Lindy Ruff’s legacy with the Buffalo Sabres will be taking the team to the brink so many times but never being able to reach the pinnacle of the NHL.
Ruff was fired on Wednesday after the Sabres stumbled to a 6-10-1 start, falling to last in the Eastern Conference. Though the team has built high expectations since owner Terry Pegula bought the team in 2011 and promised multiple Stanley Cups, it has failed to deliver despite its high payroll.
Last year the Sabres were a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup, but they could not overcome a terrible start to the season and failed to make the playoffs despite a fevered push in the final weeks.
And that is the epitome of Lindy Ruff’s legacy — so close, but unable to finish. Ruff led three teams to the Eastern Conference Finals, including an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999. That year the Sabres lost to the Dallas Stars on a controversial Game 6 goal when it appeared that Brett Hull’s skate was in the crease for the winning goal.
Ruff had plenty of talented teams. Though Ruff himself was a defensive-minded coach, employing a system that called for forwards to get back on defense and do plenty of back checking, he did have some high-scoring teams as well. His 2007 squad that won the President’s Trophy led the league in goals scored.
But that team, like all of Lindy Ruff‘s squads, failed to get over the hump. They lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators, after having lost the previous year to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Lindy Ruff achieved quite a bit in his longevity with Buffalo. There were more than 100 coaching changes since Ruff took over the helm of the Sabres in 1998, taking over for coach of the year Ted Nolan. He stuck through terrible teams in the early 2000s when the Sabres were going through a painful bankruptcy, he rolled with new rule changes after the lockout, and he remained in place through three owners.
But Lindy Ruff’s legacy for many will be defined by what he was unable to do — win the Stanley Cup.