Well, as you all know, the deed has been done. For the first time in 16 years the Buffalo Sabres have played a game under a coach not named Lindy Ruff. (Well, except for that time Jordan Leopold tried to kill Lindy and James Patrick coached a couple.)
To put this in perspective, I've been through six jobs, three houses, two states, two dogs, the birth of two children, and all but one year of my married life, all during Lindy Ruff's tenure as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
It's no secret that I'm a Lindy Ruff fan. If you read my posts on this blog, you already know that. The guy has spent almost his entire professional life in the City of Buffalo, first as a player and then as a head coach. The guy bleeds blue and gold. He IS Buffalo. You can say what you want about his system, that it stifles talent, whatever. I think he's a good coach with a long career still left in front of him. He led the Sabres to a President's trophy. He took them to their only Stanley Cup appearance in my lifetime. (Technically, I was alive for the Flyers Cup in '75, but I was four, so I wasn't really paying attention.)
It's also no secret that, by the mid-point of last year, I had finally conceded that Lindy had. in hockey terms, lost the room. I went long stretches last year where I believed that the team had a talent problem, not a coaching problem. But then I watched them go out and put that brilliant run together and I realized that, hey, these guys CAN play hockey when properly motivated. And what's a coach's job? To motivate players through a very long season. So... even I, superfan of Lindy Ruff, could only be led to one conclusion... the players simply weren't playing for him anymore. It was clear that Lindy needed a change of scenery. At the time, I said I'd still be sorry to see him go.
And I am.
I had a brief flicker of hope after the first game of this season. But the fact is, the team looks no different now than it did for most of last year. They show flashes of brilliance but then they give away the puck in their own zone, or they stand by and watch as an opponent skates past 1, 2, 3 of them to fire point blank on Miller, or they do any other of a myriad of things that make me clinically insane on a nightly basis.
And so, I freely admit that this move had to happen. Yet, like many, I was stunned when I heard the news. Even though I myself had been calling for it for a year, I never thought Lindy would actually be fired. Part of me probably still didn't even want him to be. We all know how loyal Darcy Regier is to Lindy and, when I heard the news, the first image that popped in to my head was Ted Black literally holding a gun to Darcy's head as Darcy fired Lindy.
So with all of that on my mind, I couldn't help but get a little misty as I listened to Lindy's final press conference. I was also moved by the following story that Thomas Vanek related in Paul Hamilton's article yesterday on WGR's website. What makes it so poignant is Lindy was famous for riding Vanek especially hard.
Vanek had a final emotional moment with Ruff before he left. Vanek said, “It was very difficult. I went in to shake his hand and he gave me a hug and said, ‘Keep going, you’re doing well’ and I just told him ‘Sorry I couldn’t do more’.”
But, back to the press conference, the guy proved he is a class act, even on his way out the door. I wish more than anything that he could have brought the cup to Buffalo and left a hero rather than a scapegoat for a struggling team.
I am hopeful that a new voice and some fresh ideas will get this team turned around. I'm also hopeful that more player changes are coming. My jury is still out on Darcy Regier. I think he's a really shrewd businessman who makes killer deals. But I also wonder sometimes about his ability to judge talent. I mean, he did let Danny Briere walk away because he thought Chris Drury was better. And he did build the current defense, which is a complete trainwreck. And he has kept Jochen Hecht and Andrej Sekera for entirely too long. But that's a post for another time.
So, here's to a new era of Sabres hockey. And thank you Lindy, for everything. I know you still have many successes ahead of you.