Sabres/NHL Notebook: Could Lindy Ruff soon be on the hot seat?
Thursday December 1, 2011 | By:Mike Haim, Special to Metro
Without analyzing the data, I’m going to guess that hockey is the sport which has the most turnover when it comes to coaches.
In the NHL, it seems as if most coaches are replaced within less time than it takes to run a campaign for United States president. And the term of a president - four years - is an eternity compared to the tenure of the average hockey coach.
Washington’s Bruce Boudreau and Carolina’s Paul Maurice each got axed Monday morning. Boudreau was five days beyond the four-year anniversary of his hiring, while Maurice was just shy of the three-year mark in his second go-around with the Hurricanes.
When the 2011-12 season began two months ago, there were just five NHL bench bosses who had served the previous five seasons with their current team. As of this writing, all five still had their jobs: Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Detroit’s Mike Babcock, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, and Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault.
Carlyle is, at this point, the object of most “next to be fired” speculation, since his Ducks preceded Wednesday home win against Montreal with a disturbing 1-10-3 record.
Coaches often say that they’re hired to be fired and that their job hinges on each game. The first statement is generally true, but the second is a bit of an exaggeration, since it usually takes a string of bad games before it becomes apparent that a coach is in trouble. Carlyle would probably have been fired by now, if not for two factors: his Stanley Cup win in 2007 and the fact that he’s in the first year of a new three-year contract.
Ruff, also in the first year of a multi-year contract, will become the focus of speculation too if the Sabres continue to stumble as they have the last couple of weeks. In compiling a 1-3-1 record in its last five games, Buffalo suffered losses to the two conference bottom-feeders, Columbus and the New York Islanders, as bookends to a win against Washington in Boudreau’s final game.
I’m not one to push panic buttons and I believe Ruff has a Stanley Cup in his future, be it with the Sabres or not. But imagine the outcry if Ruff goes somewhere else – and make no mistake, he would find another job rather quickly if the Sabres were to let him go – and wins the ultimate prize.
Unless a team has the pedigree of the great dynasties – like the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, the late 1970s New York Islanders, or the Montreal Canadiens before that – there will be frustrating stretches of winnable games in the regular season which end up as losses.
In the recent cases of Washington and Carolina, the crisis point had obviously been reached. The Capitals’ performance last Saturday was a classic example of a team which had tuned out their coach and left management with little alternative but to cast Boudreau aside.
While Buffalo’s win could be attributed as much to the Caps’ lackadaisical play as having a cobbled together squad of call-ups playing over their heads, those same “inexperienced but hungry” players couldn’t produce wins against the Blue Jackets or Islanders.
You can cite injuries and the occasional offensive struggle, but Buffalo’s last two losses were the sort of games which get coaches fired by impatient owners. The Sabres’ next three home games - against Detroit, Philadelphia, and Florida – along with a road game this Saturday at Nashville, will be even bigger tests.
Continued one-goal outputs, missed open nets, and squandered two-man advantages will push Buffalo further from the first-place finish which many fans foolishly felt was pre-ordained before the season began. Should that happen, Sabres management will have three choices: maintain the status quo in hope of a turnaround; make some trades to shake up the roster; or make a coaching change.
The first option has been done before, as Ruff has weathered several crises during his 14 seasons as Sabres coach and the team has entrusted its success to a legion of homegrown veterans. The second option involves finding a partner or two in a quest for mutual benefit. The third seems drastic, but less so than last week, before the population of available quality coaches suddenly grew.
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