After Tuesday night’s Sabres game, I wrote the first 100 words of a post I planned to finish the next morning. I was going to weave yarn and string about decrepit tube televisions at a local bowling alley that showed me another loss on mute. The loose thesis was to be that change isn’t always inevitable. Some things can linger for a lot longer than they should because of what little utility they can provide. Plenty can change in 15 years, but sometimes it’s easier to just hang on to what you already have.
I’m not going to eulogize Lindy Ruff. He’ll get plenty of that elsewhere. He’s a good coach and a good community ambassador. He was good with the media, has a good reputation in the NHL and never won anything important in 15 years with the Buffalo Sabres.
I always felt that last part didn’t matter nearly enough until today. He had lots of “good” and never was “good enough.” This is a guy who won a Jack Adams award and little else. He was a major part of The System that fell well short in terms of fan satisfaction and a full trophy case. Lindy Ruff couldn’t bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, and now he almost certainly never will.
Nostalgia is the desire to regain something lost, an ache for something in the past now missing. But it doesn’t exactly apply to the feelings associated with Lindy Ruff. No one misses his glasses or all those Stanley Cups he won. They don’t exist. What’s left is the feeling that Ruff could get this team there, that he would be the one to finally push them over the edge.
In that regard, he failed again and again. Getting nostalgic about the success Ruff had in Buffalo feels weird because in a way it’s admitting that a Presidents Trophy and the occasional playoff run were good enough. We all know that’s not true. We are grasping at ghosts, a victory parade that never happened. Hopes and dreams unfulfilled. It’s easy to give Ruff credit for the good things that have happened to this franchise, but assigning him blame for the years of failure was always a rarity.
On Thursday, the hammer finally came down. It was a weird scene downtown, a misty-eyed Darcy Regier answering questions from the hastily-assembled media while the team was on a bus heading to Toronto, a stunned Canadian media there to greet them.
Ruff was an important part in any Sabres fan’s understanding of the team. I was eight years old when he was hired. Over two-thirds of my life has been spent watching him coach the Buffalo Sabres. I understand the sadness many felt on Wednesday, the uneasiness about the surreal moments to come in the Ron Rolston era. Perhaps this team needs “weird” and “surreal” to shake it from stasis.
Even those that truly wanted him gone were surprised by the move. The phrase I heard most often on Wednesday afternoon was, “Holy shit.” Even with diminishing returns, changing out the old bowling alley televisions would be a surprising move to the regulars.
As the day went on and the reality of a Ruff-less Sabres became more clear, the next refrain I heard from many was one of excitement. The future, though unwritten, always felt pretty well-defined with Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier firmly employed by this hockey team. Now all that has changed, and that makes for a very different energy around this team. When they finally go, you take notice.
Say what you will about the problems of the Buffalo Sabres, but firing a coach in hockey usually makes an immediate impact on the team. Who knows what will happen on the ice tonight, but the mood among fans has definitely changed as well. The Sabres are still a mess, but there’s an overwhelming belief that the team could be exciting again without Lindy Ruff behind the bench.
Other people are capable of coaching the Buffalo Sabres, and the last 15 years have proven that other National Hockey League coaches are capable of winning the Stanley Cup. Lindy Ruff will always have a place in this franchise’s history, but it was time to put his reign on the bench in the past.
I’m looking forward to the new view.