That's right...Contrary to what many other people (media, bloggers and fans alike) feel about the Sabres head coach, I think it's time for Lindy to move on. It doesn't matter if he is fired or he resigns Lindy Ruff should have coached his last game for the Buffalo Sabres. This organization will continue to underachieve with Lindy at the helm and will never become a factor in the Eastern Conference.
Most people want to blame the Sabres recent struggles on the management (Larry Quinn and Darcy Regier) but it's my belief that Lindy Ruff is he biggest reason for the failures of this team. It seems that too many people, including Lindy Ruff continue to lament the loss of Drury and Briere and use that as a crutch for poor play. It's time for this franchise to move on.
I know that most of you think that Lindy Ruff should remain the head coach or possibly feel that both he and Darcy Regier should be let go. I'm going to outline the reasons why Lindy Ruff should be let go while Darcy Regier stays as the General Manager.
Not Utilizing the Talent on the Team
Since the lockout, this organization has made a commitment to speed and offensive skill. That plan seemed to work the first couple of seasons and the Sabres went deep into the playoffs. After the loss of Drury and Briere Ruff decided to change the teams identity and make a deeper commitment to defense. He also wanted this team to play an up-tempo offensive style that relied on fore-checking.
If there is one knock on the talent this team has it's that they aren't tough enough. Why would a team that plays soft, play a style that relies on tough fore-checking and puck pressure? Remember when this team was the best in the league at transition from the defensive zone? That transition was completely non-existent this season because all five players collapsed on the net to clear away rebound attempts.
It's hard for me to blame Darcy Regier for this teams struggles because he brought in a certain type of player and the Sabres are not playing that style of hockey. Call it poor communication, call it a mistake, you can call it whatever you want but this team lost because they didn't utilize their talent properly.
In fairness to Lindy Ruff, changing line combinations has become commonplace in the NHL. I put this in the "just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you have to" category. The line that played the most together this season was Vanek-Roy-Stafford but even that line was broken up several times.
When Connolly came back from injury, it was a line of Connolly-Stafford-Vanek that was setting the world on fire for the Sabres. That experiment didn't last long because Ruff wanted to get Derek Roy going. The point is that there were lines that seemed to click together but they weren't allowed to stay together.
If you look at the top teams in the league like San Jose and Detroit, they have the same line combinations night in and night out. Maybe it's the cohesive line combinations that allow those teams to play so consistently. When the Sabres were clicking on all cylinders a couple of years ago they used the same line combinations every night. Everyone knew that Briere was going to center Pominville and Hecht and so on down the line.
There is no Swagger
If you heard Ryan Miller in his "locker clean out - end of season" media session...he talked about this team getting the swagger back and he has talked about that before. It's easy to point to the players to get that swagger back but sometimes it's the coach that is the problem.
There are a couple of teams that wold be a perfect example of what I'm trying to say. The Washington Capitals last season. They were a team that looked absolutely terrible until Bruce Boudreau was brought in to coach. The Chicago Blackhawks this season when Joel Quenville took over. The PIttsburgh Penguins when Dan Bylsma took over may be the very best example. They could possibly have the most talent in the entire league and yet they were playing terrible hockey with Therrien behind the bench.
Miller seemed to be pointing more to the players to the swagger back but some of the blame has to be put on the coach.
"If we're going to be successful with the world-class talent we have on this team, it's going to have to come from attitude and willingness to compete. Those are things that you can instill in a player. A lot of times you can't find the talent that we have. I'm going to stick to it: We have a ton of talent available in this organization. What we need to do is find an identity, find that swagger that we had. That's the only thing I want to compare with a few years ago. I don't want to be that team, but I want the swagger. I want the confidence."
It was when he said "I want the swagger. I want the confidence.". It was those words that I pointed to the coach.
It may sound like an excuse to call this a young team but it is reality. The Leaders of this team are Derek Roy (25 years old), Thomas Vanek (25 years old), Jason Pominville (26 years old) and Tim Connolly (27 years old) and only Connolly has played more than four seasons in the NHL.
As talented as these players are, they lack confidence. Especially when everyone outside the organization is telling them they aren't good enough. They need a coach that will be there to build them back up when things start going bad. They don't need a coach that is going to pile it on thicker.
Thomas Vanek is sitting on the bench with an offensive zone face-off, the Sabres net empty while trailing by one with less than a minute to play. Is that going to help your best goal scorer to build confidence?
Derek Roy goes on a tear and has a 10 game point streak before playing two really bad games. Lindy Ruff publicly states that he needs more out of Derek Roy if this team is going to go anywhere. It's a true statement but maybe telling Derek to just relax and play the way he played the previous 10 games will work better than publicly criticizing a young player that is still trying to figure out how to fill the shows of Danny Briere and Chris Drury.
Poor Lineup Decisions
This is an area where it felt like Lindy Ruff just tried too hard. As I've termed it before ...he was over-coaching the team. He did this with his goalies and forwards alike.
Without even looking it up I can tell you about two different goalie situations that were mishandled.
Back around Christmas time the Sabres went into Washington and lost 3-2 with Patrick Lalime in goal because they were resting Miller to play at home against the NY Islanders. The Sabres got two points against the Islanders but could they have had earned a point or two against the Capitals?
The second situation was just a coupe of weeks ago. Patrick Lalime played an awful game on Friday night against the Flyers and the Sabres lost the game 6-4. The very next night the Sabres season was on the line against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Instead of starting Tellqvist, Ruff stayed with Lalime who was once again awful. Tellqvist eventually replaced Lalime after he allowed four goals in a 5-3 Sabres loss. Tellqvist stopped all 11 shots he faced in the third period.
It wasn't just goalie decisions that Ruff mishandled this season, it was the entire lineup. Clarke MacArthur was fifth on the team with 17 goals scored despite playing in only 71 games and spending much of his time on the fourth line. MacArthur played on the fourth line while Jochen Hecht ( a defensive type forward) spent most of his time playing on the teams top two lines.
Daniel Paille is another player that was mishandled this season. We all felt like he was disappointing this season after scoring 19 goals two seasons ago. It really wasn't entirely his fault. If you look at this chart and this chart you can see that his lines had pretty good production in limited opportunities. He wasn't always getting the points but he was on the ice while goals were scored.
It's Just Time
Lindy Ruff has spent more time with the Buffalo Sabres than any other coach has been with their team. Although he enjoyed some early success the Sabres have missed the playoffs in five of the last seven seasons. This team needs a new fresh face behind the bench to hopefully get the most out of what I consider a really talented bunch.