When the Buffalo Sabres unceremoniously announced that they were retaining Ron Rolston as head coach on Twitter yesterday, the immediate reaction was split. Some folks were happy that Rolston was getting a real shot with a young team, but the more vocal majority were disappointed that the Sabres made the safe choice in Rolston, rather than conduct an extensive search for the best candidate.
Yes, the Rolston announcement is not exciting. The most common words I've seen that have been used to describe it are safe, uninspired, mediocrity, and familiar. The adjective most folks are alluding to with those words is really "bad". They think it's a bad hiring. However, it's the last word in that list - familiar - that is one which shouldn't come with negative connotations.
Yes, Rolston's promotion was the safe play, safe because he is familiar to us and to the organization. Sabres fans so desperate for more change (of which there has actually been an astounding amount over the past two seasons) are forgetting a few key points as they rant against the "same old Sabres."
The team actually played pretty well under Rolston. The Professor went 15-11-5 in his 31 games with the Sabres, which works out to a .565 points percentage, up from the team's .500 points percentage over the course of all 48 games, and putting them just behind the 8th place Islanders who had a .573 points percentage.
Players showed a more consistent effort under Rolston, and aside from a few terrible games (which every team will have) the Sabres were generally competitive, if not incredibly exciting, during Rolston's tenure in Buffalo. And remember, he did that without the benefit of a training camp and with minimal practice time thanks to a shortened schedule. Next year, with a full camp, enough time to tweak things in practice during the year, and (hopefully) a new special teams coach, the improvement the Sabres showed this year should continue to progress.
Familiarity means that everyone knows what to expect next season. The Sabres players, were a new coach hired today, would certainly talk with the new coach but would then spend an entire summer wondering how they'll be used, what they've got to do to earn ice time, and how the new coach will treat them in the locker room and in practice.
By retaining Rolston, every player in the locker room now knows exactly what to expect coming into next season. They know that they've got to give max effort and compete every night, or they won't get ice time. They know they have to be defensively responsible and play a 200-foot game. They know what practices will be like, what the atmosphere in the room will be like, and that clarity will hopefully benefit them as they train this offseason and mentally prepare for the 2013-14 campaign.
Besides, there's no guarantee that any other "name guy" would be better than Rolston. We have no clue if Laviolette, Tortorella, Vigneault, or anybody else will be fired. As for Patrick Roy, I remember a bunch of fans that were ecstatic to get a Cup winning Hall of Fame player to coach their team, but Wayne Gretzky didn't work out so well in Phoenix. Just because we didn't get them doesn't mean they would have been better. And if you use #becauseitsbuffalo to justify this frame of mind, shame on you.
He's a teacher of young players, which will pretty much be the entire team for the next few years. Rolston's claim to fame is that he's a great teacher, a man who can show players what they need to do to be real professionals. Sounds great for a junior or college team, until you read this list of all Sabres players who could or should contribute significantly over the next two seasons, all currently under the age of 24:
Brian Flynn, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Cody Hodgson, Chad Ruhwedel, Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko, Corey Tropp, Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons, Brayden McNabb, Jhonas Enroth, Matt Hackett, Joel Armia, and Daniel Catenacci.
That's 17 players that could see time in Buffalo over the next two seasons, and doesn't include any draft picks this year or any young players acquired by potentially dealing away Miller or Vanek. Rolston's gonna have his work cut out for him in this regard.
Yes, Ron Rolston isn't the most exciting guy in the league, and he certainly doesn't give exciting press conferences. However, that doesn't mean you should automatically expect regression or failure from next year's team. At least give the guy a full season to prove himself. If the Sabres are still terrible next year, then we can all complain together.