Lindy Ruff was eager to re-sign with the Buffalo Sabres last month. Why shouldn't he have been? His team had just gone to its second straight Eastern Conference finals, his on-ice leaders were among the best in the NHL, and his city was obsessed with anything in blue and gold.
Ruff was so willing to remain coach of the Sabres he accepted a contract below market value.
Things, however, have changed in Buffalo since his decision. Co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere are gone. Questions remain as to what was done to keep them. The new face of the organization is someone Ruff had to bench in the playoffs.
So, given all that, one question had to be asked of Ruff on Saturday when he appeared for the first time since his franchise was radically altered: Given the chance again, would he re-sign with the Sabres as readily?
"You know, hindsight is 20-20," Ruff said, "but it's something that I'd rather not even comment on."
Saturday's answer, while hardly a plea to be let out of his new three-year contract, was nonetheless in stark contrast to last month. Ruff's previous appearance featured talk of a tremendous future, a high comfort level and how foolish it would be step away.
As Ruff stood in the hallway of the Amherst Pepsi Center on Saturday night after coaching at the Sabres' rookie development camp, it was clear the loss of his co-captains was hard to handle.
"You don't replace those players. You don't replace them," Ruff said. "But we've got some good young players that we've proved we can play with. But taking those two guys out of your lineup, obviously it's a tough hole to fill.
"It's been a tough week," Ruff said. "We lost two good players and two very good quality people. We've been able to get through tough times, and we're going to have to get through tough times again."
Ruff has been through team bankruptcy. He's been through the franchise's longest playoff drought. He had days when he thought he should be fired. The events of last week joined that unenviable list.
"It's in there with them all," he said. "You sit back and you try to digest where you're at, and you've got to move on."
Ruff said he has yet to think about who will assume the captaincy when the Sabres return in September. He just knows his captains are gone.
"There was always the belief that we were going to try and sign them," Ruff said. "You know for the most part we did."
One of Ruff's biggest coaching chores next season will be to ensure 23-year-old Thomas Vanek can handle his staggering seven-year, $50 million contract. Ruff benched Vanek in the 2006 playoffs because of the rookie's lack of intensity. The left winger responded with 43 goals last season -- which led to Edmonton offering him the huge payday, which the Sabres matched.
"I think with it comes some added pressure for Thomas," Ruff said. "My job will be to help him deal with that. There was pressure to perform this year and have a better year and make up for the way the previous season ended. I thought he responded to that challenge. The challenge has just become greater for him. It's something we need to help him through, make sure he can handle where he's at.
"It's going to be an ongoing process. He's a young player that's played in this league for two years. It's not about one guy. This team hasn't been about one guy. We're going to have to, in Thomas' case, help him through the expectations and the pressure he may put on himself to fulfill where he's at salary-wise."