due for a shakeup.
Sabres fans wanting to see this season salvaged should be hoping for trades rather than firings.
Regier and Ruff are a matched set, and the former has made it pretty clear that he isn’t firing the latter. You aren’t getting rid of one without the other. And kicking both of them to the curb right now would put a wrap on any chance of bringing this season back to life.
Roster tinkering is the path of least resistance to an in-season turnaround. As uncomfortable as it might be for Regier to make a deal with no leverage, he has to do it. He’s been telling the media that the phones have been ringing and that trade talk around the league has picked up.
He said the same thing this past summer when it was obvious that some size and jam were desperately needed on the top two forward lines. That was right before Nathan Horton went to the team most capable of dethroning Buffalo as division champions.
Who knows, this really could be Regier’s last chance. Both he and Ruff are in the final year of their contracts. And don’t kid yourself - history in pro sports has shown that no matter how much glowing praise of coaches and GM’s you hear from ownership, everyone eventually has a breaking point.
The team on the ice doesn’t have the mental makeup to shake themselves out of this on their own. The solution will have to come from above. For his part, with the group that he’s working with right now, Ruff looks and talks like he has just plain run out of answers.
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