There have been 170 coaching changes in the NHL since Lindy Ruff became the Buffalo Sabres head coach. That was a stat that Sabres fans knew all too well; it's what we saw in every Sabres Game Notes packet, and it's what we've had rammed down our throats on every national television broadcast for the last decade. Now, with the 171st coaching change since July 21, 1997, Lindy Ruff is out as Buffalo's head coach and a new coach, Ron Rolston, will be behind the bench for the first time in over 15 years. Here's what that means for the Sabres organization.
Short Term Impact
The firing has come early enough in the season that the Sabres still have enough time to turn this sinking ship around. Buffalo is still just four points out of a playoff spot, and whether you think they have enough talent to do so or not, they still have a chance to compete for the post season.
The choice of Ron Rolston as the team's interim coach is a good one in terms of continuity. Rolston is already familiar with many Sabres players having coached them in Rochester, and his ability to work with young players should help the Sabres down the middle, where Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, and Mikhail Grigorenko are all under the age of 23.
The firing of Ruff will also mean a new voice in the Sabres locker room, which can't be understated. Long-tenured players such as Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Jochen Hecht have been hearing Ruff and only Ruff for essentially their entire NHL careers. Can Rolston, who is known more for his work with young players, get the most out of his veterans as well? We'll see.
Finally, Ruff's firing simply gives Sabres fans a breath of fresh air. The Sabres have seemed like one of the most stagnant franchises of the past five years, and that feeling stemmed from the top. With the once-untouchable Ruff gone, it gives fans the excitement that things might actually change. Even if it's only a new coat of paint on a fixer-upper, it's progress, and it's a coat of paint that we've been dying to talk about.
Long Term Impact
The biggest thing that Ruff's firing does for the Sabres in the long term is that it validates owner Terry Pegula's famous statement, "The reason for the Buffalo Sabres existence is to win the Stanley Cup." Pegula began his tenure as Sabres owner by throwing money around in his first offseason, whether it was for high priced free agents or big arena renovations. When that didn't work, he gave Regier and Ruff another year to try again with a few minor adjustments. That plan has obviously failed, and Pegula, an adamant Ruff supporter, has made the smart business decision rather than the sentimental hockey fan decision.
Darcy Regier, who previously said that he and Ruff were a "package deal," also showed the fortitude required to fire a good coach and a very good friend. Regier's moves in the draft and trade market have been praised of late, and this difficult task proves that he's willing to do what's necessary to win.
Ruff's firing sends the message to other longer-tenured players - Miller, Vanek, Pominville - that their jobs aren't safe, which is a good thing. This is professional sports, not Pee-Wee, and everyone should be on notice that if their play on the ice doesn't cut it, there will be consequences. The Sabres organization hasn't had that mindset for a very long time and how everyone responds to it will be fascinating.