Not a coaching candidate profile: Lindy Ruff

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Of all the names that have surfaced thus far in the search for the next Vancouver Canucks coach, Lindy Ruff is one of them. And it’s odd that his name keeps coming up. There’s no shortage of NHL teams that are run like a banana republic in regards to coaching, where the name on the coach’s office is often printed in masking tape rather than anyone splurging on a $10 engraving that you can get done at the mall. Yet it took more than a decade for any of the major faces in the Buffalo Sabres organization to face the proverbial firing squad.

Ruff, who failed to turn a team with new money into a team that made the playoffs, took the bullet, but most analysts could probably deduce that the issue in Buffalo was the frivolous spending of general manager Darcy Regier. After years of icing competitive teams on a budget nowhere close to the cap, Regier wasn’t a scrupulous with Pegula-bucks, spending buckets of money on Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, trading for Robyn Regehr, opening the books to re-sign Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, and then throwing it all away by trading for Steve Ott last summer.

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The team stunk. Awful, awful, awful, and Ruff bit the bullet, though through no fault of his own. Read past the jump.

In fact, it’s a similar situation to Vancouver, where the big name additions to the team never panned out. The risks taken on by Regier were greater at the time of his signings, however. Leino had more red flags than a North Korean rally, and Myers got a seven-year deal after, count it—one plus-Corsi season on the Sabres’ back end.

Which brings us to Lindy Ruff. What does he have to bring? Championship experience? Nope. A new-age, “West Coast Offence”-style? Nope. Youthful exuberance? Nope.

Ruff has been around the NHL as a coach for 20 years, as an assistant for the Florida Panthers and as the long-time head coach for the Sabres. It was quite clear when he was fired that Ruff lacked an ability to get positive match ups for his top players. I looked at the Sabres’ usage chart the day he was fired:

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As I wrote at the time:

It’s not particularly messy, and it shows that most of Ruff’s forwards didn’t see too much of a disparity in either face-off zones or against competition. For the most part, they huddled up with the same player roles. Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek find themselves at same spots on the graph. In no world should your checking centreman have the same role as the team’s top-scoring winger, but that is what led to the downfall in Buffalo. The only major difference in this chart between players is that Marcus Foligno starts way more shifts in the offensive than the defensive zone and Patrick Kaleta the reverse. The other players who see lots of offensive zone time: Nathan Gerbe, Mikhail Grigorenko and Matt Ellis, have played fewer than 150 minutes this season.

It’s sort of like Los Angeles’, actually. I’m not sold on the idea that Darryl Sutter is a particularly good coach, despite the Stanley Cup ring. The difference between him and Ruff is that one has a real good roster to work with. It’s rare that a coach will be able to turn an unimpressive roster into an impressive team by deployment alone. (The only example I can think of is the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning)

The conclusion isn’t “Lindy Ruff doesn’t deploy players properly, ergo he sucks”, the conclusion is moreso that the developments in regard to zone matching and player matching may have passed Mr. Ruff by. I think that there are better options when looking at fired coaches from this season (I believe I get to cover one Mr. Guy Boucher this week) or coming up from the minor ranks.

I don’t think in this situation you’re even looking for experience or respect. You’re looking for a philosopher and a tactician, one who is open to new ideas.

That’s not Lindy Ruff. I don’t know what Lindy Ruff is going to be doing next year, but as Mike Keenan can attest, you get about 15 years after a Stanley Cup appearance of having a “free pass” to an NHL coaching gig. Perhaps there’s a team that is in need of Ruff’s name and credentials, but the Canucks shouldn’t be worrying about how many times the next coach’s pass is stamped. They don’t need to sell tickets, or convince the hockey world that they belong.

Lindy Ruff just ain’t the guy.

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  • billm

    Agreed. No re-treads please. Let’s take a few risks and see if we can win the reward. Someone new and potentially exciting with some new ideas, different approaches and no baggage to drag along. If we are going to flame out let it at least be spectacularly. I am sure that Mr. Ruff is a very nice man but he has had his crack at the golden ring. Time for a new contestant.

  • billm

    Any ‘objective analysis’ needs to take into account all evidence.

    Your bias has prevented you from doing this.

    1. Sutter took over a team in disarray half way through a season and has improved their Corsi % by ~ 4% – with one major player addition (Carter).This is the single most important stat that leads to winning hockey. He also led his team to a ‘dominate’ playoff & cup win. And you suggest he is not a good coach?


    2. Experience matters

    Ruff like Sutter/Babcock /Hitch/ has coached in
    many playoff games. 100+ (57-44! record) In every industry experience matters. To totally discount his experience especially on a team who has struggled in the playoffs (where experience matters the most) is silly.

    So why exactly isn’t Sutter a good coach?

    3. Ruff is well regarded in the industry
    twice chosen to as a coach for Canada
    by (Babby – who knows something ’bout coaching)

    For your conclusion to have weight you need to address this objective evidence in favor of Ruff. Ruff ought to be a leading candidate for Nux job.

    There always needs to be a balance between innovation and experience of wisdom of the past.Nux org. has shown great creativity in area of innovation – mind room/sleep doctor etc etc. However, their abysmal failure in the playoffs

    {GF 2.5 GA 2.83 on 56 playoff games}-
    speaks to the lack of hockey acumen in the organization.Clearly the playoffs ARE another beast one the Nux haven’t figure out yet?
    BTW – I have seen no evidence that Boston defeated Vancouver because Boston was more ‘innovative’

    They could do far worse then hire a man with Ruff’s vast experience.

    You don’t work 20 years in an industry go to 3 conference championships a cup final amass 57-44 record work withe the best in the business without having value.
    Ruff provides something the Nux need.
    Your attitude reminds us of the attitude toward Sutter before he was hired. The game has past him by etc..Sound familiar?

    Almost all coaches struggle at the end of their tenure – Clearly Ruff stayed too long in Buffalo. The wise man looks at the whole body of work.

    • billm

      I have to agree with dan.

      Sutter not a good coach? The last two teams he’s been Head Coach with have been Stanley Cup Finalists, including one Champion.

      His last coaching gig before the 2011-2012 Kings was the 2003-04 Flames, who made a miracle run to the Finals with a top line of Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas and Jarome Iginla, a top defense pairing of Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. Sure he had top-form Mikka Kiprusoff, but elie goaltending means nothing without the team in front.

      Of course, this Flames team played in the old clutch and grab days. But they were damned sure the best clutching and grabbing teams in the league that year. Sutter found a way to get the most out of that group of guys.

      But before you think he can only get the most out of plugs (their second line was Shean Donovan, Ville Nieminen and Markus Nilson for crying out loud!) He also completey turned around a Kings team that while laden with talent, was mired in struggle. And he turned THEM into a Stanley Cup Champion. And they have an excellent shot at repeating.

      So don’t tell me Darryl Sutter isn’t a good coach. He IS a lousy GM though….

  • billm

    Listen, I really dig fancy stats. I find them intriguing, and though I only understand maybe half of it if I’m lucky, I agree that they are good indicators of talent.

    But they aren’t always right. I sill believe in intangibles, which they fail to take into account.

    You can criticize Lindy Ruff for being old-school and lacking moneypuck techniques. But what have these brought to the Canucks, aside from two President Trophies? A humiliating Finals loss to a team built on toughness and character to go with their skill and back to back first-round exits, one to a team also built with the right mix of toughness, character and skill, with the other being a sweep.

    Alain Vigneault’s “revolutionary” tactics were exploited and the man himself was out-coached.
    He also had no control of his players, allowing them to run their mouths, bite opponents and embellish to draw penalties.

    Lindy Ruff has experience, is a proven motivator with a track record of getting the most out of low-budget teams, and a winning pedigree on the international stage.

    He was good enough for the coaching staff of the 2010 gold medal winning Olympic Team. How many Canucks were on that team? Oh right, one, the one we’re trying so desperately to get rid of.

  • billm

    My favourite things when reading the ramblings of Canucks fans is how with other coaches on other teams, a trip to the finals is a big plus.

    But when it comes to Vancouver? It’s always the “humiliating trip to the finals”. Seriously? The Canucks DOMINATED on the way to the finals, and were so banged up in the end they just couldn’t compete with Boston anymore. Seriously, I don’t think Boston had an injury before Rome on Horton, when the Canucks lost 2 or 3 players in that series alone.

    Just because you’re disappointed the Canucks didn’t win, doesn’t mean it’s some massive failure.

    • billm

      I can’t speak for other fans, but I said humiliating Finals LOSS. There’s a difference.
      You cannot make the argument that the Canucks dominated the Bruins at any time, but for 4 games out of 7, including Game 7 on home ice, the the Canucks WERE dominated.

      The RUN to the Finals was a special event, and the most fun I’ve ever had watching hockey.

      However, the complete dismantling we received in the Finals was nothing short of humuliating. I stand by my coment.

  • billm

    The main thing Gillis should be looking for in a coach is someone with whom he can work. He needs to be on the same page with the next guy.

    Because the majority of players that Gillis has brought into the organization have not worked out.

    This includes Steve Bernier, Derek Roy, Cody Hodgson, David Booth & Keith Ballard among others.

    This may include Zack Kassian & Jordan Schroeder soon which would pretty much write off Gillis’ first 3 drafts.

    Self-preservation is job #1 for a GM. If Gillis wants to prolong his employment with the Canucks, he needs to be on the same page with his new coach.