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Sabres relieve Ruff of coaching duties, name Rolston

Wednesday, 02.20.2013 / 7:54 PM
Chris Ryndak  - NHL.com Correspondent

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After 1,165 games coached and 571 wins behind the bench, the Buffalo Sabres relieved Lindy Ruff of his duties Wednesday.

General manager Darcy Regier held a press conference at First Niagara Center to discuss his decision to fire the longest-tenured coach in the NHL.

Regier said he recently had conversations with Ruff about where the team is headed while trying to find out why it has gotten off to a 6-10-1 start this season.

Buffalo's 13 points are the fewest in the Northeast Division and tied for third-fewest in the Eastern Conference. After opening the season 2-0, the club is on a 4-10-1 slide and sits four points out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings.

After discussions with team owner Terry Pegula, team president Ted Black and senior adviser Ken Sawyer, Regier fired Ruff after practice Wednesday morning.

"Ultimately, it was my decision," Regier said. "I made the decision, but these things are not made in a vacuum."

Ron Rolston, the coach of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo's American Hockey League affiliate, will serve as Sabres coach on an interim basis for the rest of the season.

Ruff was named coach on July 21, 1997, and since then, 170 coaching changes have been made around the NHL. Only Gregg Popovich, the coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, has been employed as a head coach longer in the four major North American professional sports (he started in 1996).

The Sabres are the only team Ruff has served as coach, and he has more wins than any coach with his first NHL team.

Ruff finished in Buffalo with a record of 571-432-162. He won the Jack Adams Award following the 2005-06 season.

His 571 wins are second-most by a coach with a single franchise, trailing only the New York Islanders' Al Arbour (740).

Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators, now the longest-tenured coach in the League, was hired two weeks after Ruff in 1997.

Under Ruff, the Sabres won a Northeast Division title in 2009-10 and the Presidents' Trophy in 2006-07. They reached four Eastern Conference Finals (1998, 1999, 2006 and 2007) and the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Stars.

Unfortunately for Ruff, the Sabres have failed to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2007 and have missed the postseason in four of the past five years.

Ruff played for the Sabres from 1979 to 1989 and served as captain. Regier was clear to point out Ruff's connection to the community when announcing the dismissal.

"I would like to thank Lindy as a player, as a great coach and an outstanding citizen in this community, and for all the work that he has done for the organization, and as I said, for Western New York," Regier said.

Pegula released the following statement regarding Ruff's firing:

"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."

Ruff ran a nearly 90-minute practice Wednesday morning and spoke with the media afterward, preparing to coach Thursday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

Regier went to Ruff's home Wednesday afternoon to give him the news. Ruff then asked to address his players one last time as they prepared to board a bus for Toronto. Ruff talked to the players and Regier said there were some handshakes and hugs exchanged.

Regier was adamant that the communication between Ruff and the players was very good.

"He didn't lose the team in any way with respect to communication. In fact, communication has never been better," Regier said. "There were huge strides done in that regard. Unfortunately, it didn't translate to the ice and, for whatever reason, we couldn't get any traction, especially defensively."

The Sabres have allowed 56 goals, tied for second-most in the League. A 2-1 loss at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday proved to be the final straw.

"It was evident to me that we were searching for answers to too many questions," Regier said.

Regier also said if he can make more changes to improve the team, he would look to do so.

The Sabres have gotten off to a slow start in each of their past three seasons, and Regier said this season's 48-game schedule played a part in making a coaching change now.

"The shortened season is impacting decisions like this around the League, I believe," Regier said. "I think it's measured against expectations, and expectations were high and are high here. It influenced the decision, certainly."

Rolston will travel with Regier to Toronto and meet with the players Wednesday night. Decisions about the future of the rest of the coaching staff will be made on that trip.

Regier said though he couldn't get into specifics, he said there are differences in the way Ruff and Rolston approach coaching.

"[Rolston] will coach his way and it is different. Will it be drastically different? Probably not, but there are some differences," Regier said.

Regier said he doesn't think Ruff will have a difficult time finding another coaching job in the League if that's what he wants. Ruff is the first coach to be fired this season.

"I think that people who have been fired, you have an opportunity to use it as a springboard or I suppose you can sit on the springboard," Regier said. "He'll use it as a springboard if he wants to. He'll have plenty of opportunities"

Regier then fought back tears as he recalled a story from when he interviewed Ruff in 1997. He asked legendary coach Scotty Bowman to whom he would compare Ruff.

"And he said, 'Darcy, he's a lot like Al Arbour,' for you older fans here, 'with a sense of humor,'" Regier said. "I think Scotty was right."

Asked how Ruff should be remembered as coach of the Sabres, Regier was quick to answer.

"As a great coach," he said.

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