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

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

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.