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Sabres left to evaluate what went wrong again

NHL.com @NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -The status of Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier will be determined in the coming weeks as ownership begins "a thorough evaluation" to determine why the team missed the playoffs for a second straight year.

Managing partner Larry Quinn said both Ruff and Regier will have input in the evaluation, but he stopped short from providing any assurance the two will be back next season.

"I'm not going to make any statements of what we're going to do," Quinn told The Associated Press prior to the Sabres' season finale Saturday. "I don't want to get premature here. We've been through a hard season, and I don't want to give any off-the-cuff evaluation. I want to take the time to evaluate."

Quinn did not provide a timetable on when a decision might be made, but he also made clear that there's plenty of blame to go around following a season in which the Sabres (41-32-9) finished 10th in the Eastern Conference for a second straight year.

"I wouldn't single them out," Quinn said, referring to Ruff and Regier, who completed their 11th season together in Buffalo. "I'll accept as much responsibility as anybody else. This isn't what we're in for. We're not in it to finish ninth or 10th - or seventh or eighth for that matter. We're in it to win it all. So it's a whole group that has to take responsibility."

With 438 victories, Ruff is the winningest coach in Sabres history and has one year left on his contract, plus an option for the 2010-11 season. Regier completed his 12th season, and is signed through 2011. Together, they are currently the longest-serving coach-general manager tandem in the NHL.

Ruff briefly addressed his future after the Sabres closed their season with a mean-nothing 6-1 victory over Boston on Saturday.

"Until somebody tells me different, I expect to be here," Ruff said.

On Sunday, Ruff was appointed head coach of Team Canada for the upcoming World Championships in Switzerland.

That's small consolation for a coach and a Sabres team that two seasons ago won the Presidents' Trophy before being eliminated in the conference finals for a second straight year.

Much has changed since, and the Sabres have yet to recover or find their identity since losing co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency on July 1, 2007.

Buffalo showed little improvement this year, finishing with one more win and one more point (91) than last season.

Despite closing this season on a 7-2-1 run, the Sabres were undone by too many inconsistent stretches. There was a 10-game stretch in November when they went 2-8-0, and they fell out of playoff contention for good during a 4-7-2 skid that began in late February, and coincided with starting goalie Ryan Miller missing 13 games with a sprained ankle.

Though Miller had a solid season, finishing 34-18-6, many of the Sabres' top skaters struggled. Thomas Vanek finished with a team-leading 40 goals, but was slow to recover after missing nine games with a broken jaw in February.

Jason Pominville finished with 20 goals and 46 assists for 66 points, his lowest totals in three full seasons with the team, and after he was rewarded with a five-year $26.5 million contract extension in September. Pominville particularly struggled during a 26-game span through March 4, in which he managed one goal and 16 assists.

"We all have to look at ourselves and see what we can do to be better," Pominville said. "As a group, we're capable of much more. And that's the frustrating part about this."

Vanek referred to the Sabres as an average team.

"At times this year, we were really good, and at times we were not where we wanted to be. If you look at it, it's average," Vanek said. "Nobody wants to be average, but at the same time, you've got to be realistic about it, not have any excuses and get better."

Aside from Ruff and Regier, the Sabres roster is expected to undergo several changes this offseason.

The Sabres are expected to allow forward Maxim Afinogenov become a free agent this summer, and also have to determine whether to re-sign forwards Dominic Moore and Matt Ellis and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek.

"This isn't over, this isn't the end of the story," Quinn said. "This is a team that's going to get somewhere. We just have to find a way to do it."

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