Lindy Ruff Firing: Ranking the 5 Best Replacements for Buffalo Sabres Coach

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2013

Lindy Ruff Firing: Ranking the 5 Best Replacements for Buffalo Sabres Coach

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    Lindy Ruff may not have seen the hammer coming down immediately, but he knew there was trouble in Buffalo.

    The Sabres appeared to have a good chance at making a run at the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division at the start of the season. The Sabres had been soft last year, and they added gritty Steve Ott from Dallas and humongous enforcer John Scott.

    That definitely made the Sabres tougher, but it did not make them better.

    It was one step forward and two steps back for Buffalo in this truncated season, and General Manager Darcy Regier decided he had seen enough when the Sabres dropped a 2-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets in Buffalo.

    The loss dropped the Sabres to 6-10-1. They are in last place in the Northeast Division.

    Regier fired Ruff and brought in Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston (source: NHL.com) as the team's interim head coach for the rest of the season.

    Rolston will have a chance to make a claim for the full-time head coaching position in the team's 31 remaining games. However, he is by no means a cinch to keep the job.

    Here's a ranking of the top five candidates. Much could change as other coaches are hired and fired, but here's a look at how things stand as of Feb. 20.

5. Phil Housley

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    It's probably a long shot right now because former Sabres defenseman Phil Housley is coaching high school hockey in Minnesota, but he could have a shot at the Sabres' head coaching job.

    Housley was a star for the Sabres from 1982 through 1990.

    He was the coach of the 2013 U.S. Junior Team at the recent world championships, and led the American youngsters to the gold medal.

    The Americans got the best of the Canadians and the Russians to win the gold, and that's a huge international win that gives Housley some coaching gravitas.

    Housley would certainly be open to an opportunity if it came his way.

    “I haven’t really pursued anything at this point,” Housley said in a phone interview with Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times after the Ruff firing was announced. “Sometimes you can’t just pick where you want to go. It’s the opportunity.”

4. Dallas Eakins

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    Dallas Eakins is the head coach of the Toronto Marlies, and he has been a very successful coach.

    He coached the Marlies to the AHL Finals last year, and he has them winging along with a 26-17-5 record this season.

    Eakins is not the usual head coach who says he doesn't care about the media or  things  written about his players.

    In the video above, he honestly admits that he reads and watches everything that is said about his team because it helps him to understand what others are thinking, which can have an impact on his players' confidence.

    Eakins also calmly dissected critical remarks from Don Cherry and never lost his patience or his temper.

3. Patrick Roy

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    Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy is the highest-profile of the early candidates for the Buffalo Sabres head coaching job.

    Agent Jay Grossman mentioned Roy's name to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. Roy is currently the head coach and general manager of the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

    Roy coached Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko while he was playing junior hockey.

    He is in his eighth year with the Remparts, and Roy has them cruising along with a 34-19-4 record.

2. Ron Rolston

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    Ron Rolston certainly has the opportunity to impress Sabres owner Terry Pegula and general manager Darcy Regier as he gets to coach the Sabres for the final two-plus months of the season.

    Rolston has been fast-tracked into the NHL and the Buffalo News reports that he is highly thought of within the Sabres' organization.

    Rolston is in his second year of coaching with the American Hockey League Rochester Americans. He led them to a playoff appearance in 2011-12 and they are 27-18-3 this season.

    Rolston, 46, had coached 11 years of college hockey and had also spend one year with the United States National Team Developmental Program prior to being named head coach of the Americans.

1. Jon Cooper

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    Jon Cooper may have the inside track on the Sabres' head coaching job if Ron Rolston can't turn things around for the team by the end of the season.

    Cooper is the coach of the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, and that team is in first place in the Eastern Conference. Cooper has the Crunch rolling along with a 30-14-6 record.

    Prior to coaching Syracuse this season, Cooper led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup as the American Hockey League champions last year.

    Cooper has had a sensational record as a minor-league coach, building a 401-164-38 record during his past nine years.

    John Vogl of the Buffalo News mentioned Cooper prominently in June 2012 article as a name to be considered if the Sabres fired Lindy Ruff.