During his opening statement of Friday’s press conference at American Airlines Center to officially introduce Lindy Ruff as the new head coach of the Dallas Stars, club general manager Jim Nill rattled off the criteria he had used in determining who would replace Glen Gulutzan behind the Dallas Bench. Here’s a breakdown of those criteria and how Ruff fits each of them to a tee, making him the perfect fit to turn around things for the Stars, who haven’t been to the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008.
Ruff not only has a solid NHL resume from his 13-year career as a player, but he has also been a coach in the same league for nearly two decades now. Before his nearly 15-year run in Buffalo came to an end in March, he had led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times, including three trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Finals, where Buffalo would lose in 1999 to the Stars in somewhat controversial fashion depending on which team fans were rooting for in that memorable finals. Ruff has over three decades of experience in the NHL whether it’s come as a player or as coach and even though the league has changed more than a bit since he made his debut as a player in 1979 with the Sabres, the nuances of the game haven’t changed much at all.
Credibility is an attribute that is somewhat related to experience. If there was one thing about Gulutzan it was that the Stars players never seemed to buy into what he was preaching during his two seasons behind the Dallas bench. Fair or unfair, the reason for a number of them tuning out Gulutzan might have been because he had no NHL background. Gulutzan had never played in the league or been a coach in its ranks, something which was no fault of his own but definitely a shortcoming that could have been a detractor in the eyes of many players. The Dallas players won’t have any such feelings about Ruff, who has clearly earned his bones in the league as both a player and a coach. In short, this is a guy who’s been there, done that and someone who knows what it’s like to experience the daily grind of an 82-game season. And the fact that he’s experienced that season both as a player and coach gives him even more cred in the Dallas room.
Maybe the better operative word here would be longevity instead of stability. But no matter how it’s characterized, Ruff was an absolute fixture in Buffalo, whether it was a player or as a coach with the Sabres. At the time of his termination in March, he was the second longest-tenured coach in American professional sports. Only Gregg Popovich, the highly successful and occasionally abrasive head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, had been head coach of his current club longer than Ruff, who joined the Sabres in 1997 after serving four years as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers. During Friday’s presser, he credited his longevity in Buffalo to being adaptable, a quality which definitely served him well with the Sabres and should also be an asset here in Big D.
Great Knowledge of the Game
Once doesn’t spend over three decades in the game of hockey and not develop a great base of knowledge when it comes to the frozen game. But part of his genius could lie in the fact that Ruff is the first one to admit that even though he’s been coaching in the NHL for nearly two decades, he is the first one to admit that he doesn’t know everything. In fact, during Friday’s presser he was asked whether he, as someone who has coached exclusively in the East, if there was a big difference between how the game was played in the West compared to the East. And his response was that he did agree there was a significant difference between the style of play in the two conferences and his first order of business was to watch as many Western Conference games as possible so that he can acclimate himself to the difference nuances the game has in the Stars’ conference. Hearing him say that shows that Ruff has an unending yearning to add to his knowledge base, the true mark of any successful coach no matter the sport. Someone Who Has Been in Different Situations
During his time in Buffalo, Ruff not only experienced a great deal of success in leading the Sabres, taking them to the playoffs eight times, but he also endured a number of different circumstances during his 15-year tenure there. The new Stars’ head coach even discussed this very subject during Friday’s presser. “I’ve been through almost every type of circumstance, from being bankrupt, being run by the league, a defensive team, a top offensive team for a couple years, a President’s Trophy team,” he said. Hearing the new Dallas coach talk about such circumstances from his days in Buffalo is definitely a good sign going forward, namely because Ruff will be ready for anything that comes his way with the Stars. And with this franchise needing someone who can steer them in the right direction and possibly be in place for the long haul, such adaptability is definitely a must-have for an organization that is yearning to again be relevant in the NHL.