With 13 points earned out of a possible 36 and looking up at every team in the Eastern conference standings except for the putrid Washington Capitals, the Buffalo Sabres dumped Lindy Ruff.
By all accounts Ruff, a Team Canada coach at the last Olympics, is an excellent coach. Despite this, the Sabres were, by most measures this season, an abominable team, even with the league’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek. This says more about Regier then it does about Ruff. Although on The Backhand Shelf podcast the Sabres were considered a good team, they have some terrible contracts, a bad group of defencemen, and not a lot of depth up front.
Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown fame made an especial point of the team’s awful construction in his “The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek page. And rightfully so. Ehrhoff and Myers, who make a combined $9.5m/year have contracts that extend further than the page. The cosmically overpaid Ville Leino makes $4.5m/year till 2017. For some reason, Andrej Sekera makes $2.75m/year, which can only be the result of a rounding error or a malfunctioning calculator during his contract negotiations. Tally it up and that’s $16.75m/year in players who are either dead weight or badly overpaid. Sure, Myers is young and can still improve, but would anyone trade for any of the other 3?
Forward, Always Forward
While it’s true that Vanek, Hodgson, Pominville, and Ennis have all been extremely productive, after that, the forward depth drops off. Stafford continues to produce less than he’s capable of*, while Foligno, a 2nd year player is playing well. Ott provides value in other ways, but after that things get messy.
Hecht is washed up. Gerbe is probably overmatched and is essentially a worse version of Ennis. Scott, Kaleta, McCormick, and Ellis all kind of do the same thing, which is hit and nothing else- and that’s fully a third (1/3, 33%) of the team’s forwards. McCormick and Ellis, when they do play, get about 6 minutes of icetime. Scott gets 3:51, and Kaleta 9 minutes.
Those players were given to Ruff to use however he sees fit. Should he play his 3rd and 4th liners more and, thus, expose their shortcomings further?
Who Will Defend This House?
Look at the defencemen playing in Buffalo and choose one of them, any one of them that you’d trade anything for.
True, Ehrhoff is offensively productive (a respectable 10 points in 17 games), but he’s not known to be a strong defensive player. Myers’ offensive output has declined every year since his great rookie season. The rest of the Buffalo D fall into either the category of “offensive defencemen who don’t produce offence” or “defensive defencemen who aren’t known to be good puck movers or skaters”. Sort Sulzer, Regehr, Weber, Leopold, and Sekeraj into those categories. You have 1 minute; go.
When Ryan Miller’s off his game, and as they comment on the Backhand Shelf podcast above, he’s let in some absolute howlers this season, do you really expect the above group of defencemen to lock down other teams? The team’s tied for 2nd most goals allowed in the conference, and it likely has more to do with their personnel than anything else.
What exactly was Ruff to do with this? Of the underachieving players are Myers, Miller, and Stafford. But what are the expectations for guys like Sulzer, Sekeraj, and Weber on D, and Gerbe, Scott, and Leino up front? Miller’s regression is unexpected, given his general standard of quality throughout his career, but is that really Ruff’s fault?
Now, maybe the Sabres benefit from the usual bounce that seems to come with firing a coach and bringing in a new voice. Even with that, it’s unclear what’s supposed to improve dramatically for this bunch. Of the poorly conceived longterm extensions on that CapGeek page, the most critical one doesn’t appear- Regier’s. Extended at the start of this season after his off-season signings from the year before proved to be poor, the real change will come for this group when they acquire a new general manager.
As an example of Ruff’s effect, watch this clip from a game last season between the Canadiens and Sabres. About 1:10 in, you’ll notice a faceoff with just a couple of seconds remaining in the period. The highlight doesn’t show Ruff drawing up the play beforehand, but you can see the result. The meticulously prepared Sabres score a goal after a couple of quick passes where some teams might be tempted to believe that there’s insufficient time left on the clock. This is an example of excellent coaching, and it’s unclear how Ruff suddenly became a deadbeat between last year and this year.
For Regier, one can clearly see him losing his way simply by tracing his managerial moves for the past several seasons.
*Stafford’s got an amusingly low shot% of 2.1 though, which’ll probably improve so long as he keeps shooting (5th on the team with 48 shots on net).