Lindy Ruff is the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. Over the years he’s done much with not much to just plain nothing at all. He’s been fortunate to have good goaltending for most of that time. The rest of the talent on the roster however has been of highly suspect most years. Fragile, quitters, loafers and AAAA players have been the rule with the odd captive high pick that panned out sticking around just long enough to reach free agency.
In the thirteen seasons since being hired Lindy Ruff has herded the Buffalo Sabres to the golf course before the second round eight times. Five of those times the team failed to make the playoffs at all. In the last two seasons they’ve lost in the first round. In the two seasons before that they didn’t make the playoffs at all.
When the Sabres were purchased by Terry Pegula last season the spending started immediately. Boyes, Regher, Ehrhoff and Leino were all on the shopping list. Suddenly a backwater became a top three spender. Along the way the character of the team was overturned. Character guys like Mike Grier were shown the door. Brad Boyes while tremendously skilled is an enigma at the best of times. The faults of the collection of players who made up the Vancouver Canucks, like Ehrhoff have been discussed ad nauseam.
I don’t think in his career Ruff has coached so many players either expect to win just by showing up or who don’t seem to care. This is not the same as coaching guys who are desperate to prove their worth in the NHL. A guy who knows he only got called up because three guys further up the depth chart are injured or slumping is going to be much more responsive to coaching and direction than the typical hockey diva.
The Sabres now have the potential to become the Washington Capitals of the northeast. They can afford all the talent they want, and quite possibly achieve the exact same non results. The change in talent level of the roster may not mean much in the end. At this point Ruff has not proved he can coach appreciably over the talent level of a mediocre roster, his ability to coach a talent laden roster is in serious doubt if this seasons efforts are the measuring stick, The Sabres are the third highest spending team while sitting 19th in the league standings, 13th in goals for, 20th in goals against, and if the playoffs started today they would fail to qualify.