Ted Nolan never got a contract extension, at least not one he could live with.
John Muckler once got a boot upstairs, but eventually it led to his being kicked out the door.
Rick Dudley, Craig Ramsay, Jim Schoenfeld, Ted Sator, all fired before they had a chance to breathe. In Buffalo, the list of fired coaches is almost as long as the franchise is old. That's what makes Tuesday's confirmation that Lindy Ruff has received a contract extension through the 2002-2003 season, so refreshing. Recognizing the talents of a good young coach and moving to ensure that those talents remain a part of the long-term growth of the hockey department have long been foreign to a franchise that has always gone for the quick fix.
In giving Ruff a contract extension, the Sabres appear to recognize not only that Ruff has done a good job in guiding the team and rekindling a passion for hockey in Western New York, but that he's an important part of the team's success now and in the future.
This is not to say that Ruff someday might not be fired (the NHL uses up coaches like the rest of us use a certain disposable paper) but if he is, it won't likely be for anything other than the cardinal coaching sin of losing the team. There's an outside chance Ruff could fall into some kind of trouble with management or ownership, but that seems unlikely given that he has a strong working relationship with general manager Darcy Regier and for a someday-to-be official ownership group that appreciates both his talent and his personality.
In his two seasons with the Sabres he has a 73-57-34 mark. Seventy three wins over two years is good, 89 and 91 points, respectively, is better, but perhaps the best indication of Ruff's coaching ability was the period when Dominik Hasek was out of the lineup during a stretch of 12 games due to injury. The Sabres went 5-4-3 with Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron in net. Roloson, an NHL vagabond, had made just three starts with the Sabres prior to that stretch. Biron, up from the minor leagues, had yet to post an NHL win. Despite their collective inexperience, the Sabres won more than they lost. That's a notable achievement in anyone's book.
The playoff mark is even better. Ruff has 24 Sabre playoff wins, six more than Scott Bowman. Bowman is considered the greatest coach in the history of the game, yet both have coached the same number of Sabre playoff games (36). Before Ruff, Bowman, Floyd Smith and Roger Neilson led the Sabres' record book with .500 records in the playoffs. Ruff is at .667. Off the ice, Ruff's contributions have been just as noteworthy. It was Ruff who defused the Hasek vs. the team time bomb two seasons ago.
It was Ruff who kept the team going forward after the Nolan firing and the Muckler-Larry Quinn front office debacles. It was Ruff, more so than any other person in the organization, who did the obligatory fence-mending with fans, making repeated radio, television and public appearances selling the qualities of a young team and making people forget the name calling, back stabbing and bloodletting of the past. It was Ruff who had the courage to buck the league and say "no goal."
There's reason to believe that Ruff wanted this extension for reasons other than past performance. He knows the post-Hasek years might not be as glorious as we all want to believe. No matter how good Biron and the future prospects are, there will be a period of adjustment. Sabres CEO Tim Rigas acknowledged Ruff's work Tuesday when he said his family liked 'long-term' working relationships and that Ruff deserved one. Regier backed it up noting that in a business filled with short-term pressure, the need for a long-range view is important and that Ruff has one.
Honoring past performance is fine, but if this organization is to remain stable AND improve over the long term, stability in the front office and the coaching ranks is important.
The best thing about Ruff's new deal is that the franchise recognized that.