BUFFALO -- Lindy Ruff is back as coach of the Buffalo Sabres, tasked with doing something none of their coaches has done since he last stood behind their bench: lead them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I'm super excited to be given the opportunity,” Ruff said Tuesday. “It's about taking a young group that has developed over the years … a team that has a tremendous amount of talent. It'll be my opportunity to put these guys in the right positions and use their strengths to get them to that next level."

The Sabres haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2011, an NHL-record 13 straight seasons.

Ruff was hired Monday to replace Don Granato, who was fired April 16. He previously coached the Sabres from 1997-98 to 2012-13, guiding them to eight playoff appearances, including reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1999, and consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 and 2007. He holds Buffalo records for regular-season games coached (1,165), regular-season wins (571), playoff games coached (101) and playoff wins (57).

"How are we going to get there?" Ruff said. "We're going to have to earn it. From Day One. The work is going to have to start now. We're going to have to earn it. We're going to have to step on the ice when the season starts and earn the respect of everybody and get to that next level.”

Lindy Ruff on becoming the Sabres' head coach

After going 42-33-7 and finishing one point behind the Florida Panthers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the East last season, Buffalo (39-37-6) finished sixth in the Atlantic Division this season, seven points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card.

“I was questioning myself. You know, why would I do this?” said Ruff, 64. “Then I came to a point, why wouldn’t I? Because I’m a risk-taker. And I think if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. So, I’m putting myself in that position.”

Ruff is no stranger to the task at hand. He was in a similar spot in 2005-06, with a Sabres team boasting young talent, as well as in his most recent stop with the New Jersey Devils. New Jersey fired him March 4 after he went 128-125-28 in four seasons.

“This this team is so similar to where we were at back then,” he said. “Deep with talent. It’s just we needed to play the game the right way. And, again, I'm going to reference the discipline in the game. Not all players are going to be the same, but understanding your role inside the team and executing your role will help the team win.

“… So when I look at level of skill on the team, and that group that we went [to the conference final with in 2005-06], it reminds me a lot. This team actually reminds me a lot of the previous team I just came from. A lot of really good, talented players.”


General manager Kevyn Adams said he spoke to candidates numbering in double digits during his search but always kept coming back to his conversations with Ruff. 

“Lindy Ruff would not be sitting up here if he did not believe this team could win,” said Adams, who was an assistant on Ruff’s staff for two seasons from 2011-13. “That’s why he’s here. He’s here to win. The past is the past -- that’s great. But this is about now. This is about the players in that locker room now. This is about the fans that come in here and can believe in something great. That’s why he’s sitting here. And that’s what I saw and felt as I had those conversations. So, there were a lot of really highly qualified candidates, but every hour that went by, I felt more and more strongly … this was our guy.”

When players cleaned out their lockers on April 17 and 18, they spoke a lot about the need for accountability in order to take that next step. They believe Ruff will help them.

“We’re pumped,” forward Alex Tuch said. “I think he fits the mold of what we talked about as a team and just talking to individual guys about what we need to make it to that next level. I think he’s perfect for it and guys knew he was a serious candidate, so we were talking about it. I’ve only talked to a few guys since it happened, but we all think it’s going to work out for us. 

“You know what? Not everyone is going to love him and at times we’re all going to hate him. That’s what happens when you have a coach that asks a lot of you. With that is going to come a lot of success. We’re ready for him and we’re ready for the opportunity.”

And for Ruff, who played 608 NHL regular-season games and 42 playoff games over 10 seasons with the Sabres (1979-89), it’s an opportunity for his team to feel what he did.

“It would mean a lot to have this group of players experience what I was able to experience as a player and as a coach,” he said. “This building shook in some of the playoff series that [I was] involved with. … So, my goal is to have these guys, this group, experience what I was able to experience.”

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