Lindy Ruff still hasn’t achieved his ultimate wish of bringing a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, but at least he’ll get a couple more years to try.
The Sabres signed Ruff to a multiyear contract extension Friday, keeping the franchise’s all-time winningest coach in the fold for another crack at a championship that has eluded the team since its birth in 1970.
”I’m extremely excited,” Ruff said at the Sabres’ end-of-season press conference that also included owner Terry Pegula, president Ted Black, and general manager Darcy Regier. ”Our goal is to win the Cup, and I think we can win the Cup.”
Ruff, who coached in his 1,000th career NHL game and 100th career postseason game this season – all coming with the Sabres – declined an offer to have his contract extended by Tom Golisano before the former owner sold the team to Pegula, a Pennsylvania billionaire, in February.
”We’re all pretty happy,” Pegula said.
After taking over the GM post following the 1996-97 season, Regier hired Ruff, who was an assistant with the Florida Panthers at the time. Nearly 14 years later, the pair continue to be seemingly joined at the hip.
The two have endured three ownership changes, the franchise declaring bankruptcy in 2003, five seasons of not qualifying for the playoffs, and not advancing past the first round of the postseason for seven of the past nine seasons.
But they’ve also guided the Sabres to four Eastern Conference finals appearances during their tenure, a President’s Trophy winning season, and a heartbreaking Stanley Cup Finals defeat to the Dallas Stars in 1999 when Brett Hull scored in triple-overtime in Game 6 – a goal that still riles Ruff because Hull’s skate was inside the crease.
”You need a certain amount of good fortune, and we’ve had it,” Regier said. ”I’m very grateful to be in the situation that I’m in, and I know Lindy feels the same way. You have to figure out ways to do things better than other organizations. If you’re down to 28th, 29th, or 30th, there’s a new game in town already.”
This season, the Sabres sunk to the bottom of the league after a miserable 3-9-2 start, and talk began to swirl about Ruff being at the end of his leash. But the team turned things around with a second-half surge that culminated with a seventh-place finish in the East, and a first-round playoff matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Sabres finished the year on a 29-11-6 run, including a 16-4-4 mark after Pegula took over.
”Typically we’ve been a team that has come out to very good starts to the season,” Ruff said. ”I thought we got renewed energy with the new ownership.”
There have been 162 coaching changes in the NHL since Ruff took over. He is the third-longest tenured coach in the four major professional sports leagues, behind only Tony LaRussa (St. Louis Cardinals) and Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs).
Ruff also played 10 seasons for the Sabres after he was drafted in the second round of the 1979 draft.
Meanwhile, Sabres forward Paul Gaustad was added to the United States team that will compete in the IIHF World Championships in Slovakia, while rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Gragni was added to the Canadian team.
The Sabres also assigned forward Zack Kassian, their 2009 first-round pick, to their American Hockey League affiliate in Portland. The move was made because Kassian completed his junior hockey eligibility after the Ontario Hockey League Windsor Spitfires were eliminated from the playoffs.