It’s not as though Lindy Ruff didn’t have enough time to build the Buffalo Sabres into a winning team. He held on far longer than most losing coaches in most professional sports leagues. But after Tuesday’s mismatch produced a symphony of booing, General Manager Darcy Regier opened the trap door and let his friend fall. It had to have been hard, but it was past time.
The question is whether the Sabres went far enough. When an organization has struggled the way the Sabres have, whether it is a sports team or any other business, it may be time to clean house. And given the goal set by owner Terry Pegula when he bought the team just over two years ago – he wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo – Regier, himself, might be looking over his shoulder. After all, he played a big role in the decision to retain Ruff as coach, even when the team was floundering.
In truth, Ruff was something like family within the Sabres organization and probably among many fans, too. As News sports columnist Jerry Sullivan observed, the Buffalo Bills have been through eight head coaches since Ruff was hired in 1997. And before Ruff was the Sabres coach, he was a Sabres player, handling the puck for 10 years, two of them as captain. His roots here go deep.
And it would be churlish not to recognize his contributions to the team, particularly in building a Stanley Cup contender that almost won it all in 1999. But it’s a terrible word, almost; in sports few people remember the coach who almost won.
Fans, in particular, have deserved better. Even in the days when you could buy a ticket for less than $10, fans deserved a team that tried. Today, with many Sabres tickets priced north of $100, it is unconscionable to put on the kind of spiritless display the team has provided in recent weeks.
Indeed, it may have been the fans’ booing in Tuesday night’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets that finally prompted Regier and Pegula to act. Sometimes, people just run out of steam. That seemed to have happened to Ruff and the entire Sabres’ organization a long time ago. Tuesday, someone acknowledged that development.
It is, in some ways, an opportune moment for the team to make this change. This is a make-believe hockey season, after all, one whose eventual winner will carry an asterisk next to its name signifying a lockout-shortened season. No one wants to see the team give up on turning things around, but now the Sabres have until fall to find a coach who can induce the members of this well-paid team to perform.
In the meantime, Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston will coach the team, and he may want to make some changes, himself. It’s not as though Ruff was the only problem. Players aren’t pulling their weight and the issues may rise high in the organization. There may be more shoes to drop.