Ron Rolston walked along the Buffalo bench for the 31st time Friday. Whether he’ll be back next year for a 32nd game is among the biggest questions for the Sabres as they enter the offseason.
Rolston has been carrying the tag of “interim coach” since taking over for Lindy Ruff on Feb. 20. He said he has not had any conversations with management about staying on permanently.
“Certainly, it’s my dream to be an NHL coach,” Rolston said in First Niagara Center. “I had an opportunity this year, and I want to continue that.”
The Sabres were 6-10-1 when he took over. They finished 21-21-6 after the 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Islanders, giving Rolston a record of 15-11-5.
“I think we’ve made progress,” Rolston said. “I’m not happy that we’re not in the playoffs. We needed to do a better job there, but we made some progress I think as a team. We played better down the stretch in terms of the success that we’ve had.”
Rolston, who previously worked for the Sabres minor-league club in Rochester and the United States National Team Development Program, was hired with a reputation for teaching young players. The Sabres are the youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 26.6, and they could get more inexperienced as they continue their rebuild.
“For me, that’s one of the strong points I have in terms of helping players move on and get better in development situations,” Rolston said. “It’s been difficult with the lockout year with the time that you have. A lot of your time is just trying to get yourself back to preparation for the next game.
“I think a longer season gives you the opportunity for more development and more of the hands-on stuff that we need to be doing in the future.”
The Sabres were eliminated from playoff contention last week, which gave them plenty of time to prepare their goodbyes. They are wasting no time making them official.
Buffalo will conduct its annual ritual of locker clean-out today. The Sabres usually gather for the last time two or three days after the season ends.
The team also announced that President Ted Black and General Manager Darcy Regier will conduct a season-ending news conference Monday in First Niagara Center. There was no mention of owner Terry Pegula attending.
Thomas Vanek reclaimed his title of Buffalo’s top goal-scorer after finishing the season with 20 in 38 games. Cody Hodgson was second with 15 goals in 48 outings.
Though disappointed in the team results, Vanek was OK with his stats. He completed a hat trick of sorts, leading the team with 41 points and tied Tyler Ennis for the assist lead with 21.
“I felt like it was a solid season,” Vanek said. “The guys I played with, mainly Cody, I was just trying to go out there and make whoever I played with better, make plays. For the most part, I think I accomplished that.”
Vanek has led the Sabres in goals six times in the last seven seasons. Former captain Jason Pominville topped him last year.
Steve Ott recorded the most penalty minutes with 93. Forward Jochen Hecht had the top plus/minus rating at plus-7, while right wing Drew Stafford was the worst at minus-16. Enforcer John Scott failed to record a point in 34 outings.
Ott and Hodgson were the only players to dress in all 48 games.