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The Sabres Observer

Confessions Of A Former Ruff Apologist

Buffalo isn’t a city known for feeling a lot of heat in February, but don’t tell that to Lindy Ruff and his 27th place hockey team.

I’ve spent much of my hockey time, over the past 16 years actually, defending Ruff as the right man to coach this team.  But with each passing season of failure, each half-hearted effort on the ice, the hope tank has slowly been leaking. 

For many, it’s now empty.  One by one, some of Ruff’s most ardent supporters - fans, writers, talk show hosts, older folks who grew up watching him give his heart as a player, are raising the white flag.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard sentences beginning with “I think Ruff is a good coach, but…”

No matter how much people like and respect Ruff, and how highly they think of his abilities, everyone has a breaking point.

I confess that I’ve finally reached mine.

I’m not so sure that Ruff isn’t there himself.  In an interview this past weekend with WGRZ’s Adam Benigni, the man who has been here through 170 coaching changes in the league admitted that he’s given some thought to getting a fresh start somewhere else.

Why did it take so long for folks like me to finally come around to reality?  The answer is simple if you chronologically examine Ruff’s record.

In his first 9 seasons behind the bench, he had more playoff series victories (10) than all other Sabres coaches had in the previous 23.  It was a fantastic run during which credibility was not to be given to anyone who wanted Ruff fired simply because he wasn’t Ted Nolan.  There were too many hypocrites out there saying he couldn't win a Cup while at the same time blaming Gary Bettman for No Goal.

But times have changed, and not for the better.  Barring an epic turnaround, this will be 6 straight years without a single playoff series win.  For whatever reason, the magic touch is no longer there.

Ruff’s job wasn’t on the line sooner due to Buffalo’s 100-point season of 2009-10, when the Sabres won the Northeast Division.  Despite the team caving in the first round against a tougher Boston club, firing the coach after that season would have made as much sense to me as playing Drew Stafford on the fourth line.

I’ll admit that I still roll my eyes when people say Ruff has done nothing for 15 years.  But it would be foolish to discount the fact that he’s done nothing for 6.  Getting into the playoffs, and making some noise once you get there, is supposed to be how coaches keep their jobs.

15 of 30 clubs – half the league – have reached the Conference Finals in the last 5 years.  The Sabres haven’t been even remotely close.

Last night in the press box and in the coaches’ conference room, I heard the word ‘hate’ from no less than four different people when referring to this team.  It came twice from beat reporters, once from a writer for a small paper, and once from a blogger.

They said that Buffalo fans hate this team.  Two of them told me they hate this team.  Meanwhile, Sabres players are lecturing fans on the negative impact of being booed off the ice, while practically in the same breath they’re telling the media that some of them aren’t giving an honest effort.

On a personal level, I can hardly take it anymore.  I’m tired of spending every winter looking up at the standings, calculating games behind in the loss column, and crossing my fingers counting on the Islanders to upset the 7th or 8th place team every week.

The Sabres don’t have the mental makeup to shake themselves out of this on their own.  Don’t take my word for it -- listen to the interviews.  They’re practically openly admitting it.

I won’t be dredging up silly excuses about lack of a training camp, and I have no more injury cards to play.  When players on the team admit that they aren’t trying hard enough, alarm bells all over First Niagara Center need to be sounded.

It’s blatantly obvious that this franchise, in terms of the on-ice product, is headed in the wrong direction.  It’s quite possible that this is the worst Sabres team in ten years.  The solution to this developing disaster will have to come from above. 

For his part, Ruff looks like an exasperated coach who has simply run out of answers.

He looks like a man who is ready for a fresh start.  I know I sure am.

Follow me on twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink



I can appreciate the frustration in Buffalo, but who are you going to hire that is a better coach than Ruff? It feels like firing him and bringing in a new guy would be change for the sake of it, which is often a mistake.

And if Ruff goes, so must Reiger. The guy has made some awful signings and trades over the years, and he used to be able to rationalize it by being hamstrung by a tight budget. However, once the purse strings were loosened, the money he dished out was ridiculous.

Posted by Chris M on 02/20/13 at 11:08 AM ET

@DaveDavisHockey's avatar

Letting go of a guy who hasn’t won a playoff series in 6 years is not change for the sake of change.

Many folks don’t agree with me on this, but I say that if Pegula tells Regier to fire Ruff, he does exactly that.

Posted by @DaveDavisHockey from Buffalo, NY on 02/20/13 at 11:42 AM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]