Feb 02, 2013; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff and players on the bench during the third period against Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Why The Buffalo Sabres Should Make Lindy Ruff A “Healthy Scratch”

I enjoy breaks.

As a teacher, I get one period off a day, which I use to prepare for the rest of my classes, or to get some work done so I don’t have to take it home.  (We call these periods “prep periods” – we’re so clever in education!)  I also get plenty of days off: holidays, winter break, spring break, and let’s not forget, pretty much the entire summer.  Even with all of that time-off built into my schedule, however, there are still days when I feel like I could use a mental health day, an un-planned break from my daily schedule.  I rarely take these days – I kind of feel guilty whenever I do, which has conditioned me not to take many anymore – but there is no denying the fact that, even when you have down time built into your work schedule, there are times when you need a break other than they days that have already been set aside.  After all, no one can predict months in advance when they are going to have a crappy night’s sleep, a really stressful day at work, or one of those stretches were nothing seems to be going your way.

Sometimes, you just need to sit one out.

Lindy Ruff: it’s time to sit one out.

It’s common for coaches to give players a night or two off – right, Tyler Myers? – in order to help them “Figure it out.”  “Shake off the rust.”  “Clear his head.”  You get the picture.  The healthy scratch can be a valuable tool that coaches employ to send a message to their players: you’re not getting it done, so take a seat and come back when you’re ready to produce.

So why don’t organizations give coaches a healthy scratch?  “Your team is not responding to you, Lindy, so what don’t you take a seat up in the press box and get your head on straight.”  If it helps players to re-assess their game, why wouldn’t it work for coaches, too?  Seems to me it would send a message to not only the coach, not only the coaching staff, but the players too: no one’s safe.  Everyone is held accountable.

Let’s face it: the Buffalo Sabres have already come out and said that Lindy Ruff isn’t going anywhere.  You cannot always believe a sports franchise when it publicly endorses its coach – sometimes, that is actually the kiss of death – but with the Sabres, there’s no reason to doubt them.  Ruff has been the coach for, what, 42 years now?  And taken the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals only once?   It’s not like he has amassed a staggering list of accomplishments in his time in Buffalo . . . yet here he is, and here we are.  There’s no cloud hanging over Ruff’s head, no matter how poorly the team is doing, so how motivated is he to assess the job he has done so far and consider adopting a different approach?  And how dedicated to the organization are the players, if they feel like Darcy Regier, Ted Black and Terry Pegula will continue to endorse Ruff even when it is clear that the team is not doing what it takes to win the Cup?   Even the most loyal players on the Sabres want to win a championship, and if they feel like the franchise isn’t serious about helping them succeed, they will eventually start tuning out everyone in the franchise, including their coaches.

With the Sabres currently sitting in last place in their division at 5-8-1, and with approximately 30% of the season already gone (technically 29.2%, okay?  Jeez!), the post season is dangerously close to slipping out of Buffalo’s grasp.  Benching a few players hasn’t been good enough to turn Ls into Ws, so maybe it’s time for Lindy Ruff to take in a game or two from the press box.  Hey- he said it himself: “It’s an easy game from upstairs.”  Maybe he should put his sarcasm aside and realize, it actually is pretty easy to see what is working, and what is not, from upstairs.  Take your own advice, Lindy: watch the game from upstairs.  Maybe you’ll get a new perspective on your team.

Tags: Buffalo Sabres Lindy Ruff

  • AJ Haller

    Great article Rich! I think if things don’t turn around soon we have to expect a coaching change in Buffalo. Just look at the St. Louis Blues last year. They fired their head coach Davis Payne early on into their season and ended up very successful. Maybe the sooner the better for the Sabres?

    • http://twitter.com/theaveragedick Richard Spalding

      Thanks, AJ. I’m convinced that the Sabres need a change. Now, I hate to call for coaches to be fired; I can’t pretend to know what it takes to do that job. I’ve addressed the Sabres need to get an elite center in Buffalo in order to help generate offense, and I am really trying to keep my focus on the player personnel side of things. Even so, I can live with a team losing if they are simply outmatched; I find it far tougher to swallow watching a team play undisciplined, uninspired hockey. Some of that is the fault of the players, but you have to blame the coaches, too. Three weeks ago I lamented how many penalties the Sabres were taking – last night, they took nine! Brag about the PK all you want, but that number is way too high, and killing off penalties only tires your team out faster. I don’t think what Ruff and his staff are doing is working right now, so make him see things from a different view.

  • PaulR

    I wish I could spend a month watching Lindy talk to the players every day at practice and the locker-room, I would like to see their culture up close, find out if the players love him or hate him, and I wish I knew exactly what Lindy’s “system” is. Can anyone explain it?

    Maybe then the answer to the Sabres’ problems would become clear to me.

    As an outsider, all I see is that this team as changed a majority of players over the last 5 years, but their lack of offense, inability to clear their zone, mistakes, and losing record have not changed at all over that time. In fact, the Sabres are remarkably consistent – there is a clear pattern of play, which can’t be accidental.

    • http://twitter.com/theaveragedick Richard Spalding

      I know: I hate to write without being able to truly experience what goes on behind closed doors. Having said that, you’re right: the way the Sabres play hockey doesn’t change even when there is a change in personnel. I’m glad they fired pucks at Anderson all night last night, and you can live with losing games like that, because they simply ran into a great goaltender. But lackluster efforts against the Islanders and Boston, and this sloppy, undisciplined play – those problems are not getting fixed. Very frustrating, indeed.

  • TomMullen

    LIndy is a great coach, but hockey coaches have an expiration date. Lindy’s was up with his first Cup finals team in 2001. He got a new team in 2006 and his expiration with this one was about 2009. They should fire him today and let him start fresh elsewhere. I have no doubt he’ll succeed there – for 3-5 years like everyone else.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Drunkenribeye Rich Spalding

      Great point – it’s rare to see coaches who can continue to produce championship-caliber teams in one location for a sustained period of time. Maybe Lindy had his chance here, and needs to find a change of scenery in order to recharge his batteries and give it another go.

  • J Osmond

    Very good article!! I was/am a huge Lindy fan but it is so obvious to everyone EXCEPT Darcy and Pegula that this is just not working anymore. I hate blaming the coach for poor player performance but a coaching change is the only thing the organization hasn’t tried. Why not give it a whirl- what do we really have to lose?

    • Richard Spalding

      I’d say Darcy and Pegula should try watching a game from up top in order to see the mess on the ice, but don’t they already? Or are they sleeping through the games? :D

  • Troy Berkely

    If the Sabres don’t turn it around and make the playoffs then I would expect the off season to heat up. I seriously doubt it that the Sabres will make a change mid season, it has been so long, I can’t honestly recall when was the last time they fired a coach in mid season. I am guessing, but maybe Rick Dudley? Trying to remember the days of Darth Vader, what was his name? Sather? In which the players often referred to him. That was the time when Darren Puppa was the Goalie, and Mike Ramsey and company were the team. Anyway I agree that this team needs a new coach, and have been advocating such for a few years now. In fact I have been screaming it! As the saying goes in Buffalo, change is slow, much like the bureaucracy of local politics. Also I might point out that Ruff has gotten a pass from the establishment, on divided discourse similar to you know who.

  • Andrew

    Lindy needs to go. Can someone get Keenan on the phone?

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