In the wake of Lindy Ruff’s triumphant hometown return, it’s difficult to ignore what took place in Buffalo last season.
The video tribute owed to Lindy Ruff last night was a class act by the Buffalo Sabres’ organization. It was a moment that had many fans on their feet, applauding Ruff’s career with the Sabres, and other fans in tears as the memories were relived on the jumbotron in First Niagara Center.
If only this organization could have shown the same man the respect he deserved last season.
Following a 6-10-1 start last year, Ruff was relieved of his coaching duties for the Buffalo Sabres. The NHL’s longest-tenured coach was let go after a tough start in Buffalo, and it was ultimately the decision of the Sabres’ General Manager, Darcy Regier.
It was a decision that didn’t sit well with many. For a team that’s had its fair share of tough stretches, the timing made no sense. It was a move that captured headlines throughout the hockey world and shook the foundation of Buffalo. But more importantly it was a move the Sabres’ organization should have never made; at least not until after the season.
The General Manager of an NHL franchise is solely responsible for the on-ice product, and Regier had his mark all over last year’s struggling team. A coach can only do so much with mediocre talent. If it was Lindy’s time to leave Buffalo, Regier should have led the way.
What was even more troubling is what followed in Buffalo that season. The inexperienced Ron Rolston was named interim head coach and Regier began disassembling this team, making it clear that management was giving up on the season.
There’s no question that change needed to be made sooner or later in Buffalo, and that maybe the coaching style of Lindy Ruff was overworked with the Sabres, but it should have never happened the way it did. For a man that played 10 seasons for the same organization he had been coaching for the last 16, he deserved better. In the end, Ruff was merely a scapegoat.
Now, amidst the worst start in franchise history, things are dark in Buffalo, and the team is in much worse shape than when Lindy was fired last season. In one fell swoop, Buffalo has gone from hockey heaven to hockey hell, and no one is left to blame but Darcy Regier himself.
Ruff’s return to Buffalo Monday night was a memorable moment for this fan base, and a humbling experience for the Sabres’ ex-coach. It illustrated how much he really meant to the organization, and it was only fitting that he led his Dallas Stars to a 4-3 victory over his former team.
Ruff is a professional, and he knows better than anyone that coaching changes are all a part of the job. But after listening to him talk to the media yesterday, it was clear that his heart still lies in Buffalo. He admitted that he still watches the Sabres, and roots for them in between games. He said he’ll accidentally open up the stats for Buffalo instead of Dallas from time to time, and he even slips up and says ‘we’ when referring to the Sabres. But this should come as no surprise for a man that has spent half his life in the Sabres’ organization.
Thank you Lindy, and best of luck to you and wherever your coaching career may take you.