Buffalo Sabres: The Case for Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff
Buffalo Sabres fans are divided.
In one camp, they want to see head coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier out on the street, dragging their bags out of town on the 90.
The other camp is squarely behind Ruff and Regier and believes that the road to the Stanley Cup will be paved by their leadership.
It certainly is not a cut and dry case. Ruff and Regier have won a lot of games for the Sabres. They've also lost a lot.
Regier and Ruff began their tenures in the 1997-1998 season and took a, well, less than stellar Sabres team to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Washington Capitals. The next year, the Sabres were in the Stanley Cup, losing in Game 6 in infamous fashion to the Dallas Stars.
Since then, the results have been a bit of a roller coaster ride. After two early round exits, the Sabres missed the playoffs for the three seasons preceding the 2004-2005 lockout. Then the two magical Drury-Briere led seasons that saw two Eastern Conference Finals berths and a Presidents Trophy, and then two more playoff misses. Now, after two heartbreaking first round losses, Sabres fans had to endure a close playoff miss, with a late season charge falling just short last season.
The microscope has been on Regier since both Chris Drury and Danny Briere left after the 2006-2007 season. Regier was hammered by the Buffalo media for not locking at least one of them up. Tom Golisano was a Buffalo savior after the Rigas' declared bankruptcy, but he wasn't very loose with his pocket books.
After losing your co-captains, it's hard to rebound from that, and the team didn't. Some will say it still hasn't.
The fact of the matter is, Regier has operated on a tight leash for most of his tenure. Never mind the tight budget; Larry Quinn was a minority owner. Quinn was general manager kryptonite.
Many have speculated that the departure of Drury and Briere was Quinn's fault. Yet that hasn't eased the Regier criticism in the least.
But here is the reality. Regier is one of the most shrewd traders and judges of talent in the league.
These trades speak for themselves: Chris Drury for Rhett Warrener and Steve Reinprecht. Danny Briere for Chris Gratton.
How about the two very recent examples: A first round pick for Paul Gaustad? Alex Sulzer, who will be a top four defenseman for the Sabres next year, for Marc-Andre Gragnani, who is playing on a two-way contract in Carolina next year.
He has also drafted Tyler Myers, Ryan Miller (in the fifth round), Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, among others.
All in all, he has done a lot with very little.
That makes it Lindy Ruff's job to take that talent and win some hockey games.
Led by Briere and Drury, the 2005-2006 team and the President's Trophy winning 2006-2007 team had not shortage of talent. But the 1998-1999 team that went to the Stanley Cup is a completely different story.
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Miroslav Satan scored 40 goals, but that team was led by the stellar goaltending of Dominek Hasek. Beyond those two players, Buffalo's talent was led by players like Donald Audette and Curtis Brown.
Long story short, Ruff has taken teams that had no business competing, aside from their all-world goaltender, to the Stanley Cup.
A lot was said about his style of coaching earlier this offseason with the Derek Roy incident, with many of the media wondering if his "tough love" style was growing stale in the locker room, especially with the longest tenured players like Vanek and Pominville.
The realization is, however tough Lindy may be on the players, he has never failed to get them to leave their hearts on the ice. Even in failure, as with this season, the team battled like crazy; clawing for every point they could get. The Sabres were a scary team heading into the playoffs because no one wants to play a team like that in the first round.
And there is also criticism about his system. It's extremely complicated and requires players to be responsible for a bevvy of potential players, areas of ice, etc., depending on what is transpiring in play.
This is definitely what slowed down players like Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson from having a profound impact on the team from day one, especially in the defensive zone.
But the system is also what allows players like Vanek and Pominville to thrive, not to mention the stellar play of Myers and Christian Ehrhoff in the second half of the season. It opens ice that normally shouldn't be open, and that is evident when all cylinders are churning, as they were from February on.
Simply, what it comes down to is this: Ruff and Regier have consistently turned something out of nothing, and as fans we shouldn't expect any less from them.
The calls for their departure are understandable, but the question of who would replace them is a telling one. In reality—and those of you saying Mike Keenan should quit the whole business of watching hockey—there is no one better to replace them.
And it doesn't seem like Mr. Pegula is one to take a flier on an unproven general manager and/or coach.
If the Sabres start off slow this season, the witch hunt may have some teeth, but until that happens, Darcy and Lindy have shown they can get the job done. And, yes, getting the job done equates to a Stanley Cup. But the team is getting exciting again, and the potential is there, and some will argue they should have won one already (be it in 1999 or 2006).
Potential isn't always telling, but the team should like where it's headed, and Lindy and Darcy have earned the right to steer the ship for a little while longer.
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