Last night, the Sabres dropped yet another critical game to yet another losing team. This time, the Sabres fell to Ottawa 4-2 fresh from their third period collapse against Atlanta. With the most recent loss to Ottawa, the Sabres are now 1-5 against the 12th ranked Senators this year.
If the season ended today, the Sabres would miss the playoffs – again. Of course, the season doesn’t end today, and the Sabres could still go on a run over the last 12 games of the season to make the playoffs. But what if they don’t?
This is Lindy Ruff’s 11th year as head coach of the Sabres. Together, Ruff and General Manager Darcy Regier are the longest tenured GM/Coach combination in the NHL. With 890 games under his belt, Ruff has 431 career wins – a career 48.4 winning percentage. The Sabres have made the playoffs 6 times during Ruff’s 11 years as coach (assuming they don’t make the playoffs this year.)
That record seems pretty good.
But if you take the Dominik Hasek years out of Ruff’s career, the Sabres have made the playoffs just twice out of 7 seasons. 2 out of 7. And the two non-Hasek playoff seasons were 2005-06 and 2006-07 – the two seasons led by Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.
And consider this – before Ruff, the Sabres were led by John Muckler and Ted Nolan. Muckler led the Sabres to the playoffs in all four seasons he coached, while Nolan took the Sabres to the post-season 1 out of 2 years.
The age old dilemma is assessing sports management is determining whether the core issue is resources (the owner’s fault) talent (the general manager’s fault) or motivation and system (the coach’s fault). There is little doubt this Sabres roster is worse than the 2005-07 teams with the loss of Drury, Briere and Campbell. So part of the blame has to go to Darcy Regier. But Ruff has failed to turn this team into one that can consistently beat bad teams; indeed, the Sabres will likely miss the playoffs because of losses to some of the NHL’s worst teams. And if Ruff can only win when his team is composed of the world’s best goalie or co-captained by Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, is he worth keeping?
For years, Ruff has been untouchable around Buffalo. Since he took over the Sabres job, Bills management and fans have rightly run three head coaches out of town – Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey. And the fourth is hanging on by a thread.
With 11 years behind the Sabres bench, we certainly should have enough information to decide whether Ruff is worth keeping.