Pegula must fire Ruff and Regier for Buffalo to move forward

Lindy Ruff, the 2006 Jack Adams Award winner, has missed the playoffs three of the past five seasons. (Arnold C/Wikimedia Commons)

Lindy Ruff, the 2006 Jack Adams Award winner, has missed the playoffs three of the past five seasons. (Arnold C/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

Two years ago, the Buffalo Sabres introduced new owner Terry Pegula and ushered in what they thought would be a new era for the team. An era where the Sabres would cease to be a small-market team and contend for the Stanley Cup on a regular basis. It was to be the point of their existence and Pegula made the point coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier would be a part of the future of the organization. His press conference (which you can watch here, skip to the 4:00 mark to get to Pegula) gave the city hope for the future, a hope that is all but washed away at this point.

At the time of his press conference at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, the Sabres were 6-9-3 for 15 points, 11th in the Eastern Conference. They turned their season around and finished 43-29-10 for 96 points, claiming the seventh seed. They were a fast team that finished eighth in the league in goals and went into the offseason looking to add the right pieces to improve their team even further. Pegula promised to spend money and after years of working with a tight budget, Regier was finally able to go after top free agents, a huge chance of pace after watching players such as Dominik Hasek, Danny Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell leave when Buffalo couldn’t afford their services.

So Regier signed Ville Leino (six years, $4.5 million cap hit) and Christian Ehrhoff (10 years, $4 million cap hit) and watched as the team struggled throughout the 2011-12 campaign. The moment that defined their season was when Boston’s Milan Lucic ran over Ryan Miller and no one responded, leading to the decision to add toughness this season in Steve Ott and John Scott. This season they are last in the division and 13th in the East, nowhere close to good enough for a team that has plenty of skill to battle for a playoff spot. They are only 3-5-1 at home and fans are not happy. Something has to give.

They were down in last night’s game to Winnipeg just 1:00 into the game when the home crowd started booing. From Greg Wyshynski on Puck Daddy:

“I totally understand. I’m embarrassed,” said Lindy Ruff of the jeering. “We didn’t start skating until the third period.”

The Sabres have generated one goal or fewer in three of those losses, partially because their power play has been atrocious: two goals in its last 30 opportunities.

“They just want you to work hard. They want you to give them something to cheer about. And we’re letting them down,” said Ryan Miller, sullenly. “We’re not giving them the caliber of hockey this city deserves. Yeah, we deserve to get booed. From the top down, every player.”

In reality, no player deserves to get booed by their home crowd. Miller should have finished his quote after “From the top,” because Ruff and Regier are the ones who need to go and Pegula has to make that call. It’s hard to send a pair who have been guiding this team for 14 season home, but the signs are there. A poor power play and lackluster effort mean Ruff’s tactics are falling on deaf ears. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach, but there comes a point where a new voice is needed to guide the team in a different direction.

And Regier hasn’t made the best decisions either. Pegula wanted the team to get away from the small-market philosophy, but more importantly than spending money is spending money wisely. Leino was signed to a massive deal after his only full NHL season, one in which he put up 19-34-53. Regier was probably hoping he’d get the type of production Leino had in the 2010 playoffs when he posted 7-14-21 in 19 games. Unfortunately, players often post big numbers in the playoffs, skewing the reality of the type of production they are really capable of (Sean Bergenheim and Joel Ward in 2011 are great examples).

All they got out of him last season was 8-17-25 and a hip injury has prevented him from playing this year. Anyone could have seen it was Scott Hartnell’s crash-and-bang style of play that complemented Leino’s wheeling-and-dealing style and Leino should have been left alone as Buffalo doesn’t have that sort of compliment player on their roster.

The team remains small even with the additions of Ott and Scott. Two players can’t add the toughness this team is lacking, it’s overall team toughness that matters most as The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell pointed out.

Analyst Jeremy Roenick is one who believes it’s time for Ruff and Regier to leave Buffalo, citing their poor record as all the proof needed for a change. Here’s what Roenick had to say as reported by Luke Fox of Sportsnet.ca:

“It’s time. They’ve changed owners, they’ve changed players. The only thing they haven’t changed is GMs and coaches, and you have to change your coach before you change your GM. Regier has constantly put his faith in Ruff, and I don’t know what it is. I know Lindy Ruff is a great hockey coach, and he has been a great hockey coach for the Buffalo Sabres for a long time, but it’s stalling again. And it’s not working,” Roenick said. “It’s time for a coaching change. I don’t know if the players think so, but the record shows it.”

“You can’t play 15, 16 years and be one of the longest-standing coaches and be losing like this and still get the OK nod and support from your GM,” Roenick said.

The duo started off promising, reaching the Conference final in 1998 and Stanley Cup final in 1999, but have won only five playoff series in 12 seasons since, missing the post season six times. That’s not a track record many coaches can live through. Bruce Boudreau did an excellent job turning the Washington Capitals around, but after just two seasons of playoff disappointment and half of a season where they weren’t in playoff contention, he was fired.

Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News wants to see the same in Buffalo. Miller said the booing starts at the top and Harrington believes it’s time for Pegula to take action and fire Ruff and Regier. The owner wants a Stanley Cup contender, but he’s the one who has to make the difficult decisions to lead the Sabres down that path. From Harrington:

Ruff and Darcy Regier have far outlived their usefulness and the entire hockey world sees it. I’ve done seven out-of-town interviews in the last three weeks and EVERY ONE of them has asked some form of the following question: How do these two guys still have jobs?

It’s a question the owner needs to answer. Today.

Sure, the Sabres have been worse before, but the expectations were never this high back then. More from Harrington:

Ryan Miller said last night things were worse in his rookie year of 2002-03 — when the building was half full, the former owner had one foot in jail and the league was running the bankrupt franchise. And that’s probably true. But there’s been no bigger disappointment than right now. A big-pocket owner has put together a team that features plenty of experienced players with a $65 million payroll. And they just plain stink.

They can’t beat the Winnipeg Jets at home. Can’t even show up to play an outfit as sad as they are. The Sabres are last in the Northeast Division by seven points. They are 13th in the East and 27th in the NHL. No one has more regulation losses than the Sabres. No one.

The Sabres need a new voice in the locker room to guide the players and a new manager to find the right players to be guided. And they need their owner to find the right guys for the job right now.

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Comments

  1. It’s really unfortunate because he is a good coach but it really is time for a change in Buffalo.

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