You have to admit, it was a little strange last weekend seeing Lindy Ruff holding up a Dallas Stars' sweater and mugging for the cameras after they hired him to be their next head coach. It brought back memories of 2000 and seeing Thurman Thomas wearing a Miami Dolphins' jersey for the first time.
It was awkward. It didn't look right.
Lindy said it himself the other day, however. He spoke with other coaches who have bounced around the NHL, and they told him the change had a way of rejuvenating them and pumping energy back into their careers. Any new experience can have a similar, positive effect no matter your profession.
Ruff's hiring came with a positive vibe overall in Dallas, which is usually the case with a new coach. Dallas is no different than Buffalo or any other sports town. Fans there are looking for someone who can restore hope. You rarely hear about a new coach or general manager making a mess out of his first news conference.
And with that comes a healthy dose of skepticism, too.
Questions remain about Ruff in Dallas. He was Plan B, after all. The Sabres had missed the playoffs four times in six years and twice in a row. They tuned out his message long before he was sent packing. He wore down his players over time. He was tough on his stars, namely Thomas Vanek. The word gets around.
Dallas should know it's getting a good man and a good coach in Ruff. He's an ideal candidate to turn around a struggling franchise. He's a compassionate person and passionate coach. He has an engaging personality and sense of humor that a fresh set of players will embrace if only because it's new.
Trust me, this guy is hungry. Ruff is one of the most competitive people I've ever been around. If he can't find an advantage, he'll invent one just for kicks. Knowing one year he would lose a bet in the Turkey Trot, he once talked an elite runner into wearing his time chip to reveal a much-faster time than Ruff would have run.
He had a devious way about him. Afterward, of course, he laughed.
This is the same guy who could play golf right-handed and left-handed. If things weren't going well right-handed on the front nine, he grab his left-handed clubs, or vice-versa. It's how he approaches everything. Unfortunately, like anything, there comes a time in which a coach stays in one place for too long.
It was Ruff's biggest crime in Buffalo, if not his only one.
He might have said all the right things when he arrived in Dallas, about putting No Goal behind him, but that series, along with his failure to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, will forever bother him. He has an intense disdain for losing. More than anything, that's what the people in Dallas will come to appreciate about him.
Ruff was often criticized for being a defensive coach who smothered offensive players, but that wasn't entirely fair. He did what most coaches do. He adhered to a basic philosophy that calls for playing both ends of the rink. It was always about effort. He adjusted his style of play based on the talent on his roster.
Six years ago, when the Sabres had an abundance of speed and skill and reached the conference finals in consecutive years, critics complained they were too offensive minded and didn't play disciplined defense. Ruff was ripped for concentrating too much on defense in other years when really his teams lacked scorers.
Often, it comes down to having the right players.
Dallas should feel comfortable with the hockey department it's assembling. Ruff will be working under a new general manager in Jim Nill, who worked in Detroit under one of the best in Ken Holland. Another connection is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who asked Ruff to be an assistant coach for Canada in the 2010 Olympics.
Nill has a reputation as a sound talent evaluator. You would think he picked up a few tricks from Holland about acquiring players. Ruff should fare better while working under someone who knows what he's doing. Plus, both appreciate two-way players in similar fashion. It's just that Ruff never had guys like Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.
The Stars have much work ahead after missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, but they look closer to respectability than the Sabres do. You never really know, but I'm guessing the transition will be considerably smoother with Ruff in Dallas than without him in Buffalo.
Nobody should be surprised if he wins a Stanley Cup at some point, either, whether it's in Dallas or somewhere else. It doesn't mean he should have stayed in Buffalo. In fact, it was time for him to leave. It was the right move for the Sabres, and it was the right move for him. It sounds like he has drawn the same conclusion.
Now that he's employed elsewhere, now that he's holding up another team's jersey – that team's jersey – it just doesn't look right. It's going to take time before it does.