March 5, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston smiles against the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC center. The Hurricanes defeated the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Ron Rolston Effect


On February 19th, 2013, Lindy Ruff coached the final game of his Buffalo Sabres tenure. At that point, the Sabres were 6-10-1, good for 13 points in 17 games.

Rochester Americans coach, Ron Rolston, was named interim coach. Since then, the team has gone 7-5-3, good for 17 points in 15 games.

Under Ruff, there was no denying the dysfunctional, dismal, and downright disgusting play displayed by the Sabres. The team seemed to be missing an identity and a general lack of direction. While well liked by the fans, most agreed that his message had grown stale.

In recent years, I began to question his development of young talent. Ruff appeared to expect more than some players could give, and in response, they ended up in Ruff’s doghouse with their confidence stripped. Prime example – remember Luke Adam? Maybe you forgot about him. He was awarded top-line status in 2012-13, began the season well, and one day found himself on a checking line for little known reason. He played poorly following the change, and has been relegated to the AHL ever since. Another example – Tyler Myers. Following a Calder Trophy winning season, did Ruff expect too much? Myers was plagued with inconsistent play, and looked awkward and unconfident under Ruff since then.

When Rolston took the reigns of the Sabres, many fans were disappointed that it was not a notable disciplinarian with NHL experience that took over. You know, a Mike Keenan or Jim Schoenfeld type. Some have suggested hot-headed Quebec Remparts coach Patrick Roy, who has no NHL coaching experience, but has done a great job in the QMJHL and has a son in the Sabres system.

Rolston’s coaching experience, prior to now, has been dealing with youngsters. This has included stints with Boston College, Harvard, Clarkson, Lake Superior State University, the Amerks, and the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Since joining the Sabres, is it possible that his message and methods are only having an effect on the younger team members? Here is a look at the stats of 12 Sabres this season under Ruff and Rolston:


Mikhail Grigorenko, 19 years old.

Ruff – 14 games played, 3 points, -4

Rolston – 8 games played, 2 points, +2


Marcus Foligno, 21 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 8 points, -4

Rolston – 14 games played, 5 points, -1


Cody Hodgson, 23 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 15 points, -3, 6 blocked shots

Rolston – 15 games played, 13 points, +4, 13 blocked shots


Tyler Myers, 23 years old.

Ruff – 15 games played, 3 points, -7, 13 blocked shots

Rolston – 15 games played, 2 points, +2, 29 blocked shots


Tyler Ennis, 23 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 13 points, -1, 7 blocked shots

Rolston – 14 games played, 11 points, -2, 13 blocked shots


Mike Weber, 25 years old.

Ruff – 11 games played, 2 points, -1, 22 blocked shots

Rolston – 15 games played, 3 points, +2, 34 blocked shots


Andrej Sekera, 26 years old.

Ruff – 12 games played, 3 points, -3, 25 blocked shots

Rolston – 10 games played, 5 points, +2, 26 blocked shots


Drew Stafford, 27 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 7 points, -5

Rolston – 14 games played, 4 points, -7


Thomas Vanek, 29 years old.

Ruff – 16 games played, 25 points, +3

Rolston – 12 games played, 8 points, +2


Jason Pominville, 30 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 15 points, -2

Rolston – 15 games played, 8 points, +1


Steve Ott, 30 years old.

Ruff – 17 games played, 7 points, +4

Rolston – 15 games played, 10 points, +/- 0


Christian Ehrhoff, 30 years old.

Ruff – 16 games played, 10 points, +4

Rolston – 15 games played, 5 points, +3


At his current pace, if the Sabres had Rolston at the helm since the beginning of this season, the Sabres would have had a projected 36 or 37 points. This would have placed them in 6th place in the Eastern Conference, rather than their current standing of 12th.

The stats above show that every single player 26 and under has shown some statistical improvement under Rolston, while the 5 players above that are 27 or older have shown some regressions. Unlisted players such as Jochen Hecht, Robyn Regehr, and Jordan Leopold, have performed at the same pace under both Rolston and Ruff. While they are only stats, the team on ice has shown a noticeable improvement in positional play and effort, and obviously in the game results. It is also important to point out that the team captain (Pominville) and the alternate captains (Vanek and Stafford)  have experienced decreases in their production, as well as top defensemen Ehrhoff. While it is great that Rolston seems to have had a positive influence on the younger members of the Sabres, it is mission critical that the elder members are on board with the program, if Buffalo wants to hold any hopes of a great finish and future this season.

Quite a few members of the team have shown improvements in their shot blocking, and in their plus/minus since Rolston took over. This reflects what former NHLer Brian Rolston had to say about the coaching style of his brother to Elliotte Friedman of CBC back in February:

“His attention to detail starts with having to take care of the defensive end first. I was lucky enough to play 9 seasons for Jacques Lemaire, and Ron would ask me ‘what does Jacques do here? What does he think about this?’ In Boston, we had a rule: the forwards back-checked the puck, and the defense took the middle of the ice away. Goalies knew the shot was coming from the outside. Ron will be like that. He’ll set up a defensive system and expect the players to stick with it.”

So, is Ron Rolston the answer at coach for the Sabres beyond this season? In a rebuilding scenario, quite possibly. In a Darcy Regier ‘force the pieces to fit’ scenario, maybe not. What do you think? Leave your responses below!




Tags: Buffalo Sabres Lindy Ruff NHL Ron Rolston

  • Jack Best

    When lindy got fired the sabres were 4-10-1 i beleive, so rolston is 9-5-3,which is very impressive for a guy who was coaching development hockey 3 years ago. He gets it!! and the players respect him and listen, if he codraftings to win games and if we end up close or into the playoffs, i think we should hire him longterm, imagine what he could do with a proper offseason and training camp, we just need to get a star or two in here to be leaders on the ice and the lockeroom, cause were probably going to lose a couple e of ours soon. GO SABRES!!!
    Regier hasnt done terrible but I think it might be time to do what the bills did with Doug whaley and bring in a new guy to be a VP GM and let darcy stick to things hes good at, its obviously not been with getting FA and drafting players that are nore than role players!

    • Andrew

      Lindy was 6-10-1, Ron is 7-5-3. He had def made an impact in the roles the players carry out.

      It remains to be seen if he even wants the position long term. If DR stays, he may want someone else. If DR goes, a new GM may want someone else.

      • TheKaz1969

        I would ever argue that Ron’s impact is greater than the numbers show. I think you can throw away the first few games as the players got used to the shock of Lindy being gone and adapting to a new coach.

        You may even be able to throw a few more games away for the veterans, as some of them have played years and years for just one coach. I know they are professionals, yada yada yada, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some adjustment period for them. I would say some of those veterans have even picked it up the last couple of games.

        • Andrew

          Great points Kaz.

          Even though his +/- has declined, Ott has performed better lately. I would say Regehr has too.

          Pominville though, has disappeared, at a time he has been needed most.

          Leo, Staff, and Hecht continue to be floaters, IMO.

  • Kevin

    You have shined a whole new light on Rolston. I am glad he is having success with the players. Because if that’s what is making them play better then we are lucky to have him at this moment. As far as my feelings for Regier, I still think he needs to go before the draft. Having said that who are we going to replace him with, and when?

    • Andrew

      I don’t think DR is going anywhere.

      If RR keeps having success with the players, it’s more ammo for him to justify his job.

    • Jeff Fose

      Rick Dudley. He’s helped turn around teams that were struggling worse than the Sabres. He also had a hand in Cup winners in Tampa Bay and Chicago. He also, obviously, has a history with the team.

    • PaulR

      Rolston may have some success managing existing players, but I think most of his success so far is from bringing in his own people, setting his own lines, and benching those he doesn’t like. Flynn and Porter (with Foligno) are getting veteran minutes and seem to be Rolston’s top line now. Hecht and Stafford sit a lot. It is clear that Rolston likes Steve Ott, as do the fans.

      On defense, he is also playing Pysyk a lot – and this is a guy who has a total of 5 games NHL experience. I like what I see so far.

      Myers is still a mess and I don’t think there is any coaching magic Rolston can give him that will turn him around immediately.

      • Andrew

        Ruff would have never brought up Flynn, Porter, or Pysyk, and immediately given them the trust and confidence to play the minutes that they have.

        Rolston is being rewarded for it.

        • PaulR

          You are right. Lindy lived (and died) by “his guys”

  • PaulR

    Whoever was responsible for bringing Jochen Hecht back should be fired. I was absolutely dumbfounded when I read the Sabres had signed him in January. Whoever decided to bring back a slow, 35 year-old, thrice-concussed center, years after he should have been off the team clearly is one who simply “falls in love with” his players – and is blind to results. It shows a real lack of objectivity and “frozen in amber” kind of thinking on the part of whoever did it.

    If it was Lindy, then it is another reason I am glad he was fired.

    • Andrew


      It was reported that Pominville kinda talked them into it.

      • PaulR

        Pominville? Really? On one hand, it would be surprising he would have that authority, but on the other, it would explain part of his present troubles as well.

        • Andrew

          Apparently, Pom Pom like Hecht’s play while they were in Germany during the lockout.

          Go figure.

  • Pingback: Has Ron Rolston Earned the Head Coaching Job of the Buffalo Sabres?