Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 27, 2013

ROOT: An era comes to an end

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I must have been a little more than 12 years old when I wound up at a charity softball game that the Buffalo Sabres were playing against a local organization of some kind. Larry Playfair was there and so was a whole host of my heroes. I was in awe and I was one of those kids running around getting autographs. It was awesome.

There was a section of bleachers on the other side of the entrance, to my right, where a lone figure sat. He had long blond hair and was slender in build. I kept asking myself if that was Lindy Ruff. I couldn’t tell and no one around me could tell either. By the time I worked up the courage to go over to that section of bleachers where this lone, blond figure sat all by himself, he got up and walked over to the field. Indeed it was Lindy Ruff.

At that time, he was still waiting to be the Sabre that nearly got his eye poked out by Islanders’ goalie Billy Smith. I never knew he would come back to the team as the longest tenured coach in team history. He never struck me as coaching material, but he definitely wound up fitting the bill.

When Lindy took over as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, it was in the wake of the Ted Nolan scandal. Nolan was a fiercely popular head coach that was fired for what appeared to be no reason. Some people claim that they know all of the facts surrounding a supposed affair with Dominik Hasek’s wife, or whatever happened. But the truth was never revealed.

Lindy was forced to get on the phone and personally call season ticket holders and beg them to keep their season tickets. It was almost as if Lindy was the guy that had to personally call every fan and apologize for the Ted Nolan fiasco. What followed was 16 years of ups and downs that finally ended last week.

Was Lindy Ruff a bad coach? No, he wasn’t. He was a coach that had to work through a bankruptcy and then a penny-pinching owner. Lindy Ruff was hired in 1998 and general manager Darcy Regier arrived in Buffalo in the summer of 1997. By the time the next summer rolled around, the Sabres were in the Stanley Cup finals. But that wasn’t a Ruff/ Regier team. That was a team that was put together by John Muckler and taught to win by Ted Nolan.

The real Lindy-Darcy legacy started in 2002 when Darcy brought Danny Briere to Buffalo. After the lockout of 2005, the Sabres went to two consecutive Conference Finals before owner B. Thomas Golisano had the team dismantled. With a limited scouting department and no real salary room to work with, the Sabres never recovered.

The Sabres missed the playoffs three of the next five seasons and are in serious jeopardy of missing it again this season. The firing of Lindy Ruff was an inevitable part of the equation and it was something that simply had to be done. The team is listless and lacks energy. There is no focus and the team is persistently out of position. Do you release every player on the team, or do you fire the head coach? Focus and game planning are the coach’s responsibility.

This franchise has had a cavalcade of players come through over the past five years and it is hard to believe that every single one of them was a bad hockey player. The next person up on the chopping block, if Terry Pegula is serious about winning, is general manager Darcy Regier. He has managed to put together a team with a gutless and uninspired core. Thomas Vanek was on television just two days ago saying that he is the leader of the team despite the fact that Jason Pominville is our captain. This team has no identity and lacks the cohesiveness of a winner.

Did we really need to see the Lindy Ruff era end in Buffalo? Yeah, we did. While Regier is responsible for the uninspired players we have, it was Ruff who developed the poor system that those players were languishing in. A complete overhaul is needed if our team is going to win the Stanley Cup, and it needs to start this offseason.

Thank you, Lindy, for giving it a try. Now that the team has an unlimited budget, as per Terry Pegula, we need a coach and general manager that can bring home the hardware. You had the chance and you just could not get it done, but you are still one classy guy and we wish you the best of luck.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident and guy who believes that the Stanley Cup belongs in Buffalo. His column appears every Wednesday and is usually filled with a lot of complaining. He can be reached at georgeroot@verizon.net.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident and guy who believes that the Stanley Cup belongs in Buffalo. His column appears every Wednesday and is usually filled with a lot of complaining. He can be reached at georgeroot@verizon.net.