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!