There is much optimism in Sabreland right now. Though the team is not without holes, the off-season additions have fans chomping at the bit for the season to start and I'm sure the players are anxious to get back on the ice and make a run at dethroning their division rival Bruins. Are they the deepest team in the league? Probably not, but at this point the Sabres are closer the finish line than the starting gate, so Buffalo fans are expecting nothing less than hockey into mid May or beyond. I'm not going to dissect the roster, it's been done to death this off-season.
But what if the roster isn't what's holding this team back after all? Could one of Terry Pegula's first moves actually be the one that backfires on him? Lindy Ruff was given a contract extension shortly after the season ended, and most applauded the move. I for one am generally a Ruff supporter, but after doing a little research I'm more skeptical than ever that Lindy is the man for the job, here's why.
This season will be Lindy's 14th behind the Buffalo bench. Only Al Arbour, and Billy Reay have coached more games for one team than Ruff has with the Sabres. Al Arbour won his first Stanley Cup in his 10th season as an NHL head coach, and his 7th as the Islanders bench boss...he would win 3 more consecutively. Billy Reay did not win a championship, however in 14 years coaching the Blackhawks he went to 3 cup finals...and was fired! Ruff in nearly the same amount of time has only been to one cup final, though in his defense it is much harder to reach the finals in a 30 team league.
There are currently 8 head coaches in the NHL who have won a Stanley cup. Here is how long it took each of them to accomplish the feat:
Mike Babcock won in his 5th year as a coach and 3rd with Detroit
Peter Laviolette won in his 4th year as a coach and 2nd with Carolina
John Tortarella won in his 5th year as a coach and 4th with Tampa Bay
Marc Crawford won in his 2nd year as a coach 2nd in the Que/Col organization
Dan Bylsma won in his 1st season as a coach and 1st with the Penguins
Randy Carlyle won in his 2nd season as a coach and 2nd with the Anaheim Ducks
Joel Quenneville won in his 13th year as a coach and 2nd with Chicago
Claude Julien won in his 8th year of coaching and his 4th year with Boston
With the exception of Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien, all the others had won their first cup within 5 years of becoming a head coach. Additionally ALL of them won the cup within the first 4 years with their respective championship teams!
In fact only two coaches have ever won a stanley cup after not having won one in their first 10 years behind the bench. Joel Quenneville and Pat Burns, both in their 13th seasons as head coach. So entering his 14th season as the Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is attempting to do something no one has EVER done before in NHL history.
The chips are stacked against Lindy Ruff. These numbers indicate the clock has run out on Ruff winning a championship, especially in the same city he has been in for nearly a decade and a half. Should the Sabres have taken the opportunity to move on and inject fresh blood behind the bench? Or did Terry Pegula make the right decision keeping Lindy and Darcy around for a few more years. Sure there is something to be said for stability, but the city of Buffalo has no championships to show for it. Sometimes as diehard fans we can't see the forest for the trees, but I still believe Ruff deserves this job. Merit alone will only go so far...the time for a championship is upon us, or a coaching change certainly should be.
What do you think?
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