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Ruff spent successful quarter-century with Sabres

by John Kreiser

For the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season, someone other than Lindy Ruff will be coaching the Buffalo Sabres when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Ruff, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL and a fixture in Buffalo for 25 years as a player and bench boss, was fired Wednesday, one day after a 2-1 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets dropped the Sabres to 6-10-1, leaving them 13th in the Eastern Conference and in danger of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.

Ruff's 15 seasons in Buffalo yielded a trip to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, a Presidents' Trophy in 2006-07, and back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006 and '07.

With a 571-432-162 record, Ruff was the winningest coach in franchise history; only Al Arbour, who won 740 games with the New York Islanders, has more NHL victories with one team. takes a closer look at Ruff's time in Buffalo as a player and coach:

Aug. 9, 1979 -- The Buffalo Sabres choose Ruff, a highly regarded defenseman with the Lethbridge Broncos of the Western Hockey League, in the second round (No. 32) of the NHL Draft.

Oct. 11, 1979 -- Ruff makes his NHL debut and scores an empty-net goal that wraps up Buffalo's 6-3 home victory against the Washington Capitals on opening night. He goes on to score five goals and 16 points in 63 games and is named the team's rookie of the year.

November 1986 -- Ruff is named captain of the Sabres following the retirement of Gilbert Perreault. He goes on to become a 20-goal scorer for the only time in his career, though the Sabres miss the playoffs.

March 7, 1989 -- The Sabres trade Ruff to the New York Rangers at the deadline for defenseman Richard Smehlik, who later plays for Ruff in Buffalo. Ruff stays with the Rangers through the 1990-91 season, then returns to the Sabres organization for a season with their American Hockey League farm team in Rochester.

Aug. 24, 1992 -- Ruff signs with the San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League. He plays 81 games, scores 10 goals and adds 32 assists along with 100 penalty minutes in what turns out to be his final season as a player.

July 1993 -- The expansion Florida Panthers sign Ruff as an assistant coach under Roger Nielson, who coached Ruff in Buffalo. Ruff spends four seasons with the Panthers, helping to run their defense and penalty-killing. In the spring of 1996, Ruff becomes part of a Stanley Cup Finalist for the first time when the third-year Panthers won the Eastern Conference championship, though they are swept in the Final by the Colorado Avalanche. He remains as an assistant through the 1996-97 season.

July 21, 1997 -- Ruff is named the 15th coach in Sabres history. He leads the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season. He earns his first NHL victory on Oct. 1, 1997, when the Sabres defeat the St. Louis Blues, 3-1, and leads Buffalo to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1980.

May 31, 1999 -- Third-period goals by Eric Rasmussen and Dixon Ward give the Sabres a 4-2 victory against the Maple Leafs and send Buffalo to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1975. The Sabres lost to the Dallas Stars in six games, with Brett Hull scoring a controversial Cup-winning goal in the third overtime. Ruff is the second coach under the current format to lead his team to the conference finals in his first two seasons.

April 3, 2002 -- Ruff coaches the Sabres in a 1-1 tie with the Islanders to pass Scotty Bowman for the most games coached with the Buffalo franchise.

April 5, 2006 -- The Sabres defeat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 in overtime to give Ruff his 300th coaching victory. He's the 31st NHL coach to reach the 300-win mark, the 16th to win that many games with the same team. The Sabres finish second to the Senators in the Northeast Division with 110 points and win two playoff rounds before losing a seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Ruff is rewarded by winning the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.

Now-former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff poses with the Jack Adams Award, which he won following the 2005-06 campaign. That season, the Sabres finished second in the Northeast Division with 110 points and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)

April 8, 2007 -- Despite a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Ruff-coached Sabres complete the best season in franchise history, amassing 53 wins and 113 points to win the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team. The Sabres defeat the Islanders and Rangers in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to the Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Oct. 15, 2008 -- The Sabres defeat the Rangers 3-1 to give Ruff his 400th victory. He becomes the 23rd coach to reach the 400-win mark, the seventh to win 400 with one team. However, the Sabres miss the playoffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Feb. 28, 2010 -- Ruff, an associate coach with Canada, earns an Olympic gold medal when the Canadians defeat the United States 3-2 in overtime to win the championship game. Back in the NHL, Ruff leads the Sabres to 100 points and into the playoffs for the first time in three years, though they lose in the opening round.

Jan. 6, 2011 -- The Sabres blank the San Jose Sharks to give Ruff his 500th coaching victory. He's the 16th man to win 500 games, the second to do so with one team. Two nights later, the Sabres defeat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 to make Ruff the winningest coach in NHL history to coach for one team -- he passes Hall of Famer Toe Blake, who won 500 games with the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres finish with 96 points and make the playoffs but lose in the first round.

April 29, 2011 -- Ten weeks after billionaire Terry Pegula buys the Sabres, Ruff signs a multiyear contract extension. However, the team misses the playoffs the following season.

Feb. 20, 2013 -- With the Sabres off to a 6-10-1 start, general manger Darcy Regier announces after practice that Ruff has been relieved of his duties. Ron Rolston, who had been coaching the Sabres' AHL farm team in Rochester, is named interim coach. Ruff finishes his time in Buffalo with a record of 571-432-162.

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