The Buffalo Sabres management team met with the media on Friday as Owner Terry Pegula, President Ted Black, General Manager Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff shared their thoughts on the season that was and looked ahead to a bright future.
The first order of business was for Pegula to announce that the Sabres have signed Ruff to a new multi-year contract, which continues Ruff’s run as the longest-tenured head coach in the National Hockey League.
|Lindy Ruff and Terry Pegula (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
“First and foremost, I’m excited,” Ruff said. “I said way back in November I thought we were a playoff team. I think the team got its legs underneath it at the start of the year, I thought they got renewed energy with our new ownership and I’m extremely excited. Our goal is to win the Cup and I think we can win the Cup.”
Ruff later added, “I want to win the Stanley Cup in this city and I’m not willing to quit yet. That’s my goal. My goal isn’t to go somewhere else and win it, I want to win it here. It’s been my goal for a long time – it was my goal here as a player, and I want to bring it to fruition.”
The 51-year-old Ruff just completed his 13th season and eighth playoff appearance as Buffalo’s bench boss. He currently ranks second all-time behind former Islanders coach Al Arbour in most games coached (1,066) and most wins (526) with one franchise. In 2010-11, Ruff surpassed the 1,000-regular season and 100-playoff games coached milestones with the Sabres.
“Before I bought the team, I had a perception in my mind that Lindy was a good coach,” Pegula said while explaining his decision to extend Ruff. “After doing our due diligence and talking to a lot of people who had nothing to gain by saying ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ about Lindy’s abilities, I didn’t hear any negative comments about his abilities. As a matter of fact, I did receive some ‘if you think you’re going to get rid of him, can you talk to us first?’ That’s the kind of respect he has around the league.”
|Lindy Ruff (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
Simply making the playoffs this season was a tremendous feat when the team’s poor start is taken into account. A 3-9-2 start put the team in last place in the NHL on Nov. 5, but Ruff guided his club out of the depths and into contention. They went 29-11-6 from Dec. 28 on, including a 16-4-4 mark over the final 24 games of the season. That 24-game stretch began when Pegula officially took ownership of the franchise.
“The character of the team showed itself in the last four months, to make the push it made and not falter, to grab a hold of a playoff spot, was important to me,” Ruff said.
He also addressed the disappointment he and the team felt about losing the lead in Game 6 of the series with Philadelphia when they had a chance to eliminate the Flyers, and ultimately falling in the series.
“I told the team… if we use this adversity, not getting by the first round, as a motivating tool, it should make us a better team for next year.”
In addition to the news of Ruff’s contract extension, Friday’s press conference was a chance to turn the page on the 2010-11 campaign and continue building for the future.
“The four guys you’re looking at up here aren’t real happy (about being eliminated from the playoffs), but life goes on,” Pegula said. “We’ve been having player interviews and whatnot for the last few days. Personally, the first time I walked in the building after the playoffs, it sorted of ticked me off watching the ice being taken out yesterday.”
He added, “We’re not happy with what happened in the series… I absolutely believe that things are onward and upward for the future, and like I said, through the summer, we’re working toward a goal and everybody is on board.”
One of the main focuses of the off-season will be the continued efforts to build the Sabres into a Stanley Cup champion. To that end, Regier described some of what those efforts will entail.
“You evaluate what Stanley Cup winners consist of and you break that down. We have done a lot of that work and are doing more of it,” Regier explained. “We want to add some offense, we want to add additional scoring. You look at our back-end on our defense, we’d like to add in there as well. The interesting component is that, if you look at our young defense core, where they were in the first quarter of the season and where they ended up in the last quarter of the season, there was tremendous growth there.”
In terms of how to address those needs, Regier said it would likely be a combination of signing free agents and exploring trade opportunities.
|Ted Black and Darcy Regier (Photo: Bill Wippert) |
“To the extent that there’s changes, there’s the likelihood that it will be a combination of the unrestricted (free agent) market and the trade market,” he said. “The resources that Terry has made available do change the landscape. They not only send a message internally, they send a message externally throughout the league, so I think that provides added opportunity as well.”
When it comes to making Buffalo a destination for players with the power to choose where they want to play, Black thinks the Sabres are on the right track.
“In terms of changing the perception of the franchise and this as a hockey destination, I think we’ve gone a long way toward accomplishing that… I think we’re going to be on the short list of a lot of free agents and maybe players that are putting together their no-trade lists – I think we’re going to be the exception on no-trade lists; they’re going to want to come here.”
The roster will not be the only thing the organization is focused on during the summer. Plans are in place to begin a significant renovation to the Sabres’ dressing room as well.
Black told the media on Friday that the current room, including the locker room, training area and coaches offices, takes up about 8,000 square feet. While still in the design phase, the overall scope of the renovation project may encompass up to 27,000 square feet of space. The end result will be a new 14,000 square foot dressing room facility for the Sabres. Construction is expected to begin within a few weeks.
“It will put us among the best in the league, which is consistent with what we’re trying to build here, we’re going to build a championship,” Black said of the project.