The same team that drafted Lindy Ruff in the second round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft, fired him Wednesday, as the Buffalo Sabres relieved the league's longest-tenured head coach after nearly 16 years of service.
During Ruff's career standing behind the Sabres' bench, his teams went 571-432-84 with 78 ties. Ruff continued the success Ted Nolan had with Buffalo, taking the team to the Eastern Conference finals in his first season, before the Sabres fell to the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. In all, Ruff's teams made eight trips to the playoffs, including two other trips to the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and '07. The Sabres won 10 playoff series and lost eight, going a combined 57-44.
The team missed the playoffs last season and, after beginning this strike-shortened season 6-10-1, find themselves in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. That might not seem bad to some, but the team has been inconsistent to say the least.
After winning their first two games, the Sabres are just 4-10-1. They played well over the weekend, beating the Boston Bruins (9-2-2) on Friday and played well in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-5-0) Sunday. But after Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, it was clear, even to their fans, that the Sabres needed to make a change.
"Unfortunately, even great coaches that lead the same team for so long are often tuned out by the players," season ticket holder, and former Dunkirk resident, Scott Ellman said. "They simply lose their flavor. This team is talented and capable, as they've shown versus Boston twice this season. A change will be a good thing."
Like Ellman, many other fans felt the same way.
"It was time for a change," Dunkirk resident Luke Crawford said. "I think Lindy is a good coach and will do well somewhere else."
" I think some new blood as head coach is what the Sabres need right now," Jim Murphy III, a former Fredonia resident now living in Charlotte, N.C., said. "And hopefully (the coaching change) will benefit this struggling excuse for a team."
Other fans, including season ticket holder Nate Dolce had mixed emotions.
"Lindy is a Buffalo guy," Dolce said. "He played here, he coached here, but things get stale. Other teams do this all the time."
For some, however, not seeing Ruff behind the bench tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a little tougher to take, despite their agreeing that a change was likely needed.
"As a long time and die-hard Buffalo Sabres fan, I am very sad to see a legend - and in my opinion a Hall of Fame coach - be fired," Fredonia resident Josh Tedone said. "As much as I wanted to see the Sabres win with Lindy Ruff, it's simply time for a change. Ruff's message has gotten stale and the current record shows it's time for a change. I feel like the team has hit rock bottom this year."
Dunkirk resident Andy Bohn, a long-time Sabres fan, added his thoughts on Ruff's firing.
"It's hard letting someone go that you have an emotional attachment to," Bohn noted. "But I really think the players stopped playing his system. I hope they don't hire from within the team. They need outside help."
Added Dunkirk resident Tim Korzenieski, "Fifteen years, only one trip to the (Stanley Cup) finals, change was imminent."
Unlike when the Buffalo Bills fired Chan Gailey after yet another disappointing season, the firing of Ruff, who had been on the hot seat - at least in the minds of the fans and media members that cover the team - the firing still came as somewhat of a shock.
"It's tough to part with a coach that has been with the organization since 1997," Murphy added. "I started to love hockey around 1995, so all I know is Ted Nolan and Lindy Ruff behind the bench. I hope the next coach brings back the excitement."
Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston was named the interim coach for the remainder of the season. Rolston had led the Amerks to a 27-18-2 mark and 57 points, which, as of Wednesday night, was good enough for seventh place in the American Hockey League's Western Conference.