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Ruff's long tenure with Sabres ends
The firing of Lindy Ruff was announced on a medium that didn’t exist when he took over behind the Buffalo Sabres bench in 1997.
General manager Darcy Regier sent out a message through the Sabres’ official Twitter account that Ruff — the longest-tenured coach in the NHL — was let go on Wednesday. The reason for the change Regier gave at a news conference where he announced that Ron Rolston would finish out the season was hardly novel.
“Unfortunately, it’s the coaches who too often pay the price,” said Regier, who informed Ruff of the move at his house after practice earlier in the day. “It’s something that I made every effort to avoid in the past. I’m a part of it. The players are a part of it. You can go to the scouting staff. Everyone here feels responsible.”
That’d be responsible for losing, something the Sabres have done a lot of this season. The Sabres are 6-10-1, have won only four of their last 15 games and are 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Regier acknowledged in a shortened season, such skids are magnified.
The Sabres’ record this season overshadowed Ruff’s resume, one that includes 16 seasons as a coach and another 12 as a player. He compiled a 571-432-162 record as coach, best among active coaches. Only San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been employed longer among the four major sports.
There were 170 coaching changes since Ruff was hired in July 21, 1997, according to NHL.com. While other pro sports have caught on, the NHL created the trend of midseason firings like these — and they have paid off on occasion.
The Pittsburgh Penguins replaced Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma in February 2009. Last season, the Los Angeles Kings fired Terry Murray and tapped Darryl Sutter at midseason. Both teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.
But Ruff was more than a just a coach.
He’d been an institution in Western New York. Much of the region followed intently on the progress of his then-11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, who had brain surgery in 2006 to remove a tumor — The operation was a success, and she had a full recovery.
Fans once rallied to pay a $10,000 fine Ruff was levied in 2009 for sending out his enforcers, a move that initiated a brawl in a game against the Ottawa Senators.
"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach, but also as a person,” Sabres owner Terry Pegula said in a statement. “His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."
This wasn’t a case where the players stopped listening as the message became stale, Regier said.
“He didn’t lose the team in any way in terms of communication,” Regier said. “In fact, communication has never been better. There were huge strides in that regard. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to the ice.”
That was never more evident than when it came to the Sabres’ lifeless defense, which hasn’t come close to matching an offense that includes the league’s leading scorer entering play Wednesday night (Thomas Vanek).
Too often, goalie Ryan Miller has been left to fend for himself. While he’s still one of the game’s top goaltenders, Miller can only do so much as his defensemen take bad angles, get out of position and generally play sloppy.
“For whatever reason, we couldn’t get traction,” Regier said.
So, one of only two coaches to lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final — Ruff took the Sabres there in 1999, when they lost to the Dallas Stars — is now looking for work. He won’t be the only one this season, as there will be anther GM out there looking to give their team a jolt.
It’s hard not to get nostalgic over this dismissal, however.
When Ruff was hired, the NHL consisted of four fewer teams, the wound Mike Tyson carved out of Evander Holyfield’s ear was still fresh, Major League Baseball had just started interleague play and a 21-year-old Tiger Woods was just a few months removed from winning his first major.
And if you told somebody you just sent a “tweet,” you’d get some strange looks. Strange, just like the NHL minus Lindy Ruff.
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