Is It Time For A New Coach In Buffalo?

Is it time for a new coach in Buffalo? I’ll save you the suspense: yes, it is. The Buffalo Sabres, losers of six straight games and tied for last place in the Eastern Conference, need a new coach.

Sure, injuries have played a part in the Sabres performing so far below all expectations, there is no question, and there seems to be something else also weighing this team down that no one can seem to pinpoint. Are they unmotivated? Maybe they’re all dating the same soul-crushing girl unknowingly, and they can swear she’s cheating, they just don’t know with who? Or could it actually be something else entirely, however unlikely?

From outside of an organization, sometimes there are certain things you just don't hear, and you can only guess as to what is really happening. Such is the case here. Whatever is going on with the Sabres off the ice, in the psyche of the players, we cannot know, however I believe there is enough visible and damning evidence on the ice most nights the Sabres play to suggest Lindy Ruff should be fired.

Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are both having good seasons, but I don’t like how Ruff is using, well, almost everyone else. Derek Roy may not have quite the same jump as before his injury last season, but he is still a very good center, and I believe he would have more than 25 points through 43 games if his coach had not changed his linemates from inadequate to more inadequate and then back every two seconds, to go along with giving him inconsistent opportunities on the power-play all season.

You could say many of the same things about new additions Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino. This team has no chemistry or “flow” on the ice in large part because Ruff has been unable to put together logical lines. Depth-centers Luke Adam and Johan Hecht have both been tried as top-line center between Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. Really, almost every center on the Sabres roster has been tried in that position. But do you know who has not been tried there but except in rare circumstances? That’s right, the one actual top-line center the Buffalo Sabres have on their roster, Derek Roy. (At least, he’s the only player the Sabres have who even comes close to resembling a true top-line center).

To go 43 games with your best center not producing, essentially having not once tried him on a line with either of your two best wingers, let alone both, it’s insanity.

Lindy Ruff has more talent than ever to work with, but he just seems lost, and the results are awful. More concerning still is his absolute stubbornness to simply try the obvious. Ville Leino is an excellent playmaker, but Lindy Ruff has done an awful job of pairing him with a good sniper. Likewise, Derek Roy is the team’s best center, but Ruff is squandering his talent by playing him with the likes of Zach Kassian at even-strength, while often refusing to put him on the top power-play unit with Vanek and Pominville. Christian Ehrhoff had a fantastic year on the Vancouver Canucks power-play last season, but he also has seen far too much of the second power-play unit this season. It just makes you shake your head. And I’m sure there are other examples; these are just the ones that stick out most to me.

Now, when one is debating whether a coach should be fired, I believe there is a very telling question that needs to be asked, because it is a question that encompasses every other question, and paints a clear picture of the whole. And that question is, is the coach getting the most out of his roster? Is he maximizing the his arsenal? For example, if your team is the 10th most talented team in the league, then they should be performing as the 10th best team in the league, if not better. You certainly should not be performing below your talent level.

But that’s precisely what Buffalo is doing under Lindy Ruff, and it’s a huge red flag. Whether it’s his lineup decisions and game-management, or simply disillusioned players that just don’t want to play for him anymore, or quite possibly the latter coming as a result of the former, I believe Lindy’s time is up in Buffalo. It is time for a change before the season is completely lost. Unless, of course, you believe it already is, in which case the Sabres would be best served to keep everything as it is, and hope the results continue to be the same, too. But I’m not writing about what the Sabres should do if they want to lose, because losing is pretty self-explanatory (unless you’re the Anaheim Ducks), I’m writing about what Buffalo should do to improve, and upgrading their head coach could pay dividends, provided they pick the right replacement (which is always the catch).

With that said, I’m not blaming all Buffalo’s struggles on the coach. There is only so much a coach can do if his players aren’t motivated, or aren’t in shape, or are in any other way, shape, or form not at their best. And there does seem to be some of “that” going on in Buffalo. What exactly “that” is exactly, I have no way of knowing, but there definitely seems to be something going on with some of the Sabres players and the dressing room independent of their coach’s shortcomings, which means the players deserve blame, too.

For instance, while Derek Roy has been terribly misused this season by his coach Lindy Ruff, if he was at his best, like last year, his coach’s errors wouldn’t affect his production so much. He’s still a talent, but he looks a step slower this year. Yes, he was injured last season, but, and I could be wrong, I do believe he’s had enough time since then to get back in top shape. And I’m not sure he is.

Whatever the cause, Roy looks a step slow, and you can’t be at any level short of your best in this league if you want to succeed. The game is too tight-checking (and boring) today, you need all your assets at their best and most finely tuned if you want to collect points against the blanket defenses and giant goalies employed in today’s NHL.

I’d wager there are plenty of Sabres’ players you could say similar things about, whether on the physical or mental side, and Ruff can’t be blamed for all of that. So maybe some players need to be moved, too. But at the end of the day, you can’t trade the whole team, and even if you could, I still wouldn’t keep Lindy Ruff, as he simply hasn’t impressed me. Of the thousands of coaches out there, I find that teams often make the mistake of believing theirs is the best one. It’s the “what if the grass isn’t greener?” mentality. But do you really think there isn’t at least one person out there on our planet of seven billion or so people who could do a better job with this talented group of Buffalo Sabres? I’m here to tell you, there is. They are out there. The Sabres GM and ownership needs to realize this fact, and set out to find him.

Lindy Ruff has had a long run in Buffalo, but his ideas seem to have run stale this season, and it’s time for General Manager Darcy Regier and owner Terry Pegula to find a new coach.


Written by Shark Circle


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