Ill-fitting Suit

Ron Rolston is the 16th coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Now under contract for an undisclosed number of consecutive years, he can finally make Lindy Ruff’s old office his own.

He can put up some pictures of the family and get a new desk lamp. He can hang a piece of impressionist artwork that looks vaguely like a blue jay gathering nesting materials on a warm summer day.

The biggest change the Sabres head coach can make, though, is something he also wasn’t allowed to do while an interim head coach. Rolston, thankfully, looks to be changing his coaching staff for the coming season.

Tuesday morning’s press conference with the media was a small indication of his feelings on the matter of assistants. He didn’t exactly profess his love of Jim Corsi or muse about that time Kevyn Adams tried to throw him down a mine shaft, but it wasn’t exactly hugs and high fives all around. Rolston is in charge now, and that means the lamps–and the assistant coaches–are his to replace if they’re not working properly.

The results were made clear on Thursday, as word leaked out that potential assassination threat Adams and James Patrick won’t be invited back to the Sabres’ Stanley Cup Crusade this fall. The proper reaction here should be the heartfelt “meh” of indifference and mediocrity. After all, their handiwork in the special teams department is a big reason the Sabres play uninspiring hockey amid the shadow of general fan malaise. Someone was nice enough to update the Wikipedia pages of the two men, but beyond that I doubt many fans are wishing Rolston thought better of them.

Here’s the problem with not liking what Ron Rolston did with his brief time in Buffalo this year: we barely got a proper look at the guy. From a hockey standpoint, he was operating within the confines of the wreckage Lindy Ruff left in his wake. It was Ruff’s assistants operating what remained of Ruff’s System. He should have worn one of Ruff’s extra sport coats and a discarded tie, just to get the visuals to jive with the inner machinations of the team.

There is reason to want a proper coaching search for the Buffalo Sabres. After all, Ruff apparently interviewed 30 people for a mere assistant coach vacancy just two years ago. It’s not exactly fair, however, to not like Rolston because he seemed too much like Ruff, or because of any conclusion drawn from the 31 games he coached this season.

From the exterior I think it’s incredibly difficult to evaluate coaching in general. There’s an assumption of authority involved with it that’s pretty tough to justify from the stands. It’s difficult to judge what is working and what isn’t because it implies you know how it’s supposed to work in the first place. It’s one of the reasons Ruff’s System, as we called it, was technically infallible in the first place. If the players are right, it’s always going to work. They weren’t, and it wasn’t. That’s why Ruff’s gone.

Why Rolston is here, though, is still sort of an unknown for the rest of us. You can try to understand what impact he had within the constructs of his limited authority, but I think it’s best to throw this season out the window on his coaching. Perhaps the same argument should be made for certain players as well, but we have a much larger sample size for most of the guys wearing skates.

If you want to feel something about Ron Rolston coaching the Sabres, that’s fine. Or you just shrug your shoulders and turn back toward the playoff hockey on your television, hoping Rolston is the guy who can get the Sabres back where the hockey really matters.

I suspect any misgivings about Rolston come from a mistrust of the people making a decision on his employment in the first place. Now doesn’t that sound familiar?