Niagara Gazette


February 20, 2013

DUVALL: Too bad Ruff Era had to end like this


Niagara Gazette — "I totally understand it," Ruff replied with more than a hint of resignation. "I'm embarrassed."

Something of a cottage industry has cropped up among local media searching for the cleverest metaphor for the length of Ruff's tenure. (My contribution: He's outlasted one-and-a-half popes.) But wrapped up in the snark and genuine reflection is this hard truth: For 16 seasons, Ruff and the Sabres have hit various low points. By virtue of their decision to can a coach who's practically a hockey god in Buffalo, the Sabres have acknowledged they're at their lowest point in a generation.

Of course that isn't exactly true. The Rigas affair, the bankruptcy, the months when Gary Bettman stood in lieu of an owner, losing Drury and Briere. Those were all pretty bad.

So what makes this different?

For starters, this latest catastrophe is clearly on Ruff's head. It was his job to get players on the same page. For reasons unknown to anyone outside that fancy new locker room — and probably to a degree unknown to those on the inside, too — he failed.

Ruff was given a 16-year leash largely because everyone — three owners, all those players, media, the fans — acknowledged there simply wasn't a better guy to coach the Buffalo Sabres. In hindsight, the only way Lindy Ruff was ever going to lose his job was if it became apparent anyone would be better.

Tapping Ron Rolston as Ruff's interim replacement for the remainder of this season makes sense. It's a long enough job interview that they'll know what they've got in him. He'll provide a measure of continuity in a season where hope isn't entirely dead, but is certainly on life support. He also offers a fresh set of eyes on a roster that has far more talent than their combined efforts reflect in the standings.

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