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A Look Back at Lindy Ruff's Career with the Buffalo Sabres

Erik CottonCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2013

A Look Back at Lindy Ruff's Career with the Buffalo Sabres

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    It's always sad when any professional sports team says goodbye to someone who has been synonymous with their organization for years.  Never has that been more true than with Lindy Ruff's departure as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.  So how will fans of the blue and gold, and hockey fans in general, look back at his career behind the bench in Western New York?

    Most will remember it fondly.  With Ruff at the helm, Buffalo enjoyed success this city and team had not seen since the mid-70s.

    The franchise itself became crucial to the overall success of the NHL.  It proved that hockey could thrive in a small market and it eventually took over what had always been a football town. 

    Lindy embodied all the things the people of this area pride themselves on: hard work, determination and a genuine passion for his profession.

    Ahead, we're going to take a look back at four different stages of Ruff's coaching career in Buffalo.  While some were more successful than others, his longevity with one team must be appreciated.

1. Immediate Success, No Goal and Missed Opportunities (1997-98 to 2000-01)

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    When Ruff was hired in July 1997, the Sabres were in complete disarray. 

    They had fired the Executive of the Year (John Muckler) and the Coach of the Year (Ted Nolan), despite winning the division title for the first time since 1981.  The only star on the team, goalie Dominik Hasek, had been involved in a physical altercation with Buffalo News columnist Jim Kelley.

    Yet despite all that, Buffalo's new coach led his team to the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals in his first year and to the Stanley Cup Finals the following season.  He somehow maintained sanity through the "No Goal" debacle.

    While the Sabres were eliminated in the first round in the 1999-2000 season, they rebounded with 46 wins and 98 points the next year. However, they blew a Game 6 lead in their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and ultimately lost in seven games.

    That season marked the end of Hasek's career with Buffalo.  A dark period in Sabres history ensued shortly thereafter.

    Looking back on this time, Ruff was able to turn a roster full of castoffs and journeymen into a perennial winner, with Hasek serving as the centerpiece.  He had solidified himself as an elite coach.

2. The Adelphia Scandal, Bankruptcy and New Ownership (2001-02 to 2003-04)

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    Once Hasek was traded to Detroit in the summer of 2001, the bad news continued to pile up in Buffalo.

    In May 2002, the NHL itself took control of the team.  That's because John Rigas and his sons were charged with bank, wire and securities fraud for embezzling more than $2 billion from Adelphia Communications.

    The organization was in shambles.  Soon after, in January 2003, the Sabres filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. 

    Hockey's future in Western New York was in serious jeopardy.  And the team's performance on the ice wasn't generating any hope, either.

    In most situations, three consecutive last-place finishes would get the coach fired.  But because of the circumstances, Ruff survived.  He wasn't given much to work with, as the Sabres began selling off their veteran players. 

    It wasn't until March of 2003 that the franchise's fortunes took a turn for the better.  Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano purchased the team, and once again there was "hockey hope" in Buffalo.

3. Deep Playoff Runs, the Jack Adams Award, but Still No Cup (2005-06 & 2006-07)

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    Sabres fans will look back at these two years as two of the most exciting, yet heartbreaking seasons in franchise history.

    Ruff re-established himself among the coaching elite, winning the Jack Adams Award in '05-06 and finishing as runner-up in '06-07.  Unfortunately, both campaigns ended in playoff disappointment.

    However, GM Darcy Regier's failure to make an impact at the trade deadline was much more to blame than anything Ruff did or didn't do.

    February 23, 2007 also saw one of the most memorable moments in Lindy's career behind the bench.  It was decisions like the one he made that night that earned him eternal respect in this city.

    After Ottawa's Chris Neil went head-hunting on Sabres captain Chris Drury, Ruff responded by putting out Andrew Peters, Adam Mair and Patrick Kaleta against the Sens' top line.

    The brawl that ensued was epic.  It was made even more so because Ruff had a heated exchange with Senators coach Bryan Murray about the hit that led up to it. 

    It's hard to pick another point in his career that left Sabres fans as proud of their head coach as they were that evening.

4. Free-Agency Losses, 1st-Round Exits and the End of an Era (2007-08 to 2013)

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    The last five-plus years Lindy Ruff spent as coach all seem to blend into each other.

    After losing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in free agency in the summer of 2007, the Sabres narrowly missed the playoffs the following two years. 

    But 2009-10 saw Buffalo bounce back, as they finished with 100 points and won the Northeast Division.  Yet, that season and the next saw Ruff's team get bounced in the first round.

    When Terry Pegula took over ownership in 2011, it marked the first time this organization's financial resources weren't a question mark. 

    However, that didn't translate to wins on the ice, as Ruff and co. were a huge disappointment in 2011-12.  A group that was expected to contend in the East failed to even make the playoffs.  Lindy remained, even though players had become outspoken about their distaste with his coaching tactics. 

    Not until the Sabres started 2013 6-10-1 and all but quit at home versus Winnipeg did management finally pull the plug on Ruff's 15th year as coach. 

    While it may been several seasons overdue, there's no understating the lasting impact this iconic man will have on hockey in Buffalo.  He won't be unemployed for long.

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