Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Why Ron Rolston is Not the Right Coach For the Buffalo Sabres


Aside from the fact that this is going to be a very long season in Buffalo in which the rookies will be developing, one thing people are starting to realize is that Ron Rolston is not the right coach to be directing the Buffalo Sabres. Now I was a supporter of Rolston leading the Sabres through the rebuild, but after watching the first 6 games and seeing the Sabres and Rolston in action, I’m starting to doubt that Rolston is the right guy.

There seems to be something about Buffalo management (Darcy Regier) that refuses to look outside it’s own organization for coaches. When Lindy Ruff was given the boot last season, Rolston took over on an interim basis and did a decent job turning a 6-10-1 team into a 15-11-5 team. Wanting to see what Rolston could do on a full-time basis, the interim tag was removed and he was named the head coach of the Sabres. Rolston had a reputation as a teaching coach, someone who can help players learn their role and the game and on paper that’s sounds like the perfect coach for a young, rebuilding team no? Wrong.

So far Darcy Regier‘s latest experiment is failing badly. It is so crucial to make sure a team has the right coach behind the bench. Look around the league; Patrick Roy has taken the Avalanche from last place to a tie for 1st in the West. Sure the Avalanche have Nathan MacKinnon, but he hasn’t been contributing all that much. They have the same type of young team the Sabres do, but they got a passionate coach and look at their turnaround. Another example would be the Anaheim Ducks who weren’t playing well until Bruce Boudreau showed up on the scene, now they’re one of the best teams in the West. I don’t care what type of team you have or how many rookies you have, winning is possible with a solid coach; the right type of coach will get the team to play hockey-period!

Rolston has been completely unable to rally the Sabres together as a team and as a result they don’t look like a team at all. Let’s be honest for a moment, we all expected this team to lose a lot this season and to their credit they’re doing just that. What is so upsetting to the fans is the product on the ice, the team looks completely lost out there and that’s a direct product of the coach.

Aside from the losing, the horrible defencive zone coverage and the dismal powerplay, Rolston’s lack of passion is really hurting the Sabres. Let’s go back to Patrick Roy for a moment. Remember his memorable game against the Ducks last week, when he knocked the glass over standing up for his star rookie? His players loved it. Was it a little over the top? Perhaps and he did get in trouble for it, but he earned the respect of his players because he stood up for them. Roy stood up for his team and his players love him for doing so. Like Roy or not he brings fire and passion to his coaching and as a result the Avalanche are looking a lot better.

Now back to Rolston. When the Sabres don’t get a call, a player gets hit awkwardly or there is a controversial call against them you don’t see Rolston making a scene. Instead you see him leaning against the glass behind the bench with a scowl as he glares at the referee.

Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

There’s little yelling or pleading a case for his team. Rolston shows no passion or fire behind the bench and that flows right down to the players. The guys on the bench feed off the energy of the coach, if the coach doesn’t show any they aren’t going to have any when they step onto the ice. Why do you think the Sabres have such a difficult time in the first period? There is no one to get them fired up or motivated to go play hockey.

It’s becoming more and more clear that Rolston is in over his head and for a coach that is supposed to be a mentor for young players, he’s not treating those young guys right. He can’t seem to manage the line-up and continually blames Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson for not stepping up despite being buried on the 3rd and 4th lines. Give the kids a chance to develop and give them some talent to play with! You never know, putting the young kids with some solid talent might help the Sabres actually score goals.

We’re only 6 games into an 82 game campaign but fans have already seen enough of Ron Rolston and are tired of the act. He portrays no passion, wont stand up for his team, can’t motivate them and has failed to manage the roster. The Sabres don’t look anything like a team and it’s because they have no one leading the ship.

Do you think Ron Rolston is the right guy to be coaching the Buffalo Sabres? Let me know in the comments.

Tags: Buffalo Sabres NHL Ron Rolston

  • qwicwted

    I also agree with your assessment Cat. I wasn’t too happy with the announcement of Rolston being named head coach as I also noticed a “lack of passion”. Say what you will, there are a number of animated, vocal coaches out there and they get the job done. I would have preferred to see someone like Guy Boucher, Paul Maurice, Brent Sutter and the “dreaded” Peter Laviolette. Rolston does look lost out there and so do our players. As far as I’m concerned – I’m not expecting too much from the Sabres this year, but I do expect them to play the majority of their games with the same effort that they gave in the 3rd period against Chicago.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      The Sabres could use some passion and energy behind the bench so the players can feed off it. He’s so stale and boring.
      As long as the Sabres give it their all I think fans will be happy

      • qwicwted

        Man I don’t know who I was more aggravated with – the announcers or Rolston. Yes, we all know MN is the better club, but they also have more skilled vets playing then Bflo. Pommer scoring – it was on a PP – so big deal. The only thing I noticed about him was that he does the same thing he did in Bflo – stays out of the way and floats around the faceoff circles waiting to be fed a pass to snipe into the net and that was during the MN PP. So a MN team that plays “brilliant” beat a team that looks confused. As for Rolston…….I didn’t see any teaching going on except when Tillander was talking to Larsson. Oh…..I forgot he did make a face when the team was called for too many men.

        • jimbobv2

          In-game is not the best time to teach.

          During video review and during practice are much better times to teach.

          This is going to be a long process because the Rochester core wasn’t good enough and this team is in transition from that core to the next core.

          It’s going to be a long bumpy ride with plenty of whining from the fan base.

          Can’t wait for everyone to sound like my kids “why aren’t we there yet? You said we’d be there by now!!! Waahhhhhh!!!!”

          • qwicwted

            Jimbob, I understand what you are saying, but I have coached softball and soccer for years and my assistants and I are constantly teaching and strategizing – during games and at practices. There is always room for improvement – if you watch other coaches they are constantly talking to their players instructing and pointing things out.

          • jimbobv2

            Do you have season tickets so you can tell this isn’t happening with Rolston?

            He pulls guys out all the time for one on one instruction at practice. There was a lot of talk about that when he took over last year.

            I’m betting that Rolston is doing that stuff in-game, too. It’s just that the cameras rarely catch that sort of stuff.

          • qwicwted

            You could be right, I don’t have season tickets – being a Bflo fan living in the Bay Area. But, I do have Center Ice and watch the Sabres whenever I can. You’re right, the camera isn’t on Rolston, but whenever it is – he just seems so stoic – except when he is grimicing. I’m just not sold on him as being the right coach for this team.

          • jimbobv2

            I couldn’t care less whether he’s stoic or not. Personally, I think today’s players in general don’t really respond to a fiery coach. Especially younger players.

            Who the coach is right now doesn’t really matter as long as the kids get playing time.

            This team isn’t built to win right now. It’s built to suffer. And it will get even worse once Miller, Vanek, and perhaps Ott get dealt away before the deadline.

          • qwicwted

            Well JimBob then it is Darcy’s job to find a coach that motivates cause evidently Ron isn’t doing that job.

          • jimbobv2

            Herb Brooks, Scotty Bowman, or any other coach you want to throw out there couldn’t win with this group of players.

          • qwicwted

            Hey, Jim Bob – during last nights game the Sabres took a time out and again there was no coaching during the time out…….Oh that’s right, it was a player’s time out. Athough the camera did show one of the coach’s drawing up a play – I think it was Saco. I’m sure you are right….Rolston only teaches the players during practice.

          • jimbobv2

            You realize the timeout was taken to rest the players because they took an icing penalty and couldn’t change off the tired line?

            Since they added the no line change on an icing call rule a few years ago, most coaches use their timeout in that manner and there is nothing to coach up on a run of the mill d-zone faceoff where you just want to get the puck past the red line and then dump and change.

            If the Sabres don’t know how to execute that without coaching, they should be put on waivers immediately.

          • qwicwted

            I understand Jimbob, but coaching is a never ending process and in the middle of a game while players are “catching air” is as good a time as any to “remind players” how to execute or set up for the faceoff – seems like our youngsters do get caught up in the moment and make mistakes – should we still waive them? I just don’t get your logic.

          • jimbobv2

            My logic is that most other coaches let their team rest in that spot, so I don’t get why Rolston should be overcoaching this team.

            I can’t remember the last time I saw a head coach going over stuff with his team during a timeout that was taken to give his guys on the ice a breather after an icing call late in a shift.

          • qwicwted

            Maybe that is part of the Sabres problems – they rest too much

          • jimbobv2

            I think the problem is a lack of talent.

          • lamarred1118

            What makes you think that Enroth, Hodgson or Rip Simonick will not be gone as well? Considering the judgement of allowing the train to off the rails seems fatalistic and so stupid to me that nothing that management does will surprise me. It seems to me that they would be willing to steal the copper out of the arena to mortgage for the future. Was that what was happening last night?

  • Timothy Redinger

    That’s the problem with this organization – just promote someone from within…..its all Darcy will do because he does’t want to be told no…so even if they replace Rolston (which is highly unlikely, remember were supposed to be suffering) its going to be with someone who will fall in line and say “yes, Darcy” and do things Darcy’s way.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      Darcy has to be in control over everyone he can in the organization. He doesn’t want coaches he wants “yes men” like you said.
      I don’t see him going anywhere soon, Regier said they game him a multi-year deal but refused to specify the length.
      Suffering is fun rigth?

      • Kevin

        If I hear the word “Suffering” one more time I swear. People jump off the bandwagon and take a look at the big picture here. We are not even 10 games into the season for crying out loud and everyone is whining like they didn’t expect this to happen before the season even began.

        • Caitlin Campbell

          Oh I expected this season to be rough for the Sabres… but suffering has become the key word this season. It’s going to be a long season but like you said we all knew this was coming

          • Dano

            “but suffering has become the key word this season.”

            And you wonder why this team has no heart and cant perform..

            Its like feeling the need to go kick over a guy blocking the sidewalk in his wheelchair.. #suffering, #suffering its lame already..

        • Dano

          “If I hear the word “Suffering” one more time I swear.. ”

          ROFLMAO!

    • Dano

      This is why I see there being no resistance to a player-alumnist that DOES have coaching experience. How could Pegula, as a supposed long time Sabres Fan say no to some of the names I mentioned?

  • rickeyroma

    It’s a control issue with Darcy… He wont look outside the organization for a good/great coach, because then we will lose power…so he finds someone inside who he knows he can control and who will have ‘less say’ than he does…

    • Caitlin Campbell

      he’s just looking for “yes-men” who he can control

  • Jacob Breunig

    I have never been high on rolston cause I thought he was Lindy ruff Jr. I liked Lindy, respect the hell out of him, but it was clear his method wasn’t working anymore, and rolston, being ruffs dev coach meant he coached a similar way to prepare the kids for ruffs team. I hate the constantly changing lines, the young guys playing with McCormick and kaleta, and like cat said, a little lack of passion, we don’t need a Roy who will yell and scream and fight, but we need a guy with energy. Rolston should be gone after this year with regier but we all know that won’t happen.

  • Jacob Breunig

    I am also very interested in watching the game when Dallas comes to town in the next week or two, ruffs first game back here. I am expecting, should the sabres be playing badly or losing, to hear the crowd chanting “we want ruff”

  • jimbobv2

    Rolston is the perfect coach for the Sabres this season.

    Regier wants to suffer his way to a top pick. So, he has a coach with more of a resume developing kids with the USNTDP and the Amerks than an NHL resume.

    Rolston has made questionable moves here and there. But, he’s feeding the kids ice time and the team is struggling so bad that they sit dead last in the NHL in the early going.

    Regier didn’t build a roster that was going to compete. Rolston isn’t the reason that the team can’t score goals.

    Now if Rolston is still the coach 5 years from now if the team has more talent and should be competing for the playoffs or more…..

    • Benjamin M Taylor

      I agree. This is a “development” year. Darcy Regier said “suffering”. That’s what we’re seeing. Though I think the team HAS IMPROVED over the last six games, other teams will continue to improve, and we’ll still be at the bottom. We’ll get some good draft picks, hopefully something extra if Vanek and/or Miller decide to leave. Colorado is a perfect example of a team who suffered for several years before obtaining top talent in the draft. We’ll be turned around soon. Hang in there Sabres fans! The Kings and Blackhawks have enough people on their bandwagons!!

  • davidmuscalo

    What makes you think Rolston is the Coach, just because he has that label doesn’t mean he has any control over how the players are handled. He is the marionette manipulated by the incompetent, arrogant, pretender to the thrown, Regier. Regier is the reason Ruff was a failure, and he is the reason Rolston is a failure. One of these days Terry is going to wake up and smell the coffee, and we will be rid of this scourge.

    Rolston is a teacher, but a teacher needs order and discipline in the classroom to be effective. When the classroom is filled with undisciplined, undeveloped, mentally substandard children (Myers comes to mind immediately) no teaching can be done. On the job training just doesn’t work in the NHL when the majority of the players on the team are students. Rolston is in the unenviable position of a college professor trying to teach college-level subjects to average intelligence eighth-graders; it just doesn’t work.

    I don’t who the Sabres’ coach is, with the material he Regier has supplied him with, no one could make this a winning, or even respectable, team.

    • Caitlin Campbell

      I don’t mean turn the Sabres into a winning team because they clearly don’t have the talent to compete… but there is no way they should be 0-5-1 and look as bad as they have.

      • davidmuscalo

        I don’t agree that they look that bad. They are actually a better skating team then last year’s team; they just can’t get the puck in the back of the net. They are an exciting team, but I do believe they will go 0 and 10 before they begin to gel. After they lose that tenth game to Vancouver, they will start winning some games and even become competitive by mid season.

    • Dano

      DavidM.. You are 100% correct in regards to having to take control of the room.

      I do believe there are a couple people out there that COULD put these kids together and make something productive. R. Lee Ermey being one of them! :D

      They need discipline, quantities of it!

  • firedarcy

    mackinnon hasn’t been contributing much? he has 1 goal and 5 assists in 5 games as a rookie…

  • Dano

    Theres a couple things with Rolston that need to be viewed.

    1.) For starters : Rolston never played in the AHL or NHL. He played for a college level team in Michigan. One cannot say hes an ‘ example ‘. Roy, Ruff and many of the other coaches out there have laced them up and ‘ gave blood ‘.

    Did he ever aspire to play in the NHL? *I* dont know. Hes a coach there now though. His brother DID play in the NHL for quite a few teams.

    To look at the guy begs to question.. ” Where is his pocket protector and slide rule? “. It brings back memories of McNamara and his ‘ wiz kids ‘. Very intelligent, but didnt have a grasp on how to apply what he knew. Its unfortunate for a lot of Vets whom lost their lives but Im glad this time its just about a hockey team. ;)

    I would have issues with someone telling me how to dig a ditch when they have never done so themselves. I believe most people want leadership by example.. but what example is there? Theres the players, then right above them.. he stands. No middle management, nobody in the way. Hes behind the bench, not Regier, Black or Pegula.

    2.) As Caitlin stated, no emotions. Does he actually have passion in what hes does or is it just a ‘ job ‘ and nothing more?

    Look at other coaches.. nobody needs to question Roy, His time between the pipes speaks miles. Ruff sending out the goons against Ottawa when Drury was clipped. Randy Carlyle and his 1000+games/1400PIMS speaks for itself! Claude Julien ( Bruins ) played all over the IHL/AHL and Quebec in the NHL..

    There are quite a few former Sabres Players/Alumni floating all around NHL organizations.. Surely, theres at least 3 or 4 of them that could have been tapped and asked ‘ Want to coach? Interm if you will? See how it works out? ‘

    THAT beckons the call of the owner.

    I understand Pegula can drill a gas well and make billions. Hes proved it. I understand he knows how to manage a business better then anyone reading or writing articles here. His bankroll could clearly prove it. I understand Pegula has put millions into the Penn State hockey system and is putting Millions into Buffalos.. but he doesnt know how to manage a team or the right people to do the job.

    Maybe Rolston felt a bit pressured when asked about Coaching the Sabres. The big guy had to have some involvement in the process.. gotta please the boss, right?

    Compare the present coach to the prospects of :

    Danny Gare? Larry Playfair? Craig Ramsey? Mike Foligno? All guys whom played for and gave to the Sabres Org. and wore the colors on the ice. All have some experience at coaching and have played the game on a Professional level. SURELY they have a grasp of the game.

    Some will laugh by my saying this, but I would send Rolston back to Rochester and put Rob Ray behind the bench ( at this point ). I guarantee the kids would listen to what he has to say and would worry about being more then a ‘ healthy scratch ‘.

    I think it does come down to ‘ law and order ‘. If the team *IS* listening to Rolston, hes not a good coach at all. If Rolston is giving them direction and they arent listening, Thats on him and he needs to grow a pair and put his foot down or step aside.

    I dont think this team is where its at because of a ‘ lack of talent ‘. Lack of focus, direction, leadership.. sure. Not talent though.

    If the team hits 5-20-x in their record or they havent won 25% of their games midway through ( thats only 10 games ).. Rolston is gone.

  • Phil

    Hi Caitlin.

    Firstly, thanks for taking the time to write these articles. You’re obviously a passionate sabres fan.

    However, I my humble opinion, I feel your call to end Rolston’s short
    tenure as coach maybe a misguided and premature. You cite several reasons why Buffalo should sack Rolston; firstly your quick to discount Rolston’s
    professional hard earned reputation as a developer of young talent, he has a
    track record over many years to support this claim. However, this takes time
    for players and the team (and I hope in this culture of hire and fire that he gets
    a fair amount time). One thing is for sure unless 7 games is not enough time to
    adequately produce a Stanley cup contender in the context of a rebuilding team.

    Second, his lack of passion. Sure he’s not the hugely demonstrative type of
    person, he is somebody who has a quiet authority and an analytical brain. It’s
    a different style. I see passion, a quieter more subtle determined passion. Did
    Colorado team respect Patrick Roy as a coach because he ranted and raved like a loon or does their respect come from looking at a guy who did it all in an
    amazing career as a hockey player? Shouting and raving did not get the call changed it never does!! Energy does not always come from ranting and shouting – it comes from results, of course, but also professional direction, understanding your players, installing and practising a system which all understand and can execute and many other factors. It could be argued that, as a coach rant in rave in practice if you must, if that’s your style and if it motivates your team, but during a game this could be to the detriment of your team illustrating a lack of control and self-discipline and isn’t that what we want from a individuals in a team? I.e. no blown coverage, knowing and sticking to your assignments, coming into to camp in shape etc. Also comparisons to Colorado and Roy seem unfair this is a team with many high draft picks as a result of years of rebuilding. (Nathan MacKinnon GP:5 P:6)

    Ultimately it’s all about long term results and although I don’t
    realistically expect Buffalo to get to the playoffs the Sabres need to show a
    continued improvement throughout the season. Do that and that’s the first
    objective complete.

    Ps I’m not going to use the “s” word. This is a year of
    development let’s hope the Sabres can make the most of it and lay the building
    blocks for a Stanley cup winning team in seasons to come.

    Thanks again for writing these articles keep them coming !!! :-)

  • tony

    Keeping Darcy was the biggest mistake the sabres have ever made. The guys has failed and it’s time to move on to someone new. I would have rather kept lindy and got rid of Darcy… then be in the situation were in now. Change needs to happen

  • [email protected]

    Ron Rolston is the sequel to Lindy Ruff. It’s Nightmare on Elm Street #2. Same boring system up the boards. He is in over his head.

  • jUStMe

    Just another of Darcy’s poor decisions. The man needs to go. How long do we have to suffer with the inadequacy at GM and at coach? I’m going to the Dallas game and I’m going to cheer for Ruff. While I completely get it why he had to go, I still think he’s a great guy.

    Darcy saying we would have to suffer through another year basically gave the team carte blanche to not perform.

    Let’s see some effort out there boys. Stop expecting to lose and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

  • ralphie

    Rolston is not the answer and neither is Darcy Regier. what is the ownership waiting for and what is with Tyler Myers. Did we give him too much too soon.

  • Gary Drzewiecki

    No he isn’t. I have been a Sabres fan since their inception and have never been so disappointed with the team. I now live in Colorado and yes, you can notice the difference in the Av’s since Patrick Roy took over.

  • lamarred1118

    Rolston was probably never considered to be a long term coach anyway, he is the sacrificial lamb that is being led to slaughter by Darcy throughout this quest for the first overall pick and will be fired when this group of higher management that has made this misguided decision to tank the season, finally gets some real talent to build around. Pegula and Black are beginning to make Golisano and Quinn look like geniuses and helping me to truly understand exactly why they kept Regier for so long, because mediocrity is acceptable when done under certain circumstances. How many times did we say “geez just imagine if we had an owner that would spend some money to get the talent to elevate this team”? So we had a higher opinion of this guy than he obviously deserves. He has shown his glaring deficiencies over the past few years and why the ownership can’t realize it or won’t realize it are unknown to us as fans, all we can do is speculate. As stated above the “circumstances” of the current situation are far removed from the days of a cheap owner unwilling to spend to the cap. Right now the way it looks to me is somewhat like the blind leading the blind or dumb and dumber. Which makes it tougher to take after the first pronouncement of the goal being a Stanley Cup, which seems unreachable for the foreseeable future.