Commentary, Uncategorized

Extra Credit: Is Ruff Right for Sabres?

Featured Photo Credit: © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports via, LLC.

As I See It.

I’m not superstitious.

That’s bad luck.

But it’s hard to argue 13 is a most unlucky number for the Buffalo Sabres franchise, now looking for it’s 8th head coach that can break that number of playoff misses.

Just a year ago things looked pretty good for Don Granato as the Sabres 91 points missed the playoffs by one point, with a talented young team that could skate and score goals. But. This past season, there were some offensive setbacks from key players like Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens among others, and the resulting 84 points and missed playoff spot understandably led to the firing of Granato and his staff.

When we say staff, we’re serious: even the team video guy was ousted.

There were a couple surprises worth mentioning. JJ Peterka, a 2nd round pick in 2020, really jumped out as a potential star with 28 goals and 22 assists. The 6’1, 190 pounder has great speed and good hands, and was a plus 10 to boot. He’s just 22. And how about Zach Benson? Just 18 years old, he went straight to the Sabres as their first round pick in 2023 and not only scored 11 goals and 19 assists, but was a tenacious forechecker and has great hockey intelligence.

They also have, IMO, a legit #1 goaltender in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, a 2nd rounder choice in 2017 who is coming into his own. The 6-5 Finnish product had five shutouts, a .911 save pct. and 2.57 goals against. He’s due for a nice contract.

We’ll continue, but first a quick mention of my sponsors, Atwal Eye Care and BluTusk Tech. Atwal, the Bills official vision specialist, performed cataract surgery on both my eyes a few months ago, and the result was absolutely fantastic. 

BluTusk Tech of Orchard Park specializes in restoring used computers – especially Macs – but just about anything you need computer wise is in their wheel house.

So GM Kevyn Adams, who says he made the decision to fire Granato (meaning he wasn’t pushed by owner Terry Pegula) now knows his next coach must deliver. No excuses.

Adams actually scored some points by accepting some of the blame in a recent post mortem with the media, and says experience is a must, which would apparently eliminate Rochester Amerks coach Seth Appert, in his 4th year of leading the Amerks to another playoff berth. We know Adams is high on Appert, who is 49, but he has no NHL HC experience.

The name most Sabres fans seem to like is understandable in many ways. Lindy Ruff, now 64, is available after being fired by the NJ Devils last month. Ruff was a popular Sabres player as well as coach, and oh by the way was the last Sabres coach to reach the playoffs in 2010-2011. He won 571 games in 15 years with the Sabres, but hasn’t won a Stanley Cup.

He did come close a couple times.

Ruff would be a fairly safe hire, because the Sabres disgruntled fan base would see that as an encouraging sign. Lindy relates well to players and is respected for his toughness as a player. He has adjusted to the changing culture of the NHL like most coaches, with the Flyers John Tortorella one of the old school disciplinarians left. Torts is consistent: he’s hated by every player of every team he’s ever coached, but he has had some success.

Ruff has toned it down a bit, although the fire is still there. He doesn’t mince words when he doesn’t like something, and players always know where they stand.

One recurring theme from the Sabres recent post season locker clean out day, was that the Sabres needed more accountability and structure. Ruff fits that description.

Photo by © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports via, LLC.

One name not being mentioned, is Rod Brind’Amour, who is coaching the Carolina Hurricanes to their 5th straight playoff appearance. The Canes racked up 111 points with 52 wins, and they open the first round hosting the Islanders this Saturday. Brind’Amour, who won a Cup as a player at Carolina, is expected to sign a new contract soon, but technically, he could be approached after the season. One holdup, reportedly, is that he isn’t signing a new deal until he’s assured his assistant coaches can all return.

Kevyn Adams adores Brind’Amour, and played with the former Canes captain on their 2005-2006 Stanley Cup winner that barely squeaked by the Sabres in the Conference final.

Not long ago at a golf outing, Adams told me a story about Brind’Amour that sums it up.

After the Canes beat the Sabres in game 7 of their series, with Brind’Amour scoring a late 3P goal to ice it, the Canes took on surprising Edmonton in the finals. The Canes were a confident bunch as they took a 3-2 series lead to Edmonton for game 6. The Canes fully expected to hoist the Cup in Edmonton, but the Oilers stifled the Canes 4-1 to force a game 7.

The Canes players were slumped over and miserable in the locker room before the media was allowed in, when Brind’Amour did something unexpected. He stood up on a chair and at the top of his lungs, began telling his team that losing this game was the best thing that could have happened. “NOW”, he said, “we get to hoist the Cup in front of OUR fans!! Every dream you’ve ever had as a player, ends with hoisting the Stanley Cup high overhead as you soak in the cheers from your faithful fans! That’s EXACTLY what we’re gonna do!”

The media, expecting a somber locker room, was stunned to see the Canes players in such a good mood. They were already thinking about hoisting the Cup at Carolina, and that’s exactly what they did.

That, is leadership, and Adams is no doubt keeping an eye on the Carolina situation.

The favorite though, in my mind, would be 59 year old Craig Berube, who was fired by the St. Louis Blues in September. Just about every NHL coach gets fired at some point, even the best all time in Scotty Bowman, but Berube might be just the guy to whip this young but talented group of Sabres into the accountability and structure Adams wants to see.

Berube played 17 years in the NHL and was a legit tough guy in every way. He also happens to be very smart and good with people, which isn’t always a match. He won a Stanley Cup coaching the Blues in 2019 and had a 109 point team 2 years later that didn’t win the Cup. His firing a year ago was somewhat surprising, with the Blues just 1 game under .500 early in the season.

There could be competition for Berube, as the Ottawa Senators are also looking.

For me, Berube would seem to be the favorite, and that’s just my own hunch. Ruff would be a solid 2nd choice though. Both have reputations of being good at developing young players.

Above all else, unless it’s unavoidable, let’s hope Adams/Pegula stay away from other former Sabres players like Jim Schoenfeld, Phil Housley, Rick Dudley or Michael Peca etc. Also out there are Bruce Boudreau, Todd McLellan and Gerard Gallant, but I can’t see them as being first choices.

One thing we all agree on. The Sabres MUST get this one right.

Thanks again to sponsors Atwal Eye Care and BluTusk Tech.

Editor’s babble: We are grateful Ed Kilgore shares his vast experience with us. You can also find Ed on Xwitter @Kilgore2Ed. is sponsored by 26 Shirts

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