I’ve always thought what makes the Sabres interesting is that what “needs to happen” and what actually does happen is almost always different.
The fact of the matter is that “conventional wisdom” has no part in how the Sabres operate. The circumstances and environment the team operates in is different than almost every other city in the National Hockey League.
Let’s face it, the relationship Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have with one another is extremely abnormal for most general manager/head coach pairings. By now they are common-law spouses, bound together by tenure and shared experience. For all we know, Ruff may list Regier as a dependent on his taxes, or vice versa.
In almost any other city, this partnership would seem quite unhealthy. Job security breeds complacency, a lack of urgency that can be downright dangerous. No one hopes for internal strife, but it is quite clear that Lindy Ruff isn’t calling for Darcy Regier to hit the road, and Darcy isn’t asking for a new head coach to lead his players.
But like all forms of matrimony, everything is easy when things are going well. A few winning seasons and new clothes for Christmas keeps the kids happy and makes even the most unusual of pairings work like a charm. Slight problems here and there can be forgiven, and mistakes overlooked.
When things go bad, however, the longer these problems go without resolution the worse they can get. Even common-law marriages have their problems, and to some this one is starting to show its age.
A brief aside here: By now it should be pretty clear that Ruff and Regier are both to blame. The problem is that the “hockey voices” in Buffalo have long hammered Regier for the faults of the Sabres, despite the mutual blame each party lays claim to.
What I have never understood is why Lindy Ruff gets a free pass from almost everyone. Ruff is an above-average coach that has never really won anything, yet he is treated by many within city limits with downright reverence. Loyalty and good faith are one thing, but worshiping false gods seems like a crime much more severe than skepticism.
I have long wanted to have the “should the Sabres fire Lindy Ruff” discussion simply because we never get to have it. Whether justified right now or not, it should absolutely be on the table. With an extremely capable coach sitting in the minors and a roster that is unlikely to see much turnover until the trade deadline, a coaching change seems to be the quickest answer to the “How do you fix the Sabres?” question.
Plenty of teams have changed coaches mid-season and found success. Sidney Crosby has had more coaches than razors in his NHL career, and the current Stanley Cup champs are no strangers to coaching changes. The number of coaches that have been fired since Lindy Ruff started coaching the Sabres is an impressive one. However, the higher that number gets the harder it is to ignore that plenty of those teams have won the Stanley Cup while the Sabres remain idle.
What I’m getting at here is this: I’m glad people are at least talking about Lindy Ruff’s job security. That means fans are honestly concerned about how to fix the Sabres and are willing to examine all options. However, I think it’s pretty clear that it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to actually see him go.
Rather, what we are seeing is a slow slide to an equilibrium, a verbal balancing of the heavy words directed towards Regier for years that have fallen on deaf ears. The failure of the Ruff/Regier partnership is starting to wear on everyone involved, but that doesn’t mean actual consequence will fall on either party’s head.
Still, what I wonder more than anything is what took so long for people to start looking behind the bench for an answer. Lindy Ruff is a good head coach with a strong collection of game night ties, but what kept him off the bargaining table for so long?
Earlier in the week a friend suggested that Lindy Ruff represents a vein to the team’s past, a life line to a history we crave to understand despite its impossibility for most. Human beings crave structure, and Ruff’s presence at the rink and in the interview room has been a constant for an eternity to some fans.
Fuzzy feelings or not, the reality of this barren union seems to be getting the better of Sabres fans these days. If Ruff does go he will find success elsewhere, that much is certain. Ruff is an asset, but if he is an asset with untapped potential in Buffalo, what is the point of hanging on?
Fans have criticized Darcy Regier for overvaluing assets for years, hanging on and hoping things pan out with the Maxim Afinogenovs and Tim Connollys of the world. How much different is it from keeping a good head coach who isn’t getting results from the team he is stuck with?
What it really comes down to is this: If hope is all that is keeping things the way they are, when does that stop being enough?