Lindy Ruff took over the head coaching job in Buffalo in July 1997. Since then Buffalo has only made it to the finals once, and everyone knows how that one ended (cough cough...no goal...cough cough).
During that same time period, there have been 137 coaching changes in the NHL. That's 11.42 changes per year, or about one-third of all NHL teams.
Darcy Regier has also been in Buffalo the past 12 years, serving as the Sabres' GM.
With Regier and Ruff the Sabres are 425 (W) - 322 (L) - 78 (T) - 48 (OTL) in regular season play and 48-36 in the postseason. In 12 years the Sabres have only missed the playoffs four times (five if we include the lockout season) and have made it to the conference finals four times. This is no doubt why the team has stuck with the pairing, but other teams would not have.
For example the San Jose Sharks hired Ron Wilson in 2002. Wilson only missed the playoffs during that first season, where he was brought in after the start and coached the last 57 games of that season. Wilson took the Sharks from a 5th place finish in his first year, to a division title the next. After back-to-back 2nd place finishes he returned the team to a division title last year. He was abruptly fired, however, after losing in the second round for the third year in a row.
Prior to Wilson, Darryl Sutter had taken the team to the playoffs in each of his five completed seasons. The Sharks had missed the playoffs in each of the two seasons prior to Sutter taking over the job. In 2000-01 Sutter led the Sharks to their first winning record in franchise history, and their first division title the next. But get off to a slow start with new management and you get the axe. Sutter was replaced by Wilson and the Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time since Sutter was hired.
During the time Ruff has been with Buffalo, the Pittsburgh Penguins have gone through seven different coaches. Only two of those failed to make the playoffs at least once during their tenure.
Both San Jose and Pittsburgh have performed well since July 1997, but instability behind the bench has no doubt been a distraction. Teams perform better when they don't have to worry about who their next coach will be.
For all the money the New York Rangers shelled out in the years before the lockout, they sure don't have many Stanley Cups (no conference or division titles since winning the 1994 Stanley Cup). The Rangers traded for or signed the best talent they could get, and in the ten years that followed their Cup win over Vancouver they only made the playoffs three times (1995-97). In 1997 the Rangers made the conference finals, but lost in five games to Philadelphia. The team has gone through seven coaches since Ruff was hired, and the longest playoff drought in team history (seven years not including the lockout).
And there it is, the secret to being a great hockey organization that players and fans want to be a part of. Stability and the right team chemistry. It has worked in Buffalo for over a decade, maybe it's time that teams took notice.